Japan's new Super Rugby franchise could struggle to attract a decent crowd at the Chichibunomiya Stadium, writes OLIVER TRENCHARD in Tokyo.
The Sunwolves have begun sales for their first ever match in the competition, against the Lions at Chichibunomiya on 27 February. The prices of tickets, however, will come as a shock to those used to the relatively cheap cost of watching Top League games in Japan.
A ticket bought in advance for a seat in the side stand (category ‘S reserved’), will set Sunwolves’ fans back a staggering ¥6,000 (about R850) compared to a mere ¥1,350 (about R190) for a Top League double-header in the same seat at Chichibunomiya. So what exactly is the difference between the match-day experience at a Top League game and a Super Rugby game at Chichibunomiya that justifies the substantial price rise for a ticket?
Apart from the obvious increase in quality of players on show, not a lot. A visit to the stadium last weekend provided little evidence for the almost quadruple increase in price for Super Rugby games in the Japanese capital.
Much has been made of the Superwolves’ preparation, or lack of it, for the 2016 Super Rugby season, notably by Japanese rugby expert Rich Freeman, with only head coach Mark Hammett and the playing squad so far announced. No other members of the coaching staff, background staff or a fixed training venue have yet been announced. And this comes just six weeks prior to their opening match in Tokyo.
Those expecting state-of-the-art Japanese technology such as electronic turnstiles with barcode recognition or large HD screens as seen in many stadiums in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will be disappointed. No turnstiles are currently in place at Chichibunomiya Stadium, your ticket is checked by a temporary worker and you’re in. No turnstile, no security check, no bag search, nothing.
Furthermore, the electronic screen at the end of the concrete terrace, installed in 2003, is arguably the most modern thing you’ll find at Chichibunomiya.
Food and beverage options are limited, only six refreshment stands were in operation at the Top League double-header at the weekend and all had lengthy queues – this only when the stadium was a third full at best. Goodness knows what will happen next month when the ground will be at full capacity.
As of Saturday, less than a quarter of the pitch perimeter was filled with advertising hoardings, with the remaining three-quarters of the perimeter simply showing the concrete walls of the stadium and adding to the impression of a rather soulless, dated and sorry sports venue.
One hopes that this issue will be solved by the Sunwolves’ first game next month, not only to improve the appearance of the stadium, but also to fill just a quarter of the ground with advertising when the match is broadcast in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and more, would represent a huge missed opportunity regarding commercial income.
– Oliver is a British writer who lives in Tokyo and reports on Japanese rugby