Warriors-Wizards games in Japan to attract NBA fans and sponsors – Winnipeg Free Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese basketball fans will get an up-close look at NBA stars when the reigning league champions, the Golden State Warriors, take on the Washington Wizards in two preseason games.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry and Japan’s Rui Hachimura will be the star attractions of each team.

And as clearly as Japanese online retailer Rakuten’s logo is splattered across Curry’s jersey, there’s a lot of money at stake in the NBA’s latest foray into Japan.

Warriors-Wizards games in Japan to attract NBA fans and sponsors – Winnipeg Free Press 20220929020928 63353bd211724859c9f5ec4djpeg
Golden State Warriors shooting guard Stephen Curry poses for a photo during an NBA basketball media day in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)

Junya Ogura, senior manager of the brand and media strategy department at Japanese automaker Nissan, thinks it’s all worth it given the NBA’s strong appeal to the younger generation, a trend backed by marketing studies.

Nissan Motor Co., which sponsors Japanese professional baseball and soccer, had a high-profile deal with tennis superstar Naomi Osaka that recently ended. This is the first time it has sponsored NBA games.

Tickets are up to 420,000 yen ($2,900) each for courtside “VIP” seats. Friday and Sunday games are sold out at Saitama Super Arena

“These are the Japanese who grew up with Michael Jordan,” Ogura said. “We are confident of a return to come in the future.”

The NBA has attracted 15 marketing partners to support preseason games in Japan, including American Express, Hennessy, NEC and Nike, and now has 19 marketing and promotion partners in Japan.

Rakuten, which also sponsors Japanese baseball and soccer and hosts the Japan Open tennis championships, broadcasts NBA games live.

“Obviously, it’s about the money,” said Bob Dorfman, a San Francisco-based sports analyst at Pinnacle Advertising.

“Building the fan base in Asia, and in all parts of the world, results in more sponsorship dollars, higher media rights and higher merchandise sales.”

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The NBA may have more global appeal than other American sports, being easier to understand than soccer, for example, according to Dorfman, who has worked in Japan.

“Every team has foreign-born players on their rosters, and the league’s top stars are cultural icons, tastemakers and social media giants. The game is great,” she said.

That translates not only to sponsorship money, but also to youth spending on sneakers and other fashion and merchandise items.

Between 1990 and 2003, the NBA hosted 12 regular season games in Japan. The last time the NBA played in Japan was in 2019, when Houston and Toronto played a preseason game. The coronavirus pandemic had postponed his return to Japan until now.

And so, the NBA returns to courting Japan.

A giant 3D screen at a Tokyo street intersection shows Curry and other NBA stars as characters from Japanese “manga” or comics. The NBA’s Japanese-language social media accounts have amassed more than 1.6 million followers.

Warriors-Wizards games in Japan to attract NBA fans and sponsors – Winnipeg Free Press 20220929020928 63353bd511724859c9f5ec4fjpeg
Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura of Japan poses for a photo during an NBA basketball media day, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

While players are in town, they will participate in various fan events. In addition to Hachimura, the NBA now has another Japanese player, Yuta Watanabe, who is with the Brooklyn Nets.

The NBA is also excited about the potential of women’s basketball. Japanese women were the silver medalists in the last Olympic Games. Rui Machida, an Olympian, signed earlier this year with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

“Our fan base is growing,” NBA Asia managing director Ramez Sheikh said. “There is real momentum around basketball in Japan, and it is a very important market for the NBA.”

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Wizards officials acknowledged they were surprised by the outpouring of reaction to the signing of Hachimura from Japan. Suddenly more Japanese were seen in the stands, tour buses began to arrive, and the Japanese media appeared in great numbers.

“It was all about Rui (Hachimura),” said Hunter Lochman, director of marketing for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards. “He is fast-paced. He is high scoring. It’s a great sport and it’s a global sport.”

In addition to Japan, exhibition games are scheduled for Abu Dhabi this season. Regular season games will be played in Paris and Mexico City.

Kyle Kuzma, a forward for the Wizards, said he was excited to be in Japan for the first time.

He already had sushi, was planning to go shopping, and was approached by a fan on the street, who gave him some chopsticks.

“This is a great moment. It’s a great stage,” Kuzma said after a practice session in Tokyo on Thursday.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama