Four seasons to go
Holly Millward, Regional Director, Asia
There are less than 365 days to go until the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final kicks off at Yokohama Stadium, Japan. This moment, between two teams yet to be defined, will mark the crescendo of rugby’s quadrennial showpiece staged for the first time in Asia next year.
As we’ve slowly grown our business in Japan and I’ve had the fantastic privilege of understanding this country a little better, the wait might be more appropriately narrated as a four-season countdown. The seasons in this truly special part of Asia are distinct, revered and permeate through almost every aspect of Japanese life. Japan 2019 promises to be a celebration of all of that and more, for the hosts, travelling fans and partners alike.
As Japan is a long horn of islands stretching out over thousands of kilometres, at any given moment, the climate varies considerably from the north in Hokkaido to the southern subtropical isle of Okinawa. Next year, 48 matches will be played across 12 host cities from north to south, giving the projected 400,000 travelling fans a unique opportunity to experience the stunning diversity of the country, whilst being part of the travelling circus of global friendship that defines the sport of rugby.
For Japanese fans, the red autumnal glow of the Brave Blossoms has perhaps never shone brighter for the country than that moment back in 2015, when Japan beat South Africa at the Rugby World Cup and secured their only victory since 1991 in the tournament.
As the Japanese woke to the news of their team’s feat in a far-flung part of the world, rugby chatter dominated press editorial and izakaya bar conversation. Defeat by Scotland followed, but what was almost as show-stopping as the win itself, was that 25 million Japanese, nearly 20% of the population, stayed up to watch their team beat Samoa in the third pool match, setting a Rugby World Cup television record.
The occasion says everything about sport and its ability to aggregate and connect people, to transcend politics and to unite. It’s why we believe in what we do. Whilst rugby may not be the biggest sport in Japan in comparison to baseball or soccer, it has a growing voice. Up and down the country, pockets of passion can be found where the anticipation and preparation is palpable. Rugby is the lens through which more fundamental human stories will be told.
As an example, the smallest capacity ground being used during the Japan 2019 tournament is Kaimashi. This host city has been chosen to acknowledge the great recovery that the region has made since the tragic Great East Japan Earthquake and consequent tsunami of March 11, 2001. In Kaimashi, rugby’s influence will permeate the continued efforts of the community to rebuild lives and communities. A role we so often see sport play, economically and socially.
For World Rugby, its partners and most fundamentally Japan itself, the commercial impact and growth legacy that Japan 2019 can yield, is crucial. From a participation perspective, Japan 2019 is on track to be the most impactful Rugby World Cup to date, having already attracted a reported 900,000 new players as part of World Rugby’s ambitious ‘Project 1 Million Asia’ campaign. That these fantastic strides have been made already will go some way to distract from the inevitable coverage around venues, accessibility and hotel prices that will doubtless pepper the preparations. It wouldn’t be a major event without them.
Japan 2019 boasts an enviable and gilded roster of international and domestic partners that will seek to derive their own value from the investment and opportunities to engage and entertain over the coming months. We have the great privilege of supporting some of these businesses in making that happen. The fact that many major multinationals from the world’s third largest economy are truly fired up excites us all that there is a significant legacy to be grown from the inside out.
A huge performance from the Japan team in to the latter stages of the tournament will send the Rugby World Cup into a new stratosphere. You wouldn’t bet against it. But irrespective of performance, how the hosts embrace the opportunity and how the visitors appreciate what they find, the Japan way, will be fundamental to success.
Japan 2019 has all the ingredients to deliver. To engage a nation and the world through sport and friendship. If the point of partnerships is to connect with audiences through their passions, then businesses and their consumer beneficiaries are in for a real treat. Here is an opportunity to be remembered for truly memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.