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Inside Sport Japan

2022 World Games

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Posted (edited)

It's not only an identity crisis that amateur sumo has, it's a complete lack of identity. The competition in Birmingham may have sold out, but let's be honest here, the only reason that happens is because of people knowing professional sumo. Amateur sumo is the very tiny niche of a sport that - on the global scale - isn't very big to begin with. You could put a marketing genius in charge of the IFS and it wouldn't get much bigger than it is now. Stripped of its traditional trappings, sumo just isn't very appealing as a sport (as something more than just another one-time event to visit that people can cross off their bucket list or a 30-second social media thing that generates no significant income, anyway), in a world that's overcrowded not only with entertainment options for the audience, but also with sports options for those looking to participate in something.

Edited by Asashosakari

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2 hours ago, Asashosakari said:

The competition in Birmingham may have sold out, but let's be honest here, the only reason that happens is because of people knowing professional sumo.

It's doubtful most of the people there knew anything at all about professional sumo. If you are saying they just had an image of sumo in their heads that came from the portrayal of sumo in movies etc then you may be right, but that only makes the quick sell out even more impressive if anything. 

2 hours ago, Asashosakari said:

You could put a marketing genius in charge of the IFS and it wouldn't get much bigger than it is now. Stripped of its traditional trappings, sumo just isn't very appealing as a sport

Hard disagree on this for many reasons but partly because...

2 hours ago, Asashosakari said:

 just another one-time event to visit that people can cross off their bucket list or a 30-second social media thing

...the most common reaction we saw was a variation of "I knew nothing about sumo and now I love it. Where can I see more?"

A certain amount of that is attributable to adrenaline and the after-buzz of the event, but even those emotions show the ability of any kind of sumo to instantly capture the imagination. 

Over the past six years we've seen high engagement and retention rates among those exposed to sumo for the first time. 

Most people on this site can probably remember that initially kick and how it led into a years or decades-long fandom that required real work to maintain.

Yes that is primarily related to professional sumo which is intrinsically more interesting, complex and skilled than amateur sumo, but the latter has a lot of the same addictive qualities in its action and is drawing increased interest as more and more information in English becomes available.

Ten years ago following the Japanese college scene or getting results from tournaments abroad if you only spoke English was extremely difficult.

Greater media focus on, and availability of ways to watch, professional sumo has already resulted in a mini boom in clubs and numbers doing the sport in the US, and that's without domestic sources there covering it.

There is a large amount of prominent sumo based content coming to some major platforms in the United States over the next year or two. We're saying sumo will experience an F1 - Drive to Survive type boost in exposure (though some of the same people are involved) but it's going to be in front of A LOT more eyeballs than before.

International amateur sumo is going to see a significant uptick in interest - solely by being the only form of the sport physically accessible to the new wave of fans that is coming.

Whether or not it can capitalize on it that exposure another issue.

 

 

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Posted (edited)
21 minutes ago, Inside Sport Japan said:

It's doubtful most of the people there knew anything at all about professional sumo. If you are saying they just had an image of sumo in their heads that came from the portrayal of sumo in movies etc then you may be right, but that only makes the quick sell out even more impressive if anything. 

Hard disagree on this for many reasons but partly because...

...the most common reaction we saw was a variation of "I knew nothing about sumo and now I love it. Where can I see more?"

A certain amount of that is attributable to adrenaline and the after-buzz of the event, but even those emotions show the ability of any kind of sumo to instantly capture the imagination. 

Over the past six years we've seen high engagement and retention rates among those exposed to sumo for the first time. 

Most people on this site can probably remember that initially kick and how it led into a years or decades-long fandom that required real work to maintain.

Yes that is primarily related to professional sumo which is intrinsically more interesting, complex and skilled than amateur sumo, but the latter has a lot of the same addictive qualities in its action and is drawing increased interest as more and more information in English becomes available.

Ten years ago following the Japanese college scene or getting results from tournaments abroad if you only spoke English was extremely difficult.

Greater media focus on, and availability of ways to watch, professional sumo has already resulted in a mini boom in clubs and numbers doing the sport in the US, and that's without domestic sources there covering it.

There is a large amount of prominent sumo based content coming to some major platforms in the United States over the next year or two. We're saying sumo will experience an F1 - Drive to Survive type boost in exposure (though some of the same people are involved) but it's going to be in front of A LOT more eyeballs than before.

International amateur sumo is going to see a significant uptick in interest - solely by being the only form of the sport physically accessible to the new wave of fans that is coming.

Whether or not it can capitalize on it that exposure another issue.

I disagree with pretty much all of that.

The thing with Ozumo is not just that it has all the eyeball-attracting extracurriculars going on, but that it's also a full-fledged professional endeavour in which the audience can watch careers unfold, and thus has athletes to get emotionally invested in. What does amateur sumo have? An Egyptian winner who got his 15 minutes of fame, which is already much more than amateur sumotori usually get, but whose name 99% of the live audience almost certainly forgot by the next day and 100% of those contributing to the temporary flurry of interest on social media will have never known to begin with. I'm sorry, but that's nothing to build anything on, regardless of how the IFS is run.

Heck, amateur sumo in Japan is operating under much better conditions than its international counterpart, but even that is making basically no waves beyond its immediate bubble of stakeholders, as far as I can tell. Even when somebody like Endo appears on the scene once in a blue moon, all the added interest is defined by "What will this mean for the pro game?" and no residual effects occur for amateur sumo itself.

That's not a problem per se, but it becomes one when people mistake it to be something that is capable of or even deserves a higher profile than it has. Amasumo/international sumo is not some kind of swan whose beauty the world just hasn't discovered yet. As somebody who follows quite a lot of niche sports, I've seen all of these "the breakthrough is just around the corner, great times are coming" claims many, many times over. Most of them never came at all, a few were brief flash in the pan type developments. I expect the latter at best for what you're outlining.

Edited by Asashosakari

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18 minutes ago, Asashosakari said:

Amasumo/international sumo is not some kind of swan whose beauty the world just hasn't discovered yet.

It's the ugly duckling with the potential to be a swan is kind of what we're arguing.

It needs to change pretty much everything in terms of how it's run and promoted but the sport itself is fast, easy to follow and exciting.

Going the 'Battle of the Giants in Madison Square Garden' style route is one way it could be taken, but even as a simple semi-pro sport if it was properly run and marketed it could easily outperform plenty of other minor sports that tick along fine and provide a living for many of their athletes. 

If there are semi-professional frisbee leagues you'll never convince us there couldn't also be a sumo one.

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Posted (edited)

One of the sports that we cover most is American football and there are a lot of parallels there.

One professional league that hoovers up 99.9999% of the money, coverage and attention.

A whole bunch of amateur and semi pro leagues toiling in obscurity around the world, that come and go and are rife with internal and external feuds, and shady dealings.

No league is ever going to challenge the NFL in any sense or even approach its power or draw. Similarly no amateur sumo competition is ever going to outshine ozumo - even if by some miracle the sport actually makes the Olympic Games some day.

But amateur sumo could easily become something similar to, or better than, the XLeague, ELF, or GFL. Those are very low bars admittedly but they do provide a living for a certain number of (mostly American) athletes and increasingly a route into US / Canadian professional leagues. 

The chances of even that happening are low for sure, but there is potential.

Edited by Inside Sport Japan

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Posted (edited)
41 minutes ago, Inside Sport Japan said:

It's the ugly duckling with the potential to be a swan is kind of what we're arguing.

Well, I didn't want to use the words "ugly duckling", but that's what I was getting at - it is what it is, and it will continue to be that.

Here's the thing: I'm not one of the people who has ever felt the need to try to convince other people of how great sumo is, let alone one of the people who cares what those other people think of my interest in sumo in the first place. As such, I have no particular emotional investment in seeing sumo "get bigger". If it happens, great, if not, oh well.

From my vantage point there's relatively little in Ozumo and almost nothing in amateur sumo that indicates any potential for them to get significantly bigger than they are right now. Yes, Ozumo has attracted a lot of additional international eyeballs over the last few years, but a) we've had such phases before and it remains to be seen if it's going to last - AFAICT Hakuho's retirement has already lost a significant share of those people again, just like Asashoryu's did a decade ago; and b) IMHO it's been largely a one-time boost due to the sudden increased availability of live or near-live viewing material on Youtube and Twitch, not the start of a sustained upward trend.
 

Quote

If there are semi-professional frisbee leagues you'll never convince us there couldn't also be a sumo one.

Those aren't overshadowed by a qualitatively superior professional version though. To the point that such setups do exist elsewhere:

24 minutes ago, Inside Sport Japan said:

One of the sports that we cover most is American football and there are a lot of parallels there.

One professional league that hoovers up 99.9999% of the money, coverage and attention.

A whole bunch of amateur and semi pro leagues toiling in obscurity around the world, that come and go and are rife with internal and external feuds, and shady dealings.

No league is ever going to challenge the NFL in any sense or even approach its power or draw. Similarly no amateur sumo competition is ever going to outshine ozumo - even if by some miracle the sport actually makes the Olympic Games some day.

American football is a multi-billion dollar sport, so of course even the crumbs left over by the NFL are big enough to sustain some alternative leagues.

Another sport I follow quite closely is darts, which has the same misplaced comparisons going vis-a-vis golf among individual sports. There's a major difference between a sport where "the top end is thriving" means revenues in the 50 million £ range for the preeminent organization of the sport (not too different from the NSK), and another one where we're talking about 10 to 20 times that much. Consequently, while darts tournaments historically offer prize money at pretty much all levels, technically making them all professional, there's only a very thin (and struggling) slice of the sport outside the top org that can even be considered semi-pro as far as what it allows its participants to be, financially speaking. Meanwhile, the sport of golf is able to support, what, 30 or so professional tours?

And compared to sumo, at least darts has the advantage of already having strong grass roots participation worldwide. It's even been growing over the last decade or so, driven by the professional side building up its media profile more and more, but that hasn't really translated into any sort of "the rising tide lifts all boats" effect for lower-level darts. At best, I can say that there's more lower-level darts now, but it's just more of the same financially unrewarding tournaments, not really anything that has actually grown to a new level.

Edited by Asashosakari
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To me, the reason young people get excited about a sport or game is that they dream of being one of the best in the world; if they can't make a living at their dream, it's almost impossible to sustain that dream.  Even track and field and many other Olympic sports eventually had to drop the "amateur" facade or they would have disappeared.  A young person can aspire to be a working pro in baseball, basketball, tennis, American and (soccer) football, golf, boxing, MMA, billiards, chess, etc.  They may have to get sponsors or move to another country to do it, but they rarely would find the sort of roadblocks set up by professional Sumo.

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41 minutes ago, Asashosakari said:

Here's the thing: I'm not one of the people who has ever felt the need to try to convince other people of how great sumo is, let alone one of the people who cares what those other people think of my interest in sumo in the first place. As such, I have no particular emotional investment in seeing sumo "get bigger". If it happens, great, if not, oh well.

As a sport related businesses we do have a dog in the fight. That may color our perceptions, but.....

43 minutes ago, Asashosakari said:

From my vantage point there's relatively little in Ozumo and almost nothing in amateur sumo that indicates any potential for them to get significantly bigger than they are right now.

...it also means we've seen enough over the years to know that almost ANYTHING can become popular if marketed well enough.

Amateur sumo in Japan doesn't grow because virtually no one involved sees it as a spectator sport. That's not a problem unique to sumo but it's very overt in that sport. Everything is done solely for the participants themselves with occasional thought given to family and friends. The almost non existent promotion is wholly aimed at increasing athlete not spectator numbers.

Internationally it's not much different but the US Open has shown that putting in the work can result in a profit and steadily growth - and that's mostly a one-man operation.

It would take money and time (both likely unforthcoming) from people with ability, ambition and a willingness to see the project through but a self sustaining semi-pro sumo league or tour in 3,000 to 5,000 seater arenas is achievable.

 

 

 

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11 minutes ago, Yamanashi said:

 A young person can aspire to be a working pro in American and (soccer) football

They have a much better chance in the latter.

There are about 2,000 to 2,500 full time professional football players between the NFL and CFL

In soccer in 2021 there were an estimated 130,000 male professional players

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I attended the Yama dojo practice a few weeks ago, and Andrew Freund who is part of USA Sumo spent ten minutes discussing the controversy regarding the gold medal match. After reading these articles and him knowing that it would be catastrophic for them to make the decisions they did, I can see why it got to be such a mess.

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