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Soccer Club Management Course

2016.11.15
Takeo Watanabe




Takeo Watanabe
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Management accounting, organizational psychology

1. Course background and aims

During the spring semester of the 2015 academic year, the Faculty of Commerce at Chuo University held a course for students to independently challenge to run a soccer club. Thanks to the exceptional enthusiasm of various key players and support from the Faculty Executive Staff, the idea was realized only five months after being first proposed during the fall of 2014. The Faculty of Commerce set up an independent career program for the 2016 academic year called the Business Challenge Seminar and Internship: Soccer Club Management, making soccer club business management the core subject in the program.

The primary objective of this course was to have soccer clubs in divisions aiming for J-League membership to work with the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce to create an extremely effective learning opportunity in which students were made independently responsible for managing a soccer club. The format made it possible for them to acquire lessons they would never have gotten in a classroom setting alone.

2. Overview of the 2016 course

During the 2016 academic year, we worked with a club called Tokyo 23 FC in the Division I Kanto League (equivalent to the J5 division), and had students independently take charge of a full range of administrative duties associated with running the club’s final home game. These included planning, advertising, and attracting food and beverage vendors to the game as well as marketing to sponsors. In addition to helping these tasks go smoothly, students aimed to bring in an unprecedented 5,000 fans of clubs belonging to the local league, giving the project everything they had over the course of the spring semester and their summer break. This article documents their struggle.

It started in early April with the orientation for the Business Challenge Seminar and Internship. A total of 36 students then expressed interest in taking the course, and interviews were held to narrow that number down to the twenty most passionate of the group.

During the introductory portion of the course, the Tokyo 23 FC club representative and general manager spoke directly to the students, presenting an overview of the Tokyo 23 FC club and its goals as well as an explanation of the environment surrounding the club. Students then learned the basics of soccer club management from three guest lecturers. This instructor team featured a spectacular lineup that kicked off with an appearance from Mr. Tsutomu Nishino, a former defender on the Japan national football team who had a long career with the Urawa Reds. Mr. Nishino has a master’s degree in Football Industries from University of Liverpool, and currently works as a university lecturer and consultant. The next lecturer to take the podium was Mr. Masayuki Okano, who also played on the national team for many years as a forward and scored the winning goal in a game in the World Cup final qualifying round that brought Japan to their first ever World Cup held in France. Widely known by his popular nickname “Yajin,” he currently works as the general manager for the J3 League club Gainare Tottori. Mr. Okano talked about strategies for drawing fans to lower-division J League games, the league’s unique marketing methods to sponsors, and other topics. The last instructor was Mr. Gengo Seta, the only Japanese to work as a club management member of the German Bundesliga league, known as having the most successful soccer club management in the world. Mr. Seta spoke in detail about club management for his own team, Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Based on the information they learned from these lectures, the students then split into four groups (a sponsor marketing group, public relations group, food and beverage vendor group, and event planning group) and in May began pushing to come up with effective strategies that would lead to a successful operation of Tokyo 23 FC’s final home game. Their activities are cataloged chronologically below.

3. Sponsor marketing group: Concrete actions

Let me start with the sponsor marketing group. I thought that it would be best for the students in this group to get a firsthand look at sponsor marketing on the front lines before starting their activities. Therefore I provided them with an opportunity to observe actual sponsor marketing negotiations between representatives from Tokyo 23 FC and an executive at a major company (an acquaintance of mine). This allowed them to learn how to market to sponsors in an on-the-job training scenario. Later, the students actually contacted 57 companies, focusing on those in the Edogawa area where the Tokyo 23 FC is located. Although they were turned away by almost all of them, there were a few companies that they actually got to visit and try to secure a sponsorship—ultimately getting one company to agree to provide support. Students were unanimously touched by the news, which became a huge source of motivation for their subsequent activities.

The company that agreed to support the team was H&N Associates (HNA), a daily goods and toy manufacturer headquartered in Shizuoka Prefecture. HNA offered to print 1,000 button badges featuring the mascot for Tokyo 23 FC free of charge. The badges were given away to the first 1,000 people who attended the final home match, and were very popular. Later, when I had an opportunity to go and thank the person in charge at HNA personally, he said that the enthusiastic appeal from the student who came to see him reminded him of his younger self and made him want to help out in some way. The same can be said for all of the student activities described here, but this incident in particular demonstrated not only that student passion has the power to move companies and society, but also that the program served as a tremendous learning experience for the students themselves.

4. Public relations group: Concrete actions

Next I’d like to discuss the public relations group. The work of this group included PR for Tokyo 23 FC, communicating the attractive features of the local league itself, and promoting the final home match. Their tasks spanned a broad range, but it’s important to start out by noting that they had comprehensive support from a film production company called Taiyo Kikaku Co., Ltd., which helped them make their promotional videos for Tokyo 23 FC and the final match. The students worked closely with Teppei Ono, a film producer at Taiyo Kikaku who is also a graduate of Chuo University.※1 With his help, they were able to write the script, negotiate with Takahiro Ogata from the Panther comedy troupe (also a Chuo alumnus) to get him to star in the video, and turn out a considerably high-quality production.※2 The video got over 5,000 views, and is thought to have done a great deal to draw spectators to the venue.

The public relations group also got Pakka-kun, a character from the wildly popular soccer manga Giant Killing, to show up in a character costume and cheer on Tokyo 23 FC through its negotiations with Kodansha, who publishes the series. Pakka-kun was not only adored by the children of the fans who came out to see the final home game, but also was actively involved in handling out Tokyo 23 FC flyers in the team’s home territory of Asakusa during its Samba Carnival festival. In addition, the group successfully enlisted the help of an Edogawa printing company called Chuei Printing Co., Ltd. to print 6,000 original Tokyo 23 FC stickers that were also distributed to visiting fans on the day of the match. Finally, the group worked to get various external media outlets to publish information on the team’s last home game, resulting in coverage by Sakaiku, Soccer King, Tokyo Football, Sports navi, and others.

5. Event planning group: Concrete actions

Next let’s look at the activities carried out by the event planning group. This group was charged with the task of designing and executing a scheme for pregame events as well as the match itself. Pregame events included having Pakka-kun made the first kick and designing and selling temporary tattoos, and thus working to foster unity between the team and its supporters. They also created and distributed the game programs essential to any soccer match, to the great delight of the fans.

6. Food and beverage vendor group: Concrete actions

Finally, we come to the food and beverage vendor group. If the students were going to try to get thousands of people to come out for the game, they were also going to need a full lineup of food and beverage vendors to keep the fans’ stomachs happy. The food and beverage vendor group contacted multiple companies and persistently negotiated with them to get them to appear at the game. In the end, they were able to get a Brazilian food vendor, a craft beer seller, a sausage vendor that also serves fans at J League games, a vendor for the Taiwanese shaved ice that has become popular recently, a radioyaki (large takoyaki) vendor, a vendor selling snacks to go with alcoholic beverages, and others. They also invited fair stalls for the kids to enjoy, and the stadium ended up reverberating with the voices of countless happy children on the day of the event.

7. Results of the final home game

The final match was held at Edogawa City Track & Field Stadium on September 10, and Tokyo 23 FC, perhaps roused by the sight of the fans steadily filling up the stadium, won by a wide margin. Unfortunately, students did not reach their goal of getting 5,000 spectators, with the actual number coming in at 2,600. Though they failed to hit their target, it was still a record number of fans for a regional league game—more than three times the usual level. Without a doubt, one can only point to the tireless efforts of the students as having created this result.

Major newspapers took an interest in the students’ hard work, and the course project was featured in the local section of the Yomiuri Shimbun on August 27 as well as in the city news section of the evening Asahi Shimbun on September 7. The coverage had extensive ripple effects, with several readers expressing to me directly how impressed they were with the project. Among them was a person who told me that his son, now in junior high school, started showing an interest in studying at the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce someday. Apparently this has motivated the boy to get more serious about his studies—truly a heartwarming piece of feedback.

So it appears that somehow the project ended up creating some more fans of Chuo University, but what I want to end with is a discussion of the remarkable growth we saw in the students as a result of the course and the direct academic results it produced. Many participants said that the project helped them learn how to behave as adult members of society and gave them the ability to think for themselves before taking action to overcome challenges. Many also said that they learned firsthand that the real world can be an unforgiving place, while at the same time getting to experience the real joy that comes from the successes of a job well done.

Compared to other courses, running this course places a tremendous burden on the instructors involved. However, having observed the growth in the students year after year, we are passionate about the way to keep it going. At the very least, we must continue to offer it until the above-mentioned junior high school boy makes it into Chuo University and can take the course for himself.

※1 Teppei Ono won the gold in the PR division at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2015. The festival is held every June in Cannes, celebrating the world’s top advertising and communications achievements.
※2 The video is currently available on YouTube.
Takeo Watanabe
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Management accounting, organizational psychology

Takeo Watanabe was born in Tokyo in 1968. He graduated from the Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University in 1990. He completed his master’s program at the Graduate School of Commerce, Chuo University in 1993, going on to complete the required courses for the doctoral program from the same program in 1997, finishing without a degree. Watanabe taught as a full-time lecturer and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Economics, Okayama University before signing on as an Assistant Professor at Chuo University in 2000. He began teaching in his current position in 2014.
Watanabe’s primary areas of research include discovering the relationship between accounting and psychology (in an attempt to verify the correlations, for example, between motivation and amoeba management or other management accounting frameworks). His principle published works include “Research on the Structure of Accounting Practices in the Amoeba Management System [Ameeba Keiei Shisutemu niokeru Kaikei Shori no Kouzou no Tankyuu]” (Accounting Progress No. 14, pp. 54-67, 2013) and “New Horizons Offered by Influence Systems in Management Accounting Research: Toward a Fusion with Positive Psychology [Eikyou Shisutemu toshiteno Kanri Kaikei Kenkyuu no Shin Chihei: Pojitibu Shinrigaku tono Yuugou wo Mezashite]” (The Journal of Cost Accounting Research, Vol. 37 No. 1, pp. 1-15, 2013).