Masaya Ueno says that there’s more than enough space for both Chinese and Japanese football to grow in Asia

· by Patrick Gornic

Masaya Ueno, Head of Global Media Business Group at Rakuten, oversees new media business initiatives at the global entertainment and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, Rakuten Viki and Rakuten Sports.

Mr. Ueno was one of our speaker in World Football Summit Asia, which was held on the 29th and 30th of April. We sat down with him for a small Q&A to find out about his takes on the current state of the Asian football industry.

Rakuten has been a lot on the Spanish news since Iniesta’s arrival in Japan. For the people that don’t know, could you explain Rakuten’s relationship with football and sports?

Sports and business have been a winning combination for Rakuten since 2004 when the company founded the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the first new professional Japanese baseball franchise in some 50 years. In 2004, Rakuten also acquired Vissel Kobe, a J. League football club, which is now home to world-class footballers like Andrés Iniesta, Lukas Podolski, and David Villa.  Since then, we’ve partnered with Iniesta and his team to launch Iniesta TV, where international football fans can enjoy exclusive, on-demand footage of Iniesta’s journey in Japan, and we’ve recently launched Rakuten Sports, a video-on-demand platform for streaming J.League matches live, on web and mobile devices. Through Rakuten Sports, we hope to bring more exclusive and original content, directly from the star athletes and build a roadmap for creating a fun and engaging community for football fans worldwide. In addition, we’ve partnered with FC Barcelona as the Main Global Partner, so you’ll see our branding across the chests of legendary footballers like Lionel Messi. In 2017, we also signed a partnership with the NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, of San Francisco, CA, so we’re beyond excited to see how our activations with the NBA have impacted our branding on the stateside.

 The Asian football industry has grown largely over the past few years. Japan or China are countries that are investing a lot in buying and train national players. Will Asian countries compete with European clubs for the best players in the world soon?

I think that there is an immense opportunity for both businesses and fans of football in Asia, mainly because there’s a growing demand for premium football content in Asia as well as a growing interest from international football players to join prestigious Asian teams. You can see this trend just in our football club, Vissel Kobe, where we have Andre Iniesta, Lukas Podolski, and David Villa – some of the greatest football players in the world – going head to head with our Japanese players.

What’s Rakuten’s main goal and market right now?

We’re in a very exciting time because we have so many wonderful sports assets that we can leverage. In terms of our main goal for sports, we want to build brand awareness in the regions where we have services, but at the same time, we want to work on the synergies between our sports assets and the various Rakuten group services. While our immediate focus market will be Japan, Americas, and Europe, with our extensive sponsorship through FC Barcelona and the Golden State Warriors, it will allow us to get into the new markets much faster.

What can clubs do to reach more audiences in Asia and connect with the people?

I think that in recent years, we’ve seen some shift in consumer behaviours and trends, where they expect more direct interaction with their stars. Whether that’s in the form of social media – interacting directly with the clubs and the footballers on mediums like Facebook or Instagram or being able to stream more intimate footage online through a streaming platform like Rakuten Sports – fans expect more direct engagement opportunities with their favourite stars. This means that clubs need to meet the fans where they’re at and really think about new ways to reach this fandom in new and innovative ways.

Watch the full panel The Evolution of Media, Broadcasting and Fan Engagement in Football, where Masaya Ueno participated here. Stay tuned for more news about WFS!