President Ohbari offers insight into recent NJPW’s past and near future
Ueno’s Hikosen Theater was host to NJPW’s 2022 Business Strategy Presentation on July 7, with new collaborations, future events and policies declared as well as a look behind the business of NJPW during the so-called ‘pandemic era’ and what lies beyond. President Takami Ohbari hosted the event, starting by reflecting on the years since COVID struck the wrestling world in 2020, and how NJPW is recovering and building for the future.
On how the company business model has changed, Ohbari explained how the core ‘engine’ of NJPW remains in live events, but that outside of the venue, big changes have taken place. ‘Television is still very important to us, and in recent years has included (variety program) Shinnichi Champion, World Pro-Wrestling Fridays at prime time and AXS TV resuming broadcasts internationally. While we might not be staying home quite as strictly as before, we’ve been developing chances for fans to be in touch with the product, even if it’s to the extent of our wrestlers appearing on television outside of their capacity as wrestlers per se.’
The business model was described in terms of ‘in venue’ and ‘out of venue’ sub models, with Business to Consumer (B2C) opportunities coming from ticket/merchandise sales in venue, and TV licensing, NJPW World subscriptions and PPV buys as well as apps, games and online shopping outside of it. B2C business has dramatically improved outside of Japan since the pandemic, with sold out cards in Chicago and Washington DC, as well as six figure PPV buys along with AEW for Forbidden Door. Business to Business (B2B) with sponsorships has also progressed apace, bringing a strong period of growth both in and out of venue in the US.
Including Japan, Ohbari explained that compared to he pre-pandemic period, and NJPW’s record setting financial year reported in July 2019, out of venue revenue has grown by 70%, and together with a doubling in overseas revenue from 7% of the company total in 2019 to 14% in 2022, revenue has made significant gains over the pandemic afflicted 2020/2021 fiscal. As outside venue and international strength continues to grow, and inside venue business is regained, results will be very positive. Based on current data and trends, Ohbari projected record revenues in two years time, and a growth in international business to 25% of overall revenue.
Addressing how to regain and grow business post pandemic, Ohbari focused on talent development and the live experience. For talent, the importance of a youth focus was highlighted. When overall roster (left) and Japanese roster (right) ages were compared between 2012 and 2022, wrestlers had typically aged to their late 30s and 40s, with a relatively low number of young wrestlers.
‘For bringing in young fans, young talent is crucial,’ Ohbari explained before stating a need to ‘move with societal change.’ Noting that in Japanese society more people are working to 65 and beyond, that 80% of young people are in further and higher education, and that youth entry into sports clubs has declined by 15% in the last decade, a new model was proposed for youth development.
‘Most wrestlers won’t be able to wrestle until 65. And they’re coming from college at 22 to then start again from scratch in the Dojo. We have to make changes here,’ Ohbari stated, before suggesting ‘we can have wrestlers a part of NJPW and training while they’re still in college, for one example. And since wrestlers retire young, we have to support and provide a path for a second career for our wrestlers after they leave the ring behind. That’s the only way to make wrestling a more attractive career path for young athletes.’
Ohbari then cited the AEW Women’s world Championship match at Forbidden Door as an example of how all male or all female cards overseas are rare. As a result, Ohbari stated, women’s matches will be a fixture in NJPW of America events in the future, and that the world’s premier women’s wrestling company (and Japan’s no.2 overall promotion in scale), STARDOM will be a major source for that talent. Staying overseas, Ohbari announced that NJPW will return to the UK this October for the first time since 2019’s Royal Quest, and that advances into Oceania and other areas are being planned.
Domestically, and with G1 Climax 32 around the corner, a target total attendance of 50,000 was announced. In 2019, a record 96,000 fans attended G1 matches in Japan and the US. During the pandemic, that number had fallen to 36,000 and then 28,000, but, more than one week before the tournament begins, overall sales have already surpassed 30,000. As extra incentives to attend events live, August 16 and 17 in the Budokan will have seats divided by faction, as fans of separate units encourage their favourites. Specially designed tickets will be given away to attendees, and a stamp rally encourages fans to attend multiple events on the tour, with special prizes for super fans attending multiple events.
Plenty more news was broken during the presentation about live events, collaborative content, and a very welcome return- check the reports for more information!