Lack of international streaming options hampers sumo growth

An Instagram post featuring images from the 2021 All-Ireland Kick-Off Final between Limerick and Cork went viral on Instagram this month.

The five-second clip of the 3,000-year-old game garnered 11 million views in the space of three weeks and hundreds, if not thousands of people have asked what this incredibly fast and dangerous sport is, and where they are. could watch. no more of that.

Being Irish means that I have been the recipient of many inquiries from those who had seen the message but were unfamiliar with hurling.

As with any other sport, there were a lot of highlight clips available online that I could direct the curious to. For those wishing to dig deeper, I was able to recommend GAAGO, an IPTV service provided jointly by the Sport Governing Body and Irish National Television which offers live and on-demand games all over the world.

The ease of being able to come up with options that would satisfy those who were just curious – as well as those who were genuinely interested – was striking after years of frustration among overseas fans at the lack of something similar in Japanese domestic sport.

“How can I watch? Is probably the most asked question online when it comes to sumo

The answer unfortunately in most cases is “You can’t – at least not legally.”

International viewers hoping to watch big tournaments often have to resort to finding illegal streams.  |  REUTERS
International viewers hoping to watch big tournaments often have to resort to finding illegal streams. | REUTERS

It is truly shocking that in our time there is not a single official live streaming option available for international sumo fans.

Live action is king when it comes to content, and it’s something that is vital for any sports organization wishing to stay relevant in a saturated market.

NFL Highlights, broadcast in Europe a week or two after games ended, were acceptable in the 1980s, when fans were unlikely to encounter spoilers in mainstream media and did not interact in time. real with other grill enthusiasts around the world.

Times are changing, however, and services like NFL Game Pass actually provide more and better content for fans outside of the United States than is available to those who live there.

Although the NFL – like the Japan Sumo Association – is a one-country professional sports body, the scope and richness of the former is on a whole new scale, allowing it to deliver high-quality original content. hours a day.

Yet the JSA cannot even use finance as an excuse, as even amateur or semi-professional sports organizations such as the Japanese X League are successful in making live streaming packages accessible to foreign football fans.

If sports organizations similar to certain countries like the aforementioned GAA as well as the AFL of Australian football can provide high-level live and on-demand coverage for a smaller international audience, there is no reason why the sumo cannot do the same. The entire island of Ireland has just 5 million people, with around 12.5% ​​of those living in the greater Tokyo area alone.

The JSA, to its credit, has improved the amount and variety of content available over the past few years, but it still lags behind what others are doing. While the official Grand Sumo app allows paid subscribers to watch highlights soon after a fight ends, there’s no way to avoid seeing the results of fights before watching them and playing. content cannot be viewed on televisions.

Likewise, while the JSA has also expanded its YouTube channel, its piecemeal approach – with no English titles – and only a handful of highlights available each day – leaves you wishing the organization was just putting it all together. work and give fans what they really want. .

While the Japan Sumo Association has sponsored overseas events in the past, including an October 2005 tournament in Las Vegas, it has made no attempt to offer streams to an international audience.  |  REUTERS
While the Japan Sumo Association has sponsored overseas events in the past, including an October 2005 tournament in Las Vegas, it has made no attempt to offer streams to an international audience. | REUTERS

Although the smaller size of sumo’s current overseas fan base limits possible income in absolute terms, the potential audience for the sport is huge. Even with poor sleep-friendly time zones and countless obstacles to live coverage, overseas sumo tracking continued to expand. The JSA needs to take the “if you build it, they will come” perspective and deliver live content that will propel that growth into high gear.

With six of the last seven yokozuna born outside the borders of Japan and wrestlers from 25 different nations who have competed in zumo, it’s downright embarrassing that family, friends and supporters of strangers rikishi, as well as regular fans in other countries still have no choice but to jump through countless hoops and surreptitiously search for links to unauthorized streams just to watch the sport they love. .

Failure to respond to this fan base isn’t just a lost opportunity for the JSA – it’s actively damaging the organization.

YouTube is central to the media consumption habits of young sumo fans who will be there for decades to come. Without live broadcasts or extended highlights, the powers of sumo are ceding this space to unofficial sources.

Some of these channels broadcast solid content, but the JSA’s inaction also risks leaving the sumo conversation dominated by bad faith actors purely for the sake of increasing views and revenue.

Football, rugby, or American football conspiracy theories have limited traction because there is so much information available in major sports. In sumo, however, the lack of accessible content means that those who are willing to exploit the tendency of social media algorithms to promote anything sensational or controversial can quickly increase their numbers – which can be seen in the rise of social media. Strong conspiracy-theory sumo YouTube channels in both English and Japanese.

To protect the sport’s reputation and properly reward and nurture the international sumo audience, the JSA and its partners must make live streaming of tournaments and highlights packages an immediate priority.

In a time of both disinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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