When it launched in Japan in 2016, Perform Group’s DAZN promised to shake up the market by “empowering fans” to watch sports content more easily and affordably.
The proposition has had encouraging uptake from typical sports enthusiasts, which in Japan means baseball and to a lesser degree football fans. The company does not disclose subscriber numbers or targets, but Kay Matsuoka, head of PR, says it has seen “constant growth” since hitting 1 million on its first anniversary.
DAZN’s marketing efforts to date have leaned heavily on its J.League, MLB and NPB rights. But Yoichiro Basso, who joined as SVP and CMO in May, says the platform has a lot more to offer people who don’t necessarily want to follow an entire league, but treat sporting coverage as periodical entertainment. Other properties range from the Premier League to F1.
“Our ambition is to be the single provider of all sports needs,” Basso says. “That’s the direction we’re going in. That market is much broader and certainly includes lighter users.” It means going after more female and younger viewers, and people “not as motivated with sport”.
To an extent the approach means helping to raise the level of interest in sport in Japan and working out “how to put sport into more people’s lives”. Culturally the market is quite distinct from the UK, where DAZN is headquartered and where sport is deeply ingrained in daily life. Last week, DAZN opened a sports bar, DAZN Circle, in Shibuya, Tokyo’s youth centre. More of a minimalistic café than the down-at-heel type of venue the words ‘sports bar’ bring to mind, it’s part of an effort to “create more touchpoints” and will be in place for at least a year, says Matsuoka, who works closely with Basso.
“It's a first effort to articulate ourselves as a lifestyle brand,” Basso says. “A step towards what our business can look like in a multidimensional realm.” They aim to track signups resulting from visits as well as using the space as a PR tool.
Another initiative has been working with the J.League to create more opportunities to watch matches at the stadium, opening up Friday night matches. “Traditional broadcasters don't do that—try to bring more people to stadiums,” Matsuoka says. “That’s how we’re different. We work closely with the league.”
At the same time, DAZN does not have rights to Tokyo 2020. For the Rugby World Cup, it is only able to screen pre-matches in August and September and highlights of completed games. Not to be deterred by this detail, Basso describes the events as “huge opportunities” for DAZN and thinks the platform will benefit indirectly from the surge of interest in sports that they will hopefully ignite.
“For us it’s not always about acquiring rights and then streaming those rights; it’s more about the moment where there’s going to be tremendous energy and excitement, where Japan will be on the global stage, and how we want to participate in celebrating that moment,” Basso says.
He says there is “no question” that subscriptions go up when a Japanese athlete performs well internationally, and part of DAZN’s strategy will be to amplify those instances.
At around 40 people, the marketing team Basso oversees in Japan is bigger than you might expect. DAZN’s total presence the market—its only one in Asia out of nine globally—is around 300. Alignment with Dentsu, which is a stakeholder, helps strengthen its presence (the company initially worked with Essence and Ogilvy).
A sporty type himself, the former AKQA managing director says he joined DAZN out of a belief in its vision to “transform the way sports is experienced” and its “high growth disruptive business model”.
The company revels in its “disruptor” status—to a point. A painting of Commodore Perry’s black ships (which forced Japan to trade with the outside world in the 19th century) hangs in the office reception, and the historical episode formed the basis of a jokey branding campaign last year. But Basso, who used to work for Uber in San Francisco, says while there is some internal ambition to disrupt traditional broadcasters, he prefers to apply to term to the “transformative nature of sports and technology”.
Basso says that presenting sports more as a form of lifestyle entertainment is likely to involve more in the way of supplementary content such as pre-game programming about individual athletes and teams. He says that while people have been sceptical of DAZN’s commitment to the market (as Japan usually is towards foreign businesses) it is here to stay. The J.League deal is due to run for a decade.
“All our activities fall into this philosophy,” he says. He refuses to disclose the marketing budget, but says it’s “healthy for our ambitions, which are big and broad” and that the company “does not shy away from making bold bets”. The ratio of spending on digital and traditional media is likely to change as efforts to reach lighter sports fans increase, he says.
“We’re interested in working with like-minded people,” Basso adds. “Sports providers, lifestyle brands who have similar ambitions. We value and respect the market we work in and we’re looking to collaborate more frequently.”