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    Seibu oldtimers game and AL’s future

    Posted by simon c on 2009 April 3日 Friday

    On 28 March 2009, as part of the Seibu Prince Rabbits fan appreciation day, there was a Seibu Railways (Polar Bears) – Kokudo (Bunnies) oldtimers game (Seibu Prince Rabbits are a result of the merger between Seibu Railways and Kokudo teams, both owned by the Seibu Group, in 2003. In fact, the Seibu Railway team split into Kokudo in 1972, shortly after the club was formed in 1966, a now jailed Tsutsumi CEO project, he was a huge hockey fan who even took Daisuke Matsuzaka to a Seibu hockey game shortly after he was drafted to the Lions).

    Here are some great photos and story (Japanese) from the oldtimers game. The advert-less unis look wonderful, as the old rivals squared off for one last time. There were 44 Seibu oldtimers and 29 Kokudo seniors. Seibu had a ringer in current Nikko IceBuck Hideji Tsuchida (sorta like Mark Messier in the Canadiens v Oilers oldtimers superstars match while he was still an active Ranger). The oldtimers game ended in a fitting 5-5 tie.

    Apparently more than 20 companies made inquiries about taking the Rabbits off Seibu’s hands, but the 5-oku (~$5m) operating cost and average attendance of 1,000 was the deal breaker (in the 70s(?) hockey was able to draw crowds of 10,000 at Yoyogi Arena). Though I doubt that any of the discussions went too deep, because it’s possible to run an Asia League hockey club on less than half that budget, like the Nikko IceBucks are doing. Something tells me that Seibu wanted to get rid of its hockey arm, as part of eliminating the Tsutsumi colours, what with the former group president being convicted for large scale fraud. (And I suspect that’s the similar reasoning behind the Saitama Seibu Lions moving away from the sky blue and Osamu Tezuka Leo logo towards almost-black navy and the weird lion palm and baseball logo, though the faux-Detroit Tigers unis are classy.)

    Here’s the official statement from the AL Chairman about Seibu folding. The one positive is that he mentions that the league is rather positive about accepting new teams into the now 6 team league (same size as the old Japanese Ice Hockey League). This is good news for the Tohoku Free Blades who have an exhibition game against the Oji Eagles  on 5 April at 13:00 at the Bandai Atami Ice Arena in Koriyama, Fukushima (one of the Blades’ home towns). The Blades have already played an exhibition match against the AL last place team Nikko, so the increasing involvement with AL teams is positive development for the Blades to join the AL. (I’m also hoping that the western Japan powerhouse Surpass Kagawa will eventually join the AL as well, but there are no current rumours.)

    So, there’s a decent chance that the AL will still be a 7 team league next season, despite being weakened by the loss of Seibu (though this opens the door for the Korean and Chinese teams, which is a welcome change). Apparently 12-15 Seibu players have a chance of catching on with another team in Asia or Europe next seasons, others are likely to become regular Seibu Group employees. Though with the lack of funding for the Blades, they look unlikely to be taking on the expensive Seibu players.

    A short Q&A was held with the Seibu hockey club owner (president) Koyama on 31 March when the official team folding was announced. Here’s the abridged version (full version in Japanese here).

    Q: What was the reasoning behind the timing of this press conference?

    A: Each team must submit player transfer/release list by mid-April, hence the timing.

    Q: How will the players be treated going forward?

    A: Individual interviews will be conducted with each player during April. The key question is whether players want to keep on playing hockey or joing the company (Seibu) full-time and start working on regular jobs. We will support the players as much as possible.

    Q: What are the specific plans to support the players?

    A: Players will be able to stay in the team dorm until July. Request has been made to the company so that the (semi-pro) players will be given a 2 year sabbatical from the company to pursue their hockey careers if that is their wish.

    Q: What will happen to company referees and coaches who contribute to the AL?

    A: Immediately pulling them out will cause trouble for the league, so we are in discussion with officials such as the federation for their future. The rink (Higashifushimi) will continue to operate as usual (as the home of the women’s Princess Rabbits team, figure skating, and public skating.)

    Q: What were the reactions inside the company regarding the hockey team folding?

    A: The company itself is undergoing major restructuring, so this issue went rather unnoticed compared to the past.

    Q: How did the discussions go with prospective buyers of the team?

    A: 20 to 25 companies from Tokyo and outside Tokyo expressed interest. They were interested in hockey as a sport, but the average attendance of 1000+ made serious discussion difficult, and ultimately ended in failure.

    Incidentally, 2008-09 average attendance:

    1: Oji Eagles 1498 (all games over 1000)
    2: Seibu Prince Rabbits (attendance boosted after team folding announcement)
    3: Nippon Paper Cranes 1211
    4: Anyang Halla 1052
    5: Nikko IceBucks 1013 (used to have over 4000 supporters when the club first formed 10 years ago)
    6: High1 488 (all tickets are free, but no advertising, sponsor must be loaded)

    7: China Sharks (many comp tickets given out, attracting thousands of fans at some games, hopefully they gained some traction in the Shanghai student town.) 

    Posted in 02_English, 03_Translations (英訳ポートフォリオ), Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, Japan, opinion, press releases, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Seibu Prince Rabbits on the Globe

    Posted by simon c on 2009 April 3日 Friday

    The Asia League Ice Hockey powerhouse Seibu Prince Rabbits folding even made the news in the Globe and Mail (via AP), the Canadian (or Toronto) newspaper.

     TOKYO — The Seibu Prince Rabbits, a Japanese hockey team with a 37-year history, is the latest casualty of Japan’s economic crises.

    The Rabbits were disbanded Tuesday after the club’s parent company, Prince Hotels Inc., was unable to find a new owner.

    Since announcing its withdrawal from the sport in December, the Seibu group held talks with more than 20 companies seeking a buyer for the team but found no takers.

    “I think they could have done more,” Chris Wakabayashi, the team’s Canadian-born coach said Wednesday. “They tried to negotiate with companies to take over the whole team and that’s tough to do in this climate. It seems to me there was no Plan B and I think they just wanted to get out of the sport.”

    Annual costs of running the team were estimated at $5.1-million (U.S.), while the average attendance for games was just 1,000.

    The decision leaves Seibu’s players out of a job. Wakabayashi said about 12 or 15 players on the 30-man roster have a chance of finding a place on other teams in Asia or Europe.

    The Rabbits roster includes Richard Rochefort of North Bay, Ont., and Joel Prpic of Sudbury, Ont.

    http://sports.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090401.wsptjapan0401/GSStory/GlobeSportsHockey/home

    What’s surprising is that there were over 20 companies who were in talks (who knows how deep, though probably not very) to take over the team.

    Here’s an official statement from the Asia League chairman, it’s good to know that the league is forward thinking about accepting new teams (ie.  Tohoku Free Blades.)

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, hockey, information, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Seibu Prince Rabbits to fold after 2008-09

    Posted by simon c on 2008 December 19日 Friday

    Seibu Prince Rabbits, the perennial powerhouse team in the Asia League Ice Hockey (and also separately as Seibu and Kokudo in the Japan Ice Hockey League before their merger) will effectively cease team operations following the current 2008-09 season due to the termination of funding from the main sponsor Prince Hotel Group (a Seibu Holdings company). This announcement was made to the players from the team owner on 18 January.

    Head coach Chris Wakabayashi was in tears after the announcement, captain Takahito Suzuki was in shock and said “I can’t believe this right now. The most important thing at the moment is to finish the season, but this will be very difficult for (Japanese and Asian) ice hockey.” 

    The current economic climate also aided in this decision by the parent company to stop funding the team, which is said to cost about JPY 500 million (~ US$4.5 million) per season (equivalent to the salary for a couple of Saitama Seibu Lions star baseball players…). There is a possibility that the Seibu team will continue to exist as a club team (like how Yukijirushi (Snow Brand) became Sapporo Polaris for a season, and how Furukawa became the Nikko IceBucks as the parent companies ceased to fund these teams), but with the lack of fan base and community support, this seems like a rather unlikely scenario for Seibu, and Tokyo area hockey fans will lose their only source of watching live high level hockey. The Asia League should continue to exist in the current 7 team form next season, as the Tohoku Free Blades based in northeastern Honshu should be entering the league, barring any more unexpected team foldings.)

    On the same day, the much larger American Football X-League’s Onward Skylarks also announced that they will not be participating in the upcoming season as the team has effectively folded as well.

    Posted in 02_English, Asia League Ice Hockey, baseball, hockey, information, Japan, NPB, opinion, tokyo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

    The Subprime Primer

    Posted by simon c on 2008 September 30日 Tuesday

    So, that’s what’s happened  :P

    Posted in 02_English, culture, random | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

     
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