TOKYO (FNS) -- Since J-League, Japan's professional soccer league, opened its first season May 15, 1993, it has become one of the bright spots in the nation's sluggish consumer economy and a boon to food retailers.
About 4 million people have come to see the games, and total ticket sales were expected to reach 10 billion yen ($92 million U.S.) over the season, which ended with the league championship match yesterday.
Revenues from product licensing look to be far greater. J-League-related merchandise includes T-shirts and other apparel, floppy disks by Sony, batteries by Panasonic and credit cards. Star players appear on TV commercials endorsing everything from underwear to juices, sausages to wigs.
In retail stores, licensed J-League snacks have scored big
among fad-conscious Japanese youth. Tops in popularity are items such as potato chips, chewing gum, frozen novelties and chocolate wafers embossed with the J-League's soccer ball-headed mascot.
"It's a J-League effect," says Chitoshi Midomae, manager of the processed foods department at Izumiya Co., Osaka. In its 56 food and general merchandise stores, Izumiya sells 10 different J-League snack items, including chips, candies, gums and chocolate. "Thanks to the popularity of J-League and its star players, related snacks became big hits," he said.
Midomae said J-League chips by Calbee are selling at a rate of 11,300 packs a month through the Izumiya stores. "It is definitely more than expected. Sales from J-League chips make up 3.5% of the stores' snack category, in terms of numbers sold," he said.
Tokyo-based Nichii, which has 151 chain stores in Japan, sells Calbee's chips, candies from Sakuma Co. and Kanebo Foods Co., and chocolate biscuits from Ezaki Gilco Co.
"J-League snacks have done great sales in 1993," said a spokesman for the chain. Although it does not release the sales figures, he added, "The popularity of J-League made related snacks the best seller of the year."
At the 45 food and general merchandise stores of Nagazakiya Co., J-League licensed items are consistently outselling other brands of sweets, said Iwao Okano, confectionery merchandiser of the processed foods department of the Tokyo-based chain.
Okano said Nagasakiya's sales of J-League snacks have been increasing since the introduction of J-League chips to the chain on Nov. 21, 1993. Manufacturers also have been receiving good reactions from retailers. Takao Hosokawa, section manager of the confectionery development planning division of Ezaki Glico Co., a manufacturer of J-League chocolate said, "Retailers said that sales of our J-League chocolate is outstanding." About 70% of J-League chocolate is sold at supermarkets and national chains, about 20% is sold in convenience stores, and 10% is sold at other kinds of stores, according to Hosokawa. A spokesman from Morinaga Milk Industry Co., a maker of J-League-related frozen novelties, dessert cups and yogurt said, "Even during the cool summer of 1993, J-League merchandise sold pretty well."
One thing that some makers do to attract Japanese youth is include premiums for each purchase, since the flavor is not different from non-J-League confectioneries. Glico includes one of 40 team logo stickers inside each package of its chocolates. Such collectibles help create repeat purchases, Hosokawa says.
Calbee has created a series of 200 picture cards of J-League players as a premium. Cards are handed out by store cashiers with each purchase. Another reason J-League snacks have been big hits is that their retail prices are low enough for children to afford. For example, J-League chips sell for about 45 yen, chocolate is 120 yen and chewing gum is 60 yen. With the 1994 season set to begin on March 12, Nagasakiya's Okano said he expects, "J-League effect will continue, and its related confectioneries will sell more to contribute to our business."