Wednesday, May 6, 2009

TV Sports in Japan

For those of you wondering what televised sports is like in Japan, let me tell you - it's not that good. Well, that's not quite fair. Local sports are well-covered, but international sports are more difficult to find on the dial. And since Japanese sports fans only follow Japanese players, we really don't get a wide variety when they are shown.

In the big 4 North American sports, MLB is the most popular sport here by far, due to the presence of several Japanese stars. There is almost always an MLB game on live in the morning. Sounds good, until you realize that only 4 players are closely followed: Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Akinori Iwamura. So there's a steady stream of Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays games, and not much else. The next week has Rays vs Yankees, Rays vs Red Sox, Yankees vs Blue Jays, and Red Sox vs Mariners. Want an NL game? There'll be one Astros-Cubs (who have Kosuke Fukudome) matchup in that time.

The other leagues are available, but only on premium cable channels such as J Sports and Gaora.

For example, there is one or two NBA games per week on J Sports. If you want more, you can subscribe to a package known as NBA League Pass, available on the Sky Perfect satellite service, which gives you a game a day for $200 for the season. Of course, you also need to set up the whole satellite system, although monthly charges are only $5 a month.

The NFL gets better treatment, with at least 2 live games every week, shared between Gaora and G+. The bad thing is that the early games are on around 2:15 am here, which is not conducive to maintaining a normal lifestyle. If they show a late game, or even better, a night game, then I will wake up to watch it, regardless of who is playing. All playoff games are shown live as well, which is more than can be said for the other sports.

As for the NHL, there's one game a week on J Sports. It is not live though, instead a game that was played several days ago is shown. The Stanley Cup Finals are usually on live however. Even then, there are no promises that the game will be shown in its entirety, should multiple overtimes occur. I recall one game, back in 2000, when Dallas was playing New Jersey in the finals, game 6, double overtime. Suddenly the broadcast ended, and a Japanese baseball game appeared in its place. I fired off a scathing e-mail suggesting that they get their priorities straight; strangely I never received a reply. And New Jersey won the cup about 10 minutes after the broadcast ended. Such are the indiginties endured by a hockey fan in Japan.

We do have an ESPN channel here, part of the J Sports family. I can watch one SportsCenter a day, but they block the NFL highlights. I guess the rights holder in Japan feels that watching highlights will decrease interest in other matches, when the opposite is likely true. It's kind of a joke that these highlights are blocked when anybody can watch them online.

In fact, with live streaming available for almost every game, these days I can watch what I want on the computer for free. But the quality is not always great and the service can be unreliable. Each league offers every game online for a fee. MLB has MLB.TV, but all live games are blacked out in Japan (update Aug 31st: Games are no longer blacked out and I've got MLB.TV - it's fricking amazing!). The NHL's Center Ice package is apparently very good, while the NBA has it's League Pass Online, and the NFL offers its Game Pass. But these services are not cheap and prevent you from using your computer to write interesting and exciting blog posts, such as this.

Of course, there are many other leagues and sports throughout the world, and there are plenty of those games available. I am able to see English Premiership matches most weekends, some rugby here and there, and a few other sports that are not really covered in North America. This variety has allowed me to become interested in sports that I hadn't even heard of a few years ago, and has led me to new destinations.

So it's not all bad. Still, as a fan of the big 4, I do wish that there was more availability on TV here. But until the Japanese become truly global sports fans and start following other players, teams, and leagues, I don't think going to happen.

Best,

Sean

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