Companies in Japan flock to sponsor sumo amid recent popularity

Companies in Japan flock to sponsor sumo amid recent popularity
Mongolian-born "yokozuna", Hakuho (L) receives the Emperor's Cup after he won the final bout in the Spring Grand Sumo tournament in Osaka.

JAPAN - Corporate sponsors are providing more and more monetary prizes during grand sumo tournaments, spurred by the recent strong popularity of the sport.

Sponsors are rethinking the value of prize money as an advertising tool amid sumo's renewed popularity, according to observers. A great number of prizes were offered during the spring tournament in Osaka as the 15-day tournament drew sellout crowds every day for the first time in 14 years. A similar record was set at the January tournament for the first time in 18 years.

The recent excitement generated by sumo matches is attracting close attention from corporations.

One prize is worth ¥62,000 (S$14,000), and wrestlers receive ¥56,700 after expenses are deducted. A record 61 prizes were offered for the final bout of the New Year's tournament, when Hakuhou faced off against Kakuryu.

The victorious Hakuhou received roughly ¥3.45 million from this bout alone.

Newly-promoted sekiwake Terunofuji said when a match is sponsored, something awakens inside the wrestlers. "You get into this mood where you feel like, 'You know, maybe I'll give it a shot.'"

According to the Japan Sumo Association, a record 7,266 prizes were offered last year. The most ever contributed to a single tournament was the 1,625 prizes offered for the 2015 New Year's tournament.

Eight companies contributed for the first time at the spring tournament, including Little Sheep Japan, which manages the Chinese hot pot restaurant chain Little Sheep Group.

"In December last year we opened up our flagship restaurant in Osaka. If we can provide support and publicity for the sumo wrestlers, that's two birds with one stone," a spokesman for the company said.

Even though the popular wrestler Endo withdrew midway through the Osaka tournament, corporate sponsors had contributed 992 prizes by the 11th day.

Ushers carry banners bearing brand names around the ring when a match is sponsored, and company and product names are also announced. Sponsorship is therefore highly effective advertising.

"Recognition of the importance of sponsorship as an advertising tool has spread. The economy is looking up, and young, popular wrestlers come out. That encourages companies to advertise in that venue," said Yasuaki Matsumoto, chief researcher at Dentsu Inc.Speech

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