The Evolution of Sports Hospitality
In Japan, the practice of sports hospitality has existed for centuries long before even 16th-century feudal lord Nobunaga Oda famously held special social gatherings featuring sumo in his castle. But now sport and VIP experiences is an emerging trend worthy of attention.
Mid-16th century spectators would gather in several special private rooms in the feudal lord’s castle, where they could enjoy food and watch martial arts competitors, similar to how modern sports hospitality spectators can enjoy sports from a VIP box or special seats.
Martial arts have been part of Japanese culture since ancient times. All levels of society from feudal lords to the local gentry used Bujutsu (martial arts) as a way to survive turbulent times. While the history of fighting styles and battles is well documented, not much is known about the transition of martial arts from a form of training and fighting to a form of sport and entertainment. It is generally accepted that Nobunaga Oda introduced martial arts as a form of entertainment to the masses over 400 years ago. Now there is a renaissance in Japan with the pairing of gourmet food, fine beverages and watching sports.
Sports and VIP experiences: An emerging new form of sports spectating style in Japan.
Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan was an overwhelming success. It also marked the introduction of a western style of Sports Hospitality that is somewhat new to Japan. It combined a gourmet dining experience with entertainment and top category event tickets.
Located adjacent to International Stadium Yokohama, The Webb Ellis Pavilion and Suites combined contemporary hospitality with the best quality dining experience and a top category seat, the best available to purchase for consumers. It was a mixture of an open restaurant and 18 private suites. There was vibrant entertainment including appearances from legendary guest speakers as well as live performances. Exquisite food and beverage options were specifically selected by our in-house catering experts who carefully crafted the menu for over 18 months.The structure stretched to approximately 3,850 m2 and reached 7.4m at its highest point. This was one of the largest temporary structures to be built in Japan of its kind and combined work of local and international expertise to fulfil this project. This venue hosted just under 9,000 guests throughout the seven matches played in Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama City. Construction began on 1 June 2019 and took approximately 120 days to build and fit out the interior to bring the Pavilion to life.
Modern Sports Hospitality is often used by discerning individuals who want a higher level sport spectating experience for their family, friends, clients or colleagues. It is an experience that is unique and memorable. It gives avid fans of sport a chance to possibly meet athletes and VIPs, and gives casual spectators a chance to experience fine dining and luxury in a sports setting. Businesses often use it to provide their clients or employees with a premier atmosphere. Many companies create a custom unique experience for their guests–giving them heightened brand recognition.
Did you know Sengoku Warlord hero Nobunaga Oda was also an avid fan of the Sports and VIP experiences concept?
Before reading this article it might have been reasonable to assume that Sports Hospitality was an introduced concept to Japan. However, as mentioned it is something familiar to Japan, albeit with a greater focus on ritual and symbolism.
In the “Shincho Koki” archives at the time of Nobunaga Oda’s rule, Sengoku daimyou (feudal/war-lord), it was revealed that he had a fondness for sumo. His love of the art was so strong that he famously organised a huge tournament in his castle. In 1578, he gathered 1,500 wrestlers from the various regions of his domain to compete. Several special arenas were created in the castle to allow the tournament to flow quickly and to keep spectators safe. Subsequently, the Edo period saw a heightened interest in sumo, even Edo Castle hosted events that created a sense of unity among the military commanders. Sake was served and a good sense of omotenashi spirit (hospitality) was always evident.
Sumo is not the only sport that has enjoyed spectatorship over the years in Japan. Kyou-shya (archery), Dakyu (a sport akin to polo), as well as Kemari (akin to a keepie-uppie in football), a sport where the objective is to juggle a deer-skin ball in the air for as long as possible, all have been viewed with interest for centuries. Shrines have been a center point for many Japanese performance sports. Perhaps Yabusame is the most recognisable of these athletic activities to Japanese people. Often seen at matsuri festivals (summer festivals) the high-skill sport combines traditional Japanese archery with traditional horseback riding techniques. It is a very ritualistic and symbolic athletic activity. The arrow fired from the rider’s bow creates a distinctive sound which was used to signal the start of a battle. Ironically, the activity is now a dedication to the gods for peace and prosperity. Naturally, while watching these exhibitions viewers are enjoying food, sake, and the companionship of friends and family, much like how Sports Hospitality is enjoyed today.
There is something special about enjoying a superb meal with friends and family at a sports event — it is reminiscent of similar gatherings during the samurai era in Japan.
Nobunaga Oda possibly knew that the combination of sports spectatorship and hospitality was a powerful way to build team spirit and promote communication. What he probably did not know was that part of his legacy would be as a founder of sport hospitality in Japan. Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan with its excellent hospitality packages was a smashing success. Not only did it bring Japanese people together, it brought the world closer to Japan as seen through comments from VIP guests: “I was able to have the memory of a lifetime with special hospitality and good seats. ” and “It was great that I was able to interact with people I never knew, including guests from overseas which was worth more than the price of the ticket “ to mention a few.
While sports hospitality may seem to be reserved exclusively for the rich and famous, it is actually accessible to everyone who feels that deep desire to connect with sports like a VIP. Let’s be honest, who would not love to experience sports like Japan’s samurai heroes did? Is it not part of Japan’s cultural DNA?