Rakuten launches sports streaming platform armed with global J. League rights
By Jonathan Rest
Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce company, today launched its live sports streaming platform, headlined by rights to domestic soccer's J. League in more than 140 territories worldwide for the 2019 season.
Rakuten Sports will deliver J. League matches live and on-demand in countries where rights deals are not in place under an agreement with Lagardère Sports, which holds global media rights, outside of Japan, to the league in a deal that expires at the end of this year.
The contract excludes Japan, where OTT platform DAZN holds exclusive J. League media rights in a 10-year, $2-billion deal.
In addition to streaming live matches, Rakuten Sports will also offer 'Iniesta TV', an original series focused on Spanish soccer star Andrés Iniesta, who plays for Vissel Kobe, the J. League club owned by Rakuten. The programme, featuring exclusive interviews with Iniesta, and unique behind-the-scenes footage, will be available on demand across desktop, mobile, and tablet devices.
Basketball and table tennis are expected to join the Rakuten Sports platform in the near future.
Makoto Arima, Rakuten's executive vice-president and chief revenue officer and president of Rakuten’s Media and Sports business, explained: “We are delighted to deliver the joy of sports to people around the world, which is why Rakuten has worked alongside our partners to bring a diverse lineup of sports initiatives to life. Rakuten Sports represents an important part of this mission. We hope to contribute to the continued growth of the J.League by sharing what the league has to offer with soccer fans around the world.”
The J. League hopes the agreement with Rakuten will particularly appeal to soccer fans in south east Asia, where the league believes it can assert itself as the 'Asian Premier League'.
Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos are all target markets off the back of the league's successful work in Thailand, which is excluded from the Rakuten deal, as the country's pay-TV operator TrueVisions holds the rights.
Masaaki Kimura, senior managing director of the J. League, said: “In addition to the international superstars like Andrés Iniesta and Fernando Torres playing in the league, we feel the growing global interest towards our league. We hope to have a positive synergy with Rakuten Sports and make the league become more attractive for all sports fans around the world to enjoy.”
Nikolaus von Doetinchem, executive vice-president of global media at Lagardère Sports, added: “The J. League is fast becoming one of the most attractive leagues in Asia and features international superstars like Andrés Iniesta, David Villa, Lukas Podolski and Fernando Torres. As the appetite for compelling sports content available on digital platforms grows, we were excited to come to Rakuten with a customised concept for a new state-of-the-art partnership activation which led to the launch of a new sports entertainment platform for fans.
“It’s also a great example of how media rights can be deployed to engage more fans all over the world in innovative ways and which in this case will grow exposure for the J. League internationally and support Rakuten in leveraging their strategic investment in the league.”
J. League matches will be available on Rakuten Sports worldwide, excluding: Algeria; Bahrain; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Brunei; Canada; Chad; China; Croatia; Djibouti; Egypt; Hong Kong; Iran; Iraq; Japan; Jordan; Kosovo; Kuwait; Lebanon; Libya; Macau; Mauritania; Mongolia; Montenegro; Morocco; North Macedonia; Oman; Palestine; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Serbia; Slovenia; Somalia; South Korea; South Sudan; Sudan; Syria; Thailand; Tunisia; United Arab Emirates; USA; and Yemen.
Earlier this year, the J. League teamed up with its official technology partner, the telecoms giant NTT Group, to launch digital content hub, 'J.League Furoshiki', which houses all the league's digital assets such as video content, still images, and statistical data, including copyrighted game images.
The J.League is using the content produced from Furoshiki as a teaser for international broadcasters ahead of new deals that come into effect in 2020, although Sportcal understands discussions will first take place with Lagardère about a renewal before any formal invitation to tender is issued.