True to my word, I’m not reading Yahoo!
(note: I’ve edited a bit to make my points more clear rather than implied. I’ve tried to note changes with a ‘*’)
So while looking for sumo news in the week before Nagoya, I ran across an interesting column in the Japan Times by Mark Buckton, “YouTube Poses Unique Challenges For Japan Sumo Association.” However, it’s not really that unique of a challenge, and if leveraged properly, it could be a boon to the sport.
In the article, Buckton called out Jason Harris for posting bouts on YouTube and particularly for promoting his tip jar. He also called out the defunct Araibira feed. Araibira was eventually kicked off YouTube for violating terms of service but quickly moved over to Vimeo until his academic schedule began to be too demanding and he quit. He used to record even lower division bouts and, in clear violation of YouTube’s ToS, offered no commentary or original content – just a straight rip of the NHK broadcast.
An important point, overlooked in the article, was that Jason mutes the audio in the lead up to – and following – the bouts, and provides his own commentary and news. THAT is HIS intellectual property. More over, he does it for free. The tip jar is there but there is no obligation. I free ride. Would it change things for Buckton if Jason’s channel had ubiquitous ads, instead of the tip jar? *Then, it would not be so obvious that he’s making money from our views. I know WordPress puts ads on here because I use their free service but I don’t make the money. That would go to WordPress. There’s much less transparency there.*
This is not a unique challenge. For as long as an event or work of art could be recorded or reproduced, the originators of that work have been trying to protect their interests, nowadays we call it intellectual property. YouTube, Napster, pirate radio, fine art and literature reproduction are all examples.
In journalism, I’ve found that sites like Yahoo! and Huffington Post compromise on their integrity in exchange for data on readers. The readers get to read lower quality “news” in exchange for their data. *On the other side, using a pay wall, I pay for high quality journalism of the FT. I expect a high standard and laugh when their former journalist goes to start Gawker and gets bankrupted by their decision to publish a Hulk Hogan sex tape. Way to go, Peter Thiel! Journalism has standards.*
To understand how much of your data you are giving away, I encourage you to use the cookies manager+ extension in Firefox and be wary of Flash advertising. Buckton, presumably, has an advantageous position as a member of the press. He gets paid to watch and report on sumo, “living the dream”. My family will shell out $1000 to be able to watch senshuraku in Nagoya (1 day), not to mention the costs of the plane, shinkansen,and hotels just to get there as I do not have the luxury of living and working in Japan.
*What I mean is, for us foreigners it is difficult to be a fan and to stay engaged with the sport. The community that Jason’s YouTube channel fosters is clearly beneficial to the sport. When I was a teenager, I used to watch a sumo highlights show on ESPN. I loved it. But when they got rid of it, there was no YouTube to fill the void. Now, I can watch the Mongolian feed (which is still free, I believe, you just have to register) or Jason or Kintamayama. But the YouTube feeds are even better than the old ESPN show because they’re on demand and the comment section encourages discussion and fosters community.*
I must say that while writing this article, my attention is diverted by two things: the Wales – Belgium game and the alcohol I’m consuming, because I’m in a bar watching the game. Thankfully, this bar has free Wi-Fi…something extremely rare in Tokyo. This is relevant because Starbucks and many other cafes in the US generate revenue and sales by giving people Wi-Fi. Many small IT businesses here in DC are run out of cafes like Starbucks. *The JSA receives revenue from me because I am a fan and can follow sumo via the feeds and engage you with my blog. It’s much harder to follow if I have to wake up at 3am to watch an NHK feed which requires an extra package on top of premium cable. The feeds provide a valuable service to us, as international fans, and the JSA.*
Normally, I cannot watch these soccer games because I cannot pay $150/month for access to cable channels like Fox Sports or ESPN (much less for the additional NHK package so I could watch sumo). However, I can watch it here, in the bar, while I eat dinner. Also, I enjoy it more by watching with fellow fans. For sumo, though, I can’t host my friends at 5am at my house for a fortnight to watch a basho.
It’s a business, like any other. If Jason made enough money on his site to sponsor his boy Okinoumi with some kenshokin, that may have a dramatic affect on the JSA’s perception and acceptance of his channel. I know that if I made the $600 needed for a banner, I’d do it. Do potential advertisers even realize it’s so affordable? Mind you, I’m on the free version of WordPress. If I had to pay to have this site, I would need to seriously re-think my commitment. More likely, I’d find a different free platform because I don’t make money from this and there are enough websites out there that someone would have a free platform (again, another example of this same issue).
I would love to make money from this blog. And that would bring with it more reliable coverage and better, more thought out articles – rather than the rants you usually get – because I’d be motivated to put more time and effort into this. If Jason has a tip jar, I’m sure he feels the need to earn/deserve the money. He would be less free to take a tournament off, for example. And he’d be motivated to provide more, better coverage to hopefully increase benefit from the tip jar. He’s now working for us. It’s easy to blame “the liberal media” for not understanding economic fundamentals, but this is a prime example.
Now that I’ve broached the topic of kenshokin, I must admit that is where one of my interests lies. I’m an economist and the additional motivation provided by those bounties is mind-blowing. I want data on bounties at the per wrestler, per bout level. Fascinating analysis could come out of that. *We see how motivation for money hurts sport in the form of yaocho, but it can be leveraged to help competition in the form of kenshokin. (Don’t you dare forget Hakuho’s jubilation and pride whenever he grabs a fat stack of envelopes.)* Beyond kenshokin, I find sumo to be such a great, primal sport. I’ve mentioned it before; it’s professional, organized King of the Hill with a spiritual, almost religious, ceremonial component.
To the Japanese Sumo Association, I would caution against alienating fans. Make money, but embrace the fans. What is your business model? Fans in seats and buying trinkets. Any professional sport makes money from gate receipts and official merchandise. If a league is successful, sponsorship will follow because with eyeballs comes marketing opportunities. The preoccupation, therefore, should be getting fans into seats and people watching sumo.
The Web 2.0 concept allows the sport to build a larger, more knowledgeable community of fans via rich, user generated feedback. There are fantastic data and statistics available at sumodb.sumogames.de. This fan generated content draws more people and more eyeballs into the sport by, first and foremost, changing perspectives.
Most people, even Japanese, perceive sumo as a bunch of fat guys, bouncing around in diapers. Guys who shatter that mold bring interest to the SPORT of sumo, and to the realization that it is not a bunch of sideshow freaks. If there were more money in sumo, you’d see a lot more Japanese and even American football players, wary of CTE, come into the sport. But the motivation (read: the paycheck) isn’t there. Face it, more Japanese would rather the life of a salaryman than a rikishi. If there’s more money in the sport, more will get into it, the competition will get better, and an industry will grow – and it certainly wouldn’t be so hard to find news or footage on the sport.