STVV’s Growth in Japan: Success Factors, Challenges, and Understanding the Japanese’s Uniqueness

A report by our Knowledge Partner Ganassa from December 2022 showed that Sint-Truidense V.V. (STVV) has gained a significant following on Japanese Twitter, even surpassing other well-established clubs like BVB or AS Roma. FBIN delved into an extensive discussion with Youssouf Keita, the Communication Manager, and Ryuki Nishihara, the Personal Assistant to the CEO and Japanese Content Manager at STVV, to explore the stories behind this growth. 

By Quang T. Pham

What are the key factors that contributed to this social media growth?  

Having Japanese players in the squad 

Ryuki: I’m in charge of managing the club’s social media content in Japan such as Twitter, Instagram, and our website. As a Japanese, it gives me an in-depth understanding of the Japanese market and how fans consume social media. Additionally, I’m also based in Belgium and closely collaborate with both players and the Belgian communication team to ensure effective communication with our Japanese audience. Our key focus is always on Japanese players with high engagement and an established fan base, such as Daichi Hayashi. I also provide these players with strategic guidance and support their content creation efforts.  

Deep cultural understanding through on-site Japanese staff  

Youssouf: What sets us apart from other clubs is having Ryuki, a Japanese colleague working on-site with us here in Belgium. This allows him to be on the same schedule as the team and directly communicate with the Japanese community. This is a big advantage for us as most other clubs certainly have social media teams based in Asia, leading to a time-difference challenge. Fortunately, our club is owned by DMM.com and their strategy involves having a few Japanese employees in various departments on-site. Currently, we have five to six Japanese employees in different departments within the club.  

Foster key local and international partnerships  

Youssouf: One important factor in our success is our collaboration with DAZN, a broadcaster who is in almost daily contact with us. Most, if not all, of our games, are broadcasted directly in Japan, raising awareness of the club. We also have other key local partners who are helping us with marketing, such as the recent commercials at Shibuya Station in Tokyo and a TV show in Japan that speaks about STVV every week. These initiatives, along with the support of the club and its partners, show that it is not just a one-man job but the efforts of all partners and the club working together.

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What are the key challenges when tapping into the Japanese football market? 

Ryuki: Certainly, we face challenges with the time difference when posting content. We have to find the best times to avoid other leagues. For example, I keep track of the kick-off time for J-League games and post our content accordingly. I also strive to post at times when Japanese people are most active on social media, for example, during their morning commute work around 7-8 am. 

Youssouf: I can say that our strategy in Japan is different from what we do in Belgium. In Belgium, our brand is already established and well-known as the club has existed for 100 years and has spent many years in the first division. If you ask Belgian football followers, they will recognize the name STVV. In Japan, our strategy is more focused on increasing recognition within the country. There is a lot of competition with bigger football teams, so our challenge but also our ultimate goal is to make people aware of our club, which is owned by a Japanese company and has five or six Japanese players.

What are the unique characteristics of football fan culture and engagement in Japan? 

Japanese fans prefer the simplicity and core content of football 

Ryuki: Our editors here in Belgium usually create well-edited videos of the game. However, Japanese fans prefer to watch raw footage with less editing. They want to see the movement of the players, the assists, and the goals. This is why we have to adapt our editing specifically for the Japanese market. 

Youssouf: If you compare the way TV or broadcasting is set up in Japan and Belgium, you’ll notice that the approach in Japan is more traditional and basic. The graphics are simple and include all the necessary elements without any additional effects. For example, we occasionally create promotional materials like posters, specifically targeting the Japanese community in Belgium. However, these posters must have a standard or traditional feel and avoid using too “modern” graphic elements.  

Japanese fans follow their favorite players  

Ryuki: I think Japanese fans tend to follow the players themselves instead of just the club. For instance, if player Daichi Hayashi plays in the J-league and then moves to another club, his fans will also follow him there. 

Youssouf: You could compare it to the way Portuguese fans follow Cristiano Ronaldo, no matter what club he plays for. In Japan, it’s not just the biggest stars that have a following. Even players who don’t play for the national team can have a significant number of fans who follow their careers and become fans of the clubs they play for, such as Daichi Hayashi, as mentioned above. 

What are the next big projects at STVV? 

Youssouf: Next year marks the 100th anniversary of our club. It’s a huge milestone and we want to make it a memorable one for all our fans, including those from Japan and Belgium. Our goal is to celebrate our traditions while also embracing the future. We want to throw a big celebration that everyone will enjoy. This is definitely one of our key focuses at the moment. 


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