The Japan Volleyball League Organization (the Japan V-League) recently made an interesting announcement.
The organization, which serves a similar role to the Korea Volleyball Organization (KOVO), held a press conference in Tokyo on April 26 to announce that it will launch a new league starting in the 2024-2025 season. The new league will be a higher tier than the current Japanese V-League, with the “ultimate goal of becoming the best league in the world.” It’s not just an idea. A basic operational plan was also distributed to reporters, with a tentative S-V league as an interim step to make the superstar-studded league a reality by 2030.
Currently, there are many volleyball leagues around the world, the best of which are the Italian and Turkkiye leagues. Japan aims to surpass them with its strong economy and rich volleyball infrastructure. To create the new league, the government plans to push for reforms with the entities that currently run the leagues and let them choose whether or not to participate in the new league. They are also looking for ideas to overhaul existing league organizations and expand the volleyball business.
The Japanese volleyball community believes that while baseball, basketball and soccer may not be able to leapfrog other leagues, volleyball can certainly catch up. With a robust sporting goods industry symbolized by Mikasa, Molten, Asics, Mizuno, and others, a developed broadcasting system, plenty of experience playing international matches, great stadium facilities, and a population of about 100 million people, there are plenty of foundations to ensure the league’s success. With the addition of software, the sky is the limit.
The key is the composition of the players in the league.
You can be the best in the world, but if your players aren’t the best, you won’t be competitive. If you have a league like the MLB, NBA, or EPL that has star players who can play at a level that exceeds human limits and is broadcast around the world, it naturally increases the competitiveness of the league. That’s why leagues need superstars. In line with the new initiative, Japan is also looking to increase the number of foreign players. Starting with the upcoming season, they’re going to allow up to four foreign players per team. Agents from all over the world are very interested in this move. China has also increased the number of foreign players to three.
As Japan and China open their doors to foreign players, the V-League will be affected. There are only so many big-name players in the world’s leagues. If they are concentrated in one place, a player shortage will follow. Players and agents will have no choice but to move to where the contract terms and league environment are better. Despite being in the same Asian country, the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese leagues have different characteristics. China offers a lot of money, but the internal and external environment discourages foreign players. Japan has the advantage of a stable league environment. There are also a lot of long-term contracts. The V-League treats players well, but there is a high risk of abuse, and there is a lack of contract stability due to frequent player changes. Right now, teams in the V-League spend more money than the best leagues in the world, but they don’t get what they deserve. With the launch of its new league, Japan hopes to get more than its money’s worth in business success and popularity, and to be recognized as the best in the world.
Japan’s new initiative will also have a big impact on foreign player tryouts in the V-League. In the wake of the Turkiye tryouts, clubs’ general managers have been debating whether to continue the existing system. “It’s getting harder and harder to find the players we need for our teams,” they said, adding that they want to change the system in some way. Players with a name now are reluctant to participate in V-League tryouts. There’s a more fundamental reason than money. They don’t like the idea of being selected through competition. After free agency, the world’s biggest names stopped coming to the V-League. On the other hand, the vast majority of players in recent tryouts have been paid $100,000 or less. They are relatively unknown players. They participate in KOVO’s tryouts because their salaries would more than triple if they were drafted.
Furthermore, the V-League has a specific style of foreign player it wants. They want players with more power and RBIs than skill. Because of Keita’s success, the tryouts in Turkuye attracted a lot of young African players with good jumps and high offensive power. Of course, they weren’t selected due to their lack of other volleyball skills. Increasingly, the V-League is becoming more and more differentiated between players and clubs. The fact that a whopping six existing players signed contracts in the men’s division is a testament to this reality.
The upcoming Japan S V-League will run from October through May. It will feature up to 16 teams of both sexes, with no promotion or relegation system. It will be divided into East and West divisions, with a goal of 44 league games per team. Teams will play every weekend and gradually expand to midweek games. Starting in April or May, a quarterfinal playoff involving the four best teams from each district will be held to determine the champion. A more detailed league framework will be finalized in June.
The new league will have a clear line in the sand, as the country has been treading a fine line between professional and unemployed volleyball. Naturally, the way indigenous players are contracted will have to change. What’s interesting is the idea of Japanese volleyball looking for more foreign players. With the change in policy, there is less room for Japanese players, so the V-League has raised its protective barrier to allow only one foreign player to play. This had the side effect of lowering the quality of the league and driving up the price of native players. Some clubs want to increase the number of foreign players and appearances in order to level the playing field. The key is negative public opinion. Fans believe that more foreign players hurt native players, and they want more protection.
Japan disagrees. To be the best league in the world, it needs native players to compete with foreigners, and it wants to make itself more competitive. Yuki Ishikawa (Milan), the first Japanese men’s volleyball player to play in the Italian league, was interviewed and said, “If I can’t compete with the (foreign) players who play for my team now, my national team can’t win at international level.” Their thoughts and actions are reminiscent of the African lion, which is forced into the field to develop its survival skills.