footy weekends -Kyoto & Brighton-

Football life

A special interview with Kyoto Sanga FC club president, Mr Hiroshi Imai
My message to Sanga fans (Ep.1)

スペシャルインタビュー 京都サンガF.C.社長 今井浩志氏(株式会社 京都パープルサンガ 代表取締役)

My message to Sanga fans

The business philosophy secrets of a J League football club president

A special interview with Kyoto Sanga FC club president, Mr Hiroshi Imai

Kyoto Sanga FC has a history that any fan would be proud of. In 2003, they became the first J League team in Kansai (west Japan) to lift the prestigious Emperor’s cup in the National Stadium
after destroying the Kashima Antlers. Sanga was also the club where Manchester United great, Park Ji-sung, spent the beginning of his professional career.

Having just celebrated their twentieth year since becoming established as a club, they are currently fighting hard in J2, the second division of the Japanese League. They have produced several members of the Japanese national squad. Not only from the youth team, but also senior team members during the reign of previous manager, Alberto Zaccheroni (2010-2014). In addition, the club is attracting attention from around the world and sending out its players to play internationally, including the likes of top team player Yuya Kubo who is currently at Switzerland’s BSC Young Boys in the Swiss Super League.

Footy Weekends was honoured to spend time with the president of this club, Mr Hiroshi Imai, and ask him a few questions about the building of a new and much longed for stadium (due to be completed in 2017 in north Kyoto), the community-mindedness and essence of the club, as well as what he considers to be the charm of the beautiful game.

In the first part of the interview, Mr Imai gives us a personal insight into his knowledge of the industry with regards to creating a home for the club and building a new stadium. He then shares with us his fascination of the similarities he has discovered over the years between the workings of a football club and that of any other business.


“It will be a symbol of all that is Kyoto.”

FW: What are your thoughts on the new stadium?

HI: It will not simply be just another sports facility. We are designing it deliberately so that it will become an asset to Kyoto’s well established tourism industry, and connect with the existing development of the area. The concept is clear, it will be Japan’s first stadium where the players will be close to the spectators (minus the usual running track that is prevalent at many stadiums around the country), and an environmentally friendly stadium. Most of all, there is great hope that it will become a great symbol of Kyoto that people here will be proud of.

“We want to give football fans, and any sports fans for that matter, a new kind of spectator experience in Japan when they visit it.”

HI: Build a good stadium, and good games will come. We want to build an environment for the football fans in Kyoto where they can watch a great game, live. A good stadium, with good facilities, will naturally draw in good teams and quality games. We want the children who live here and have only ever watched football games on TV, to be able to watch an exciting and inspiring game live. To have them feel close to the action and excited about it, would be a very happy moment for us.

“Create a home ground feeling.”

FW: You have sampled many of the stadium offerings to be found in Europe, and you mentioned that you would like to give Kyoto fans a strong feeling that this is their home ground, that the stadium belongs to them.

HI: To do that, it can’t be just about having games going on in the ground. In terms of being a spectator, it is absolutely necessary to make an atmosphere where they can directly feel the presence of the club in the place that they play. English clubs have their own stadiums. Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge for instance, is completely decked out in blue, and the club’s emblem is displayed throughout the ground. The club’s presence is so ingrained into the premises.Then if you take the likes of Dutch stadiums for example, these, like Japan are government built and owned. For example Ajax who uses the Amsterdam Arena. This has become the symbol of the town. You can feel that the whole city is supporting the club. You can feel the full extent of the support of the people and the presence of the club there. In regards to this, the public stadiums built in Japan by Japanese tax payers money, where the professional games often take place, it is very difficult to give the stadiums the feeling of the club, in the same manner as in England and Europe (due to the rules and regulations involved in using a publicly owned facility). So it is the hope of the club to be able to give our fans this feeling of having their very own home ground, and it is this that has been proposed in the plans.









“The winning essence of football and business doesn’t change.”

FW: What is the charm of the great game for a business man such as yourself?

HI: If you look at the roles of professional footballers and that of company staff, there are the attackers who’s job it is to go out and score, the defenders who are there to prevent goals etc. Like business, there are various roles to be done. They are in a way the same as those in the marketing department, research and development, manufacturing, sales, logistics and finance. If one of those roles is lacking somewhere along the line, the business won’t function. It’s the same as if one of the players on the pitch, or a sub on the bench, or the manager, coach, or back room staff for that matter, out of all of these people, if they can’t build up a supportive relationship, they will lose the game. To be a winner on the pitch or in business requires the same process. If you don’t think about what it takes to win an order, or don’t work so that your rival company doesn’t win the order, this is the same as having to understand what it takes to win points on the pitch. And the key to this understanding is being able to work together, even if the going gets really tough, as long as you have support and people on your side, you’ll get the order, or the points on the pitch. If you don’t have this cooperation from those you are working with you won’t win. It is these points in common that the two have, out of many points, that are fascinating for me.

HI: Another element is the performance in business and in football, they have the same issues. The element of benchwork and that in a game, if the performance in a game dips and weakens, this is the same as when someone is not working well enough in business. And it is when the manager or coach notices this is happening that a similar kind of judgement is required. The work of the manager or coach in a club is swapping up players into different positions to produce the best performance in a game. This is the same as transferring workers to different roles and jobs within a company. The timing of the change in each situation, be it business or in football, requires the same ability by the managers and coaches. To wait and see what happens, and have the ability to act at the right time. For instance, if the job performance of someone doesn’t improve, further job shuffling is needed to be done by the manager. This type of judgement call is the same for changing a player during a game. If you notice in training two players that aren’t up to form, and then in the game you notice they aren’t performing well either, the manager has to pick the right timing to sub them out, and select the best players to replace them with.






J League is, in its own right an ‘exciting football’ industry. However it remains quite a different form in comparison to its peers, especially in England where football and the stadiums exist as the symbol of the local community, in many places around the country. So for Japan to accumulate more regular spectators as well as new fans, better stadiums then are surely the easiest angle and way forward to bringing in people through the turnstiles. “Build a good stadium, good games will come.” A line reminiscent of the famous quote from ‘Field of dreams’, and spoken with true conviction by Mr Imai, who knows that the essence of the professional football industry is entertainment. However, in Japan, football has yet to reach this stage in some forms, particularly regarding stadiums, and faces several walls to overcome in the path to high quality entertainment football.

10th October 2014
Footy weekends Kyoto&Brighton

From Footy Weekends---

10th October 2014
Footy weekends Kyoto&Brighton

A special Interview
Hiroshi IMAI Kyoto SANGA F.C. President
My message to Sanga fans (To the episode 2)
スペシャルインタビュー 京都サンガF.C.社長 今井浩志氏(株式会社 京都パープルサンガ 代表取締役)

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