Learning the sports business from the pros
I’m currently in the Corporate Planning & Strategy Department, but I spent my first four years at Mitsui in the Steel Business. That left me wanting to work closer to the consumer side of things, so I took a position with our media business—satellite broadcasting, TV shopping and so on. We even made programs ourselves. I guess that even then I was the kind of person who wants to create something from nothing rather than step into a business that’s already up and running.
The Mazda Stadium Project grew out of my experience as a trainee in our New York office. I played American football in high school and university. While I was in the US, alongside my actual work at the office, I studied the sports business at New York University as a personal project—on my own dime, in fact! It was like a hobby.
My focus was on sports facilities management. Our professor had this theory that the sports business began by selling tickets, moved onto selling broadcast rights, and had now entered the age of the facility. Starting from the 1990s, there was a wave of Major League stadium rebuilding. And I got a lot of business ideas from the stadiums I visited in the US.
I also found out that Aramark Services, a Mitsui partner for forty years, handled food and beverage services for many US Major League Baseball teams. In Japan, there was AIM Services, a joint venture between Aramark and Mitsui that had provided food services at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and the 2002 Japan–Korea World Cup. Clearly, as a company we had access to know-how in this field.
As I learned more, my hobby started to feel like something more than just a hobby. I started to seriously consider the possibility of Mitsui going into this business in Japan.
Timing was the most important thing. If we were going to launch a new facilities business, ideally we wanted to build the stadium itself, incorporating our operational perspectives into the design. In other words, it would be best to start with either a brand-new stadium or a remodeled one. This kind of project only comes along once every 20 or so years—however at that precise moment Hiroshima just happened to be considering a building successor to Hiroshima Municipal Stadium. “It’s now or never,” I thought, and began talking to our Tokyo office from New York about approaching the city of Hiroshima.
The Carp had been researching major league stadium management for many years as well, exploring all the possibilities open to them, including different financing options. In the end, it was decided that Mitsui would provide support for food services and sponsorship marketing.