What the UFL can learn from the J. League

By: Clara Buenconsejo - twitter: @Alquanna

Fri. Jan. 27, 2012

Insights from a quick Q & A with Dan Orlowitz, Goal.com International’s Japanese Football Editor

Comparing the United Football League (UFL) to Japan’s J. League is nothing new - it has already been pointed out in a thread on Usapang Football. This comparison stems mostly from the fact that the J-League, when it was established in 1992, faced similar challenges as the UFL. Now it is one of the top football leagues in Asia, with J. League champions Kashiwa Reysol qualifying for the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup.

According to the Rising Sun News, the Japan Soccer League - J. League’s predecessor - was only a semi-professional league. At that time, too, the Japanese were more interested in sports other than football at the adult level. This situation is strikingly similar to the UFL - we have a lot of teams composed of semi-professional players, notably the sides coming from the Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force). As such, the J. League’s success is something that we can hopefully replicate in the UFL.

But why did the J. League succeed, and what can we do as supporters to replicate that success? This is the question I asked Dan Orlowitz, Goal.com International’s Japanese Football Editor, during a Q & A on reddit.com.

Japan’s greatest strength: grassroots and youth support

According to Orlowitz, the greatest strength of the J. League is its strong grassroots presence and youth system. He cites how tickets for the championship match of the All-Japan High School Soccer Tournament sold out this January; the match had over 48,000 fans in attendance, more than the Emperor’s Cup final or the Nabisco Cup final.

That number is simply a far cry from the attendance of UAAP football games. I remember watching a UP vs UE match at the Ateneo pitch a few years back, and there were only a handful of people watching even if entrance was free. (I’ll admit that it’s part of the reason why I didn’t get to follow UAAP football a lot during college - I didn’t know anyone that I can watch the games with.)

Compare that to the sell-out crowds in cheer dance - the event attracts around 20,000 people annually, and let’s admit it, we all like watching it even if we’re not experts at dance. Hopefully, we can do the same for football; we don’t have to be real experts at it to understand and enjoy the sport.

What we supporters can do to help out

This was also one of Orlowitz’s points when I asked him what we can do as supporters to help the club grow. He emphasizes that as supporters, it’s our responsibility to create the atmosphere at the stadium by making it exciting and welcoming, especially by discouraging racism or hooliganism. Another good way would be to join international fan groups online such as the Asian Football Fans Group on Facebook to help promote the UFL and Filipino football more.

In the end, as Orlowitz said, it will also take time for a new league to grow, and so supporters should also be patient. And as a supporter, I agree; combine that patience with more grassroots involvement and simply showing up at games can help make a difference.

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