Takaaki Kidani, the owner of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s parent company Bushiroad and chairman of New Japan, recently spoke to Weekly Pro Wrestling about the promotion’s goal to expand into the United States, setting up a base of operations in California, and the challenges ahead of them competing with WWE.
All translations are courtesy of Chris Charlton, whose book Lion’s Pride is available on Amazon and an excellent read if you’re interested in the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
On the success of Wrestle Kingdom 11 and its influence outside of Japan:
“We had a lot of attention not just in Japanese, but international media, with the event hashtag being the top trend not just in Japan, but America, the UK and Germany. New Japan World subscribers suddenly increased, with over half being from abroad. With the high quality of the event, news reverberated internationally more than we had anticipated. Additionally including promotion and program sales, we have been able to advance in nine different countries, with our talents’ foreign excursions being part of that too.”
On New Japan being a “global product”:
“I think you can already call us a global product. If you look at the breakdown of our performers at the Dome, it’s about 75/25 Japanese to foreign in a live setting. Compare us to say, the music industry. You wouldn’t go to a single concert that had that proportion of Japanese and foreign artists. You might see collaborations with foreign artists or a guest spot on a music video but that’s it. If you look at live performances in the entertainment or sports industries, ours is the most diverse.”
How a New Japan territory in the United States would function:
“The plan would be to have California as a base and run tours in the area in a similar way to how we run things here, with a few shows further afield. For the Japanese talent, there are all sorts of options. Some guys may want to tour there, some may want to spend half the year there. Still others may want to take two years or so and move out there. There are lots of ways around that and I’m open to opinion from the wrestlers.”
“When you ask what it is we can do with new Japan, it is to create an American based subsidiary and run shows there. In addition, it is to produce television in line with our Japanese content that can be sold cheaply to American cable networks. While we currently sell television content to AXS TV, the most popular and visible networks have a high demand for volume of content available cheaply.”
“We have strong foundations in Japan, and over there, the Japanese style of wrestling is in vogue. If we establish a territory in California, we’ll be able to produce more content cheaply. It has to be localized.”
On WWE’s global expansion and their business model:
“If you look at WWE, with their show business base, they really only have a strong business in the UK, Canada and America. They sell their programming elsewhere, sure, but they need to actually be doing business in those areas. I said this on Twitter, but why do you think they’re pushing people to the network? It’s because they know cable isnt’ going to be around forever and they have to make up that loss. That’s why they established a UK Champion and set up that tournament.”
“For WWE, it’s vital they localize. Partner with a promotion, buy one outright, start a subsidiary, anything. But you get that going and you tie up the talent in that country. Then that way you don’t have to send a bunch of guys out from America every time. Production as well. It starts getting cheaper to do business. And the people in these countries now have a star of their own to support, and they might buy into their Network. WWE have been poor at creating new stars, but that’s a real way to do it, to think local.”
On New Japan’s immediate plans going forward:
“Things start with the G1 Special, which we announced will take place on July 1st and 2nd. That won’t include any actual tournament matches, but we may hold qualifiers. At that point, office staff will also be heading to the US. We will set up a dojo, likely with a monthly fee system. And as far as talent is concerned, from October of last year we began signing wrestlers to long term contracts, and this includes foreign wrestlers.”
“Of course there is a plan for progression. It starts with gradually increasing the number of towns we run in. At first we’d be looking at 1,000 seat buildings. The important thing to growth is exposure of the talent and exposure to television. It’s a very different way of doing things than in Tokyo. I have talked with the talent about this, but at that point it was less concrete than it is now. The plan is for things to really get going in 2018.”