Rakuten takes its commitment to inspiring communities through sport seriously. Starting in 2005, the global leader in internet services shook up Japanese baseball by launching the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the first new Nippon Professional Baseball team in 50 years. A decade later, the company expanded its sports lineup with the addition of J.League professional soccer team Vissel Kobe to the Rakuten Group.
On the world stage, Rakuten is recognized for its partnerships with iconic sports properties such as FC Barcelona, the Golden State Warriors, the NBA, Spartan Race and most recently, the Davis Cup. This summer, Rakuten is taking that commitment to the next level with the official launch of the sports entertainment platform Rakuten Sports.
International J.League fans rejoice
Rakuten Sports is a live streaming, video on demand and community platform designed to power live sports matches from top leagues and teams around the globe, with exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews and special footage from world-class athletes. The first league to hit the platform was officially announced this week: the largest professional soccer association in Japan, the J.League.
The presence of international superstars – Andres Iniesta (Vissel Kobe) and Fernando Torres (Sagan Tosu) to name a few – playing in the league has attracted attention from soccer fans worldwide. In Japan, this attention has not gone unnoticed.
In order to further grow the league’s international fanbase, Rakuten has partnered with Lagardere Sports, the international media rights distributor of Japan’s professional football league, to distribute 2019 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE matches for the 2019 season to fans in more than 140 countries and regions worldwide, excluding Japan, the U.S. and other select regions.*
Now soccer fans around the globe can watch J.League soccer action whenever they want, wherever they want — and not just in Japanese. Rakuten Sports aims to bring the J.League closer to fans outside Japan by providing English commentary for select matches.
While the service plans to introduce a paid subscription service in the future, it’s currently reaching fans worldwide across multiple devices, including desktop, mobile and tablets, for free.
Iniesta TV: “Behind-the-pitch” exclusives from the international superstar
Rakuten Sports is more than just soccer matches — it’s a sports entertainment platform.
Building on its fan-based theme, the platform’s portfolio also includes the Rakuten original series, Iniesta TV. This reality show follows Andres Iniesta and his experiences in Japan while playing for Vissel Kobe. The series offers exclusive interviews with the international superstar, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at his life in Japan.
“The J.League is one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football,” explained Masaya Ueno, head of Rakuten’s Global Media Business. “We already have a collaboration with the Spanish superstar Andres Iniesta through Iniesta TV. We want to build on that and continue pushing the boundaries of sports entertainment to give international viewers access to the league’s most exciting matches in more meaningful and innovative ways.”
2019: The Year of the Fan
Rakuten Sports wants to do more than just reach fans — it wants to connect them. Going forward, the sports entertainment platform plans to release interactive “fan commentary” engagement capabilities that allow viewers to share their enthusiasm (or flaunt their fandom) for their favorite teams.
And plans to grow the community don’t stop there. While the matches available are currently curated by Rakuten and Lagardere Sports, the platform plans to implement new features where fans can vote on which matches are broadcast in the future, bringing them even closer to the action by giving them a direct say in what’s on tap.
More sports on the horizon
In addition to soccer, Rakuten Sports plans to expand its offerings by introducing basketball, table tennis and other athletics in the future. Table tennis is popular in Japan and across Asia, while Rakuten has been working since 2017 to build the popularity of the sport of basketball in Japan.
What else does the future have in store for Rakuten Sports? Stay tuned to find out.
*J.League matches are viewable on Rakuten Sports in more than 140 countries and regions worldwide, excluding the following: Algeria, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Canada, Chad, China, Croatia, Djibouti, Egypt, FYR Macedonia, Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Macao, Mauritania, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Republic of Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Korea, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States and Yemen