On Friday January 31st the J. League’s J1 fixtures for the 2014 will be revealed to a waiting public. Or rather, fans will discover their team's remaining 32 fixtures. The opening two weeks were made public some time ago. But come Friday evening at 5pm, or perhaps nearer 6pm?, fans can view the full footballing year ahead. Planning the coming months of away days and big home games is one of the joys of the closed season. Why then do I feel the J. League misses out on an opportunity, albeit relatively minor, of whipping up a little valuable publicity?
The opening two weeks fixtures released separately, without warning, and often leaked online early, is the beginning of the problem. Why the staggered announcement? By the time the full remaining fixtures are made public, again without warning or fanfare, again often leaked online in unconfirmable dribs and drabs, season ticket deadlines have passed. The impact on sales may be negligible, but some might be reluctant to shell out for a year’s commitment without a guarantee they can make their must-see games. Why even create that risk?
Ensuring there's a little drama and excitement around the release of the fixtures would only serve to benefit all concerned. At the time of writing, the J. League homepage makes no mention of the date, let alone time, of this year's release. Via information gleaned across the web I’m aware of the date, and from experience, I know it won't be in the morning, but early evening. Vague? Just a bit. The steady trickle of leaked fixtures on Twitter are welcome, but does little to court the anticipation of supporters.
Why don’t we set time and date well in advance, to fall before season ticket deadlines, and accompany it with an online countdown? Let’s maintain ultimate secrecy around the fixtures – all 34 weeks of them – to be revealed online, for example, on a Monday morning at 9am. The excitement of discovering how the year shapes up would be the talk of sports fans in offices up and down the country. Countless emails would be fired off as fans made preliminary away trip arrangements. The J. League would trend on Twitter as club hashtags went into overdrive.
It may not be the most pressing issue in Japanese football, but for many during the closed season, after new signings, the fixtures are the biggest thing to look forward to. Leaked information and rumours do anything but build up enthusiasm. I hope in future years the J. League will seize fixture release day as a chance to swamp their website with traffic and make the league, for a day during the off season, the talk of the sporting country.