Notes: More Details Emerge About Japan’s Proposed New Women’s Professional League

In November, the board of directors of the Japan Football Association (JFA) voted to establish a new professional women’s league.    Specifics about this potential new league were lacking, but late last week, more details surfaced, attributed to “interviews with multiple stakeholders” (wire article in the Hochi Shimbun).  An English version or summary of the report was published by the Kyodo News agency (via the Japan Times).

As announced in November, this new league would be at the top of the women’s pyramid in Japan with the Nadeshiko League, which currently has three divisions (1, 2, and “Challenge”), continuing in some form. (Japan Times)

Additionally, the JFA is holding a confidential briefing session with potential teams/owners on Wednesday, February 26th (JFA.jp article, in Japanese).  The agenda of the meeting includes an outline of the league, application criteria for potential teams, the application/screening timeline, plus a question and answer period.

As this new league is still in the early planning stages, all details are subject to change, including whether the league actually comes to fruition.

All below “double-quote” quotations are from the Kyodo News agency article.

Key Details:

  • Inaugural season start date target is September 2021
  • Calendar:  September to May (a change from the Nadeshiko League’s current March to November schedule)
    • Meanwhile, the Nadeshiko League will continue to follow its current calendar (e.g., March to November)
  • Number of Teams:  6 to 10
  • No relegation/promotion planned
  • May include new teams not “currently competing in the Nadeshiko League” (which sounds like the league could include brand new teams)

Financials:

  • 5 players on “A” contracts, which technically have no maximums (outside of the first year)**
  • At least 10 on “B” and “C” contracts, which have salary constraints**
  • Operating budget target of  ¥450 million (just over $4,000,000 in U.S. Dollars) – which is significantly higher than most current Nadeshiko League teams, except for INAC Kobe
  • Team names can include corporate names (cf. current Nadeshiko League teams such as “Nippon TV Beleza”), but “will include the name of their city or region”

**”A”, “B”, and “C” are different classes of standard JFA contracts.  They do not have any guaranteed minimum compensation.  “C” is for new/entry-level players.  After three years, or if a player meets certain requirements, much sooner (e.g. after 450 minutes of 1st League playing time), they can be upgraded to an “A” contract (which have or at least had a cap on the first year salary or a “B” contract, which is just a long-term version of the “C” contract, as they have the same compensation caps (as of 2014, a maximum ¥4.8 million base salary and a maximum ¥50,000 per-match appearance fee (in U.S. dollars, maximum total compensation would be roughly US $51,000 for an 18 match season).  For more, possibly out-of-date information about these contracts, see this archived 2014 explanation from the J-League website and this 2014 overview on Japan football contracts from an academic journal (page 217).  Also, blank PDF versions of these contracts are available on the JFA’s website.

Hiring Requirements:

  • Teams “will be required to have at least one female executive”
  • Within three years, each team “will be required to have women in at least half of their staff posts”

Additionally, former women’s national team players “may be recruited to fill posts in the league hierarchy.”

Timeline:

  • July 2019:  Disclosure that the JFA is ‘holding discussions about setting up a professional women’s football league’ (sportbusiness.com)
  • November 2019:  New league approved by JFA Board of Directors
  • 26 February 2020:  Confidential meeting with potential team applicants
  • April 2020:  Establishment of the “league’s parent company”
  • Summer 2020:  Conclusion of team application process, announcement of inaugural team
  • September 2021: Start of league’s inaugural season

QUICK THOUGHTS

Calendar Transition:  Converting from a March-to-November season to a September-to-May season schedule would likely require a transition, either by extending the final year of the current Nadeshiko League (cf. Russian men’s league transitioning to a September-to-May calendar in 2011-2012 – Wikipedia) or by having the teams in the new league participate in  a temporary league/competition that would run from, say, January to May in the first half of 2021.  Though, with the Nadeshiko League apparently not changing from its Spring-to-Autumn calendar, that would likely rule out an extended super-season.

Professional Contracts:  The 5 “A” plus 10 “B” or “C” contracts quota details do exclude rule out the possibility that the new league will not be fully professionally (using the ‘all players are on a professional contract’ definition).  And, with no known guaranteed minimum compensation requirements, whether each player’s pay will be commensurate with subjective professional standards. (E.g., a ‘living wage’ and/or compensation is equal to or higher than what a player could earn as a non-athlete.  The latter being determinative of how long a player might stay as a professional before transitioning to their non-playing employment phase.)

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