The 26-year-old is one of the best basketball players Japan has ever produced. In the best league in the world, however, he is not a star player. His 11 minutes of play and 2.3 points on average per game make him a marginal player.
In his native land, his compatriots have nevertheless snapped up his Raptors jersey since the start of the season. As of March 10, Watanabe even topped the NBA’s sales charts in Japan ahead of Tour stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry.
According to journalist Reo Onishi, Watanabe’s popularity is due to the fact that
his story is inspiring for the Japanese.
In 2018, with the Memphis Grizzlies, he became the second Japanese in history to work in the NBA. He was also nicknamed The Chosen One (the chosen one, in French). To date, he is also one of only two Japanese players active in the NBA, along with his compatriot Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards.
The latter was drafted, however, and is on the Wizards’ long-term plans, while Watanabe only has a two-pronged contract with the Raptors.
He wasn’t even supposed to be on the team. He was invited to training camp and then he had to be cut, but he did so well that he continued to move up in rank and now he’s in the player rotation. So this is a great and wonderful story for us. That’s probably why, and the fact that Watanabe is such a popular name in Japan, that his sweaters sell so muchsays Onishi, who worked for the NBA in Japan and covers league activities for Japanese media.
Impressive media coverage
Despite his lesser role with the Raptors, Yuta Watanabe enjoys similar coverage to Rui Hachimura from the Japanese media. NBA games are not shown on Japanese television, especially since they take place in the morning in this part of the world, but the highlights of their games are mentioned regularly in the news.
A surfer, a supporter of the Raptors, even decided to create a Twitter accountIn addition to this, you need to know more about it. (New window)In addition to this, you need to know more about it. to share the team’s and Watanabe’s results in Japanese after each of the Toronto squad’s matches.
Before he joined the team, the Japanese Raptors fan community was small on Twitter. My account was followed by around 400 people. Now I am followed by almost 4000 accounts! I should thank him, he told Radio-Canada, refusing to be identified.
He is often talked about on sports broadcasts and his recent interview with Koji Uehara, a famous Japanese baseball player who played for the Boston Red Sox, was a hot topic in the news!
He has a little less opportunities to play these days and I think the interest is a little lower than he was in him at the start of the season. […] but there is the possibility that his contract will be converted (to a standard deal) and if that happens it will definitely rekindle interest in him, adds the user behind the account Raptors Info Japan.
Conquering the Japanese market
The Wizards’ organization, which Rui Hachimura plays for, is also very popular in Japan, but that’s not only because of the notoriety of their first-round pick in 2019 or the media coverage it receives. . The team decided to produce their own content in Japanese on social media.
The team’s secondary accounts (in Japanese) are followed by more than 58,000 subscribers on TwitterIn addition to this, you need to know more about it. (New window)In addition to this, you need to know more about it. and 23,800 on InstagramIn addition to this, you need to know more about it. (New window)In addition to this, you need to know more about it..
At the beginning, we mainly focused our efforts on captioning the content that was already produced by the team, then we started to create our own content (in Japanese) and now, there are three of us working on this at full-time. It’s a bit strange from the inside, but it’s still incredible that the team has invested so much in it., says Ryo Shinkawa, who oversees the digital deployment of Japanese content for the Wizards.
You know, our Japanese platform is not only about Rui Hachimura. We also caption the press briefings of other players like Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, etc. So it’s not just about Rui, but it gets through him, he said.
This special attention from the Wizards seems to be bearing fruit with the Japanese public. Since 2019, the team has been one of the most popular formations in Japan on a regular basis.
A lot of Rui Hachimura’s jerseys are obviously sold, but so are Beal and Westbrook, while on the Raptors side, only Yuta Watanabe’s jerseys rival those of other NBA stars this year.
The Raptors haven’t put so much effort into promoting Watanabe since he doesn’t play the same role as his compatriot, but many fans still follow him.
Sales of their respective jerseys could increase further towards the end of the season, believe Ryo Shinkawa and Reo Onishi. Hachimura and Watanabe will be the mainstays of the Japanese team at the Tokyo Olympics and could win the hearts of more of their compatriots if they manage to do well.