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No. 2: Skylight Consulting Inc. and Tokyo Verdy

To all the partners of Tokyo Verdy who have been supporting our club in various ways for your own special reasons: We hope to go beyond the relationship framework we have had with our sponsors, and build a community in the future where the club and our corporate partners can walk hand-in-hand together.

 

This project, entitled “ONE FLAG: Creating new value with our corporate partners,” allows comrades of the Verdy family to gather and discuss their thoughts and feelings about the future. In this way, we can share our ideas with one another and look towards a future that we can build together.

 

For the second installment of this series, we are featuring Skylight Consulting Inc., who has entered into their 5th year of partnership with us, and is also providing strong support for Nippon TV Beleza.

 

Joining us for this interview are Mr. Toshiki Habutsu (in the photo, center), the representative director of Skylight Consulting Inc. who loves soccer, but never imagined making it his career, and Mr. Yudai Suzuki (in the photo, right) from the partner sales department of Tokyo Verdy, who actually mistook a representative of Skylight to be a Verdy employee.

 

Our facilitator is Taito Yagihara (in the photo, left) from re-trigger Co., Ltd., another one of Tokyo Verdy’s corporate strategy partners. The interview will be about what made them become partners, its impact, and their visions for the future.

 

(Name honorifics are omitted going forward)


 

It all started from an email sent by an employee

 

Yagihara: Thank you for being here today! I really want our club and its partners to build a new relationship that will enable them to mutually enhance each other’s value to the fullest. Hence, we are doing a series of interviews for the club and its partners in order to achieve this.


Anyway, I think even our supporters might not know our club’s corporate partners well, so shall we begin by talking about this?

 

Habutsu: Our company’s main business is in management consulting. Although management is made up of various elements, our focus is particularly on areas such as the practical application of IT, and optimization of business operations.


Since our company was established in 2000, we also invest in new businesses and companies, so you can say that consulting and venture investment businesses are the two main pillars that support our company. 

 

Yagihara: Thank you for your explanation. So, how did you become a partner of Verdy?

 

Habutsu: It’s a common misunderstanding that I became a sponsor because I like soccer. I did use to belong to the soccer team back in junior and senior high school, and I also continued playing in university, and when I started working. I also became the coach of my son’s youth soccer team, and I continued being the manager even after he graduated. So, you can see how much I like soccer, but that and work are two separate things. Also, to be honest, I didn’t have any particular like or dislike for Verdy.

In February 2014, there was a roundtable discussion for Verdy that one of our employees joined as an avid supporter. He seemed to have heard about Verdy’s plans to go global during that session, which coincided with our company’s intention to expand our business overseas. This employee then sent us an email where he spoke passionately about how our company and Verdy could come together to do something.

 

Yagihara: What was your first impression when you received that email?

 

Habutsu: I was like, “hang on for a minute!” (laughs). Although I like soccer, I never thought of it being a potential business opportunity. Besides, Verdy was at the doldrums then, so I didn’t think that things would go well even if we supported such a team. However, that was a starting point for us and we took a full year to do in-depth research on the soccer scene.


As it turned out, we discovered that the J League market was not growing at all but rather, it was heading downwards. On the other hand, the overseas soccer market was flourishing. Although this gap sounded really unfavorable, we actually saw it as a business opportunity..


When we did research on Verdy, it was obvious that the team had already hit rock bottom. Being at this stage meant that the only way to go was up. As a company who wanted to enter a professional sports team and work together with them, we also needed to accumulate knowledge. Due to this sequence of events, we wanted to enter into a business tie-up that allowed both parties to grow together, so we initiated the collaboration.

 

Suzuki: Beginning from the words of one employee, and then spending a year on research, to having something materialize in the end; that is quite an amazing feat.

 

Yagihara: That’s exactly how it was! For other companies, there may also be people who like soccer enough to go straight to the president to make such a proposal, but what was the biggest point leading to the decision to go ahead in the end?

 

Habutsu: To begin with, our company is one which encourages employees to voice out what they want to do. Of course, we couldn’t proceed just because someone wants to do something, but if we do see that there are some benefits to it, then we will give the approval to proceed.

The employee who suggested this was very passionate and wanted to make this a part of his work. We found out that this particular employee was a new hire at the time, and he said something similar during his interview, even though our company was doing absolutely nothing related to the sports business at that time (laughs).

Also, the thing about sports is that, even if we look at it calmly from a business perspective, it’s something that would never disappear. Even as the world changes due to technological advancements like AI and robots, we feel that sports would still remain. Human beings move their bodies in a conscious manner, and feelings such as joy and excitement are derived as a result. It’s not just about doing the sport itself, but also about watching it and giving our support, so there is a lot of potential and possibility in it.  

 



Yagihara: Exactly, it has unlimited potential that goes beyond logic. Can you please share with us why you chose to enter into a business tie-up rather than just be a sponsor?

 

Habutsu: Our company is a business-to-business (B2B) consulting company, so just promoting our company’s name does not have much purpose. As such, when we raised the proposal to Verdy, aside from sponsoring, we also decided to invest to show our commitment over the long term.

We also wanted to bring our people into Verdy, since the employee who first came up with the idea also wished to do so. By entering the team, we will know what is going on and what they are doing. It just makes sense for us to do it together.

However, we didn’t want this to be a one-sided deal with us only making demands. By taking up responsibility for Verdy’s business and sharing profits only if it improves, we felt that this was a scheme that fully embodies what it means to work together as partners. 

 

The knowledge gained at Verdy which expanded the business

 

Yagihara: What kind of results or outcomes came out of this joint venture?

 

Habutsu: Be it when we first started or even now, I feel that being knowledgeable about the professional sports business is a very crucial point. This knowledge not only helps us when working with Verdy, but also with our other customers.

In fact, there were a couple of companies which benefited from this knowledge that helped us to think of the big picture for the business.

 

Yagihara: Does this mean that the value you gained from Verdy could be utilized in your core business? 

 

Habutsu: That’s right. With the Olympics due to be held next year, there are many Japanese clients who want to stir up something in sports. However, many of them are thinking of how to go about doing it rather than just giving money…


And when this happens, people hear about what we are doing with Verdy, so they approach us for consultation on such matters. 


Besides being a boost to our business, this has also helped us to start a new business segment. For example, Fujitsu provides the sports imaging analysis service to the professional baseball league, and the same technology also extends to other sports, be it for the professionals or amateurs. However, given the sheer size of Fujitsu, we hear that it can’t deal with everything speedily.

And that’s when Fujitsu carved out this business segment which became the new company, RUN.EDGE. We are investing in this venture company and will continue to grow this going forward. 

 

Yagihara: There was a press release recently that you set up a soccer academy in Brazil with former Brazilian national soccer player Edmílson.

 

Habutsu: When the proposal came for us to set up a soccer academy in Brazil, I was really surprised (laughs). As for how it happened, we were talking about the imaging analysis business with Edmílson when he brought up the topic of educating and nurturing soccer players in Brazil. We were won over by his passion and knowledge of the issues at stake when it came to nurturing soccer players in Brazil, so in the end, we decided to work together.

If you trace all these back to the origin, it was due to us supporting Verdy! Or to go back even further, it was that first email from our employee which got everything started.

 

Yagihara: The fact that all the dots are joined together by lines to form a complete picture is so amazing!!

 

Habutsu: Although we did think that it would be good to accumulate knowledge about the professional sports business which will hopefully lead to opportunities in other businesses, what has happened to date is beyond our expectations. When we became Verdy’s partner, we got a lot of encouraging comments from various people asking us to, “Please rebuild the team! Please help it win again!” 

Of course, I can’t do something directly to make Verdy win, but in that sense, this helps us to deepen our relationships with various people and begin new communications with them.

 

Yagihara: You get to hear that a lot when you become Verdy’s partner! I’ve been told that before as well, so we need to contribute what we can to the best of our ability! Mr. Suzuki, you also get to communicate with the people who come from Skylight. How do you feel about this?

 

Suzuki: When I joined the company, it was around the same time as when Skylight started working with us. As such, I actually mistook the employees from Skylight as that of Verdy’s (laughs).

I’m in the sales department, so I don’t get to work with the Skylight employees directly, since they are in other departments. However, I hear that they have tapped on their experience and know-how in consulting to make improvements to existing practices, and also actively introduced new practices.

 

Yagihara: It seems like Skylight employees adopt a cooperative style when they enter Verdy to work.

 

Habutsu: That’s right. Skylight’s consulting style is to walk together with the customers. Rather than getting ahead of everyone and taking the lead, we prefer to solve problems together, so we tend to be mistaken as our clients’ employees.

 

Yagihara: From the club’s perspective, it is easier to open up to a partner who is that committed to making things work.

 

Suzuki: And that is why now, we can work honestly without any qualms as Verdy employees. We get to communicate frequently with our president, Hanyu, with nothing to hide!


Creating Verdy’s value as a public good

 

Yagihara: We’ve heard all the positive and good things from the partnership so far, but is there any request you would like to make to Verdy, or things which they can improve on?

 

Habutsu: Basically, there are many good things, but there is still much to do when it comes to bringing in customers. We would like to attract 10,000 people for each match at Ajinomoto Stadium. We have only between 5,000 and 6,000 people at the moment, so that would mean doubling the current figures.

For the team, when more people come to the matches, they will try to do even better so as to attract more repeat visitors. Of course, there are things which we have to do or advance investments we have to make before this materializes, and we would like to take on such a challenge. In conjunction with such efforts, for now, we hope to get promoted to J1 so that we can transfer to a place that can attract 20,000 to 30,000 people.

Then, there is also our women’s team, Nippon TV Beleza, who is strong not only in Japan, but can also make it at the world level. With such talent in the team, we also want its business to do well. We heard that there are calls asking for the Nadeshiko League to become professional, so I would like to see Nippon TV Beleza be at the forefront of such a movement.

 

Yagihara: Now that we are talking about Nippon TV Beleza, since players Yui Hasegawa and Risa Shimizu are signing professional contracts, can we ask about how support for the club can be strengthened?

 

Habutsu: Of course. As mentioned earlier, the team and players are in such a good position now, but it is a waste that many cannot become professional players despite being university graduates. We would like to support them so they can seize various opportunities, not just in Japan, but also worldwide. In order for this to happen, we are thinking about what the management can do to succeed, and this coincides with what Verdy has in mind.
 

In particular, we provide financial support to Tokyo Verdy, who is pushing for the movement to make female soccer players professional, and we have entered into separate business cooperation contracts with Hasegawa and Shimizu through Skylight.

With regard to this, we expect that they will be able to appear at Skylight’s recruitment or kick-off events and make use of the off-season to capitalize on their media value as athletes.

 

Yagihara: Through these activities, we hope that it will change the current situation in the female soccer scene! Are there similar examples like these in other clubs or companies? 

 

Suzuki: I don’t think so. Of course, there are individual athletes who have sponsors. Although there are corporate sponsors who have special feelings towards Nippon TV Beleza and have offered strong support, this is the first time we’ve had such an arrangement. This time, as our discussion with Skylight coincided with Hasegawa and Shimizu’s university graduation, everything worked out because the timing was just right. We think that this will also have a nice impact on the Nadeshiko League as a whole.

It’s not just in Japan, but when you look at the world, there is much less money going to women’s soccer compared to men’s soccer. As things will probably improve for women’s soccer going forward, we hope that this arrangement will give a boost to women’s soccer, so that they can catch up to their male counterparts in business terms one day.

 

Yagihara: It would be nice to have measures to ensure that more money will go to the women’s soccer scene. I heard that recently, Skylight has been offering an award to the winning team during home games, and there is an arrangement to give rewards to the players. Is this correct?

 

Habutsu: Yes, we started supporting Beleza in 2016, and initially, our logo appeared on the sleeves of their training wear. Actually, we channeled a portion of that money for the logo appearance to the players as rewards for winning and appearances.

However, we heard that although there were payouts for things such as transportation fees, there was no system of giving out rewards for winning. In light of this, we discussed with Verdy on how we could reward the players for winning, even if it was just a few thousand yen per person. The system turned out to be well-received, so we extended it from the league games to cup games as well. This is already the third year since we started this system. 

 

 

 Yagihara: For the women’s team, many people don’t seem to know that they don’t get rewarded financially unlike in J League.

 

Suzuki: There are definitely differences between professionals and amateurs. Despite this, in order to improve the environment for women’s soccer, Skylight had stepped up to think of a scheme that could channel some money to the players.  

 

Habutsu: Since Beleza is very strong, they win a lot, too. We take photos when we give out the winning team award and upload it to social media, and we actually do it almost every week. In fact, that’s where we get the most exposure, so it’s a great return on our investment (laughs). We realized this once we started doing it.

 

Yagihara: That’s definitely the case! When you win, the amount of exposure increases, and rewards get handed to the players, so it is a good cycle for all. Last, but not least, can you tell us what kind of challenges you would like to take on with Verdy in future?

 

Habutsu: When I spoke to Mr. Hanyu last year, he told me that we shouldn’t limit our thinking of Verdy to just sports, but also something like music or chess. That’s when I realized that the basics of Verdy is on growth while attracting customers; I was once again reminded that this is the value of Verdy.

Everyone involved in Verdy can contribute as if the latter is a public good. I think that Verdy has that kind of potential beyond just winning or losing matches, so we hope to create that value in the future together.

 

Yagihara: Public good is such a powerful word! Of course, being a strong team is important, but it would be good for Verdy to provide something of value to the world that no one else can.


 

Habutsu: That’s right. I would also like to call out to potential partners that they shouldn’t be thinking that it’s sufficient to only make monetary contributions (laughs). When you give money, you get a right to expand the value of your investment. Unless you use this right well and engage in activities that can increase the value to your company and Verdy, your investment will be meaningless.

For those who are thinking beyond just contributing money and would like to deliver value to your employees, customers, and shareholders, you can be sure to receive something more than just money in the end. You need to know that you will only understand when you actually start doing it!

 

Yagihara: This is also a mutual understanding within your company.

 

Habutsu: When we became Verdy’s partner, we didn’t want to restrict ourselves to just contributing money; we also enjoyed learning about the sports market and how to grow the business. We want to be a company who contributes money and sends people to work hard with them together--this ideal was accepted within the company. Of course, if we suddenly say that we just want to give money without doing anything else, the company wouldn’t have accepted it.

 

Yagihara: Since our company is also a planning strategy partner, we contribute more than money and get involved in activities like in the interview we have done today. I fully agree with the idea that we shouldn’t be limited by the market size, and that we should try to create a good soccer or sporting culture. Thank you very much for today!

 

Suzuki: Thank you very much!

 

Habutsu: Thank you very much!

 

Yagihara: Thank you so much to both of you! It was interesting to hear from Mr. Habutsu on his thoughts about Verdy’s potential and how an organization should be. 

Such an arrangement to create value together with our partners should also be done in other clubs to bring about positive changes to the entire industry. More people should start doing the same thing! (laughs) 


 

Writer: Shimon Watanabe/ Photographer: Masato Ishibashi