New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is in the middle of a global expansion that is targeting casual WWE fans. Only a few weeks ago NJPW appealed to mostly hardcore wrestling fans.
That was until Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega engaged in a twitter war that ended with a match being booked between the two at Wrestle Kingdom 12 on January 4. NJPW is banking on Jericho’s star power to attract a large fan base.
NJPW is targeting new viewers to subscribe to the on-demand service that will broadcast the Jericho vs. Omega match, they are also attempting to draw foreign fans to fly into Japan and attend Wrestle Kingdom 12. There are sections of tickets for Wrestle Kingdom 12 that can only be purchased from outside of Japan. NJPW’s vision is to expand its product outside of the Japanese market.
The owner of NJPW, Takaaki Kidani, has the vision to expand NJPW into California. NJPW will establish a territory in California and will run tours similar to the tours that currently take place in Japan. There are plans to set up an NJPW dojo at the beginning of 2018.
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In the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer criticized Kidani vision for expanding to California since it’s an overestimation of NJPW popularity and viability in the USA. Meltzer explained that the current state of the wrestling business in North America with the territory collapse nearly 30 years ago makes NJPW’s business model in California unwise.
NJPW is already well established in Japan, “The difference with us compared to an old territorial promotion is we already have a solid base in Japan. So, we can afford to set something in motion in California”, said Kidani. A local base allows for cheaper content production “if we establish a territory in California, we’ll be able to produce more content cheaply. It has to be localized. If you look at WWE, with their show business base, they really only have strong business in the U.K., Canada, and America”, explained Kidani.
This is not the first time a Japanese wrestling company has attempted to expand into the USA.
Dragon Gate is a Japanese wrestling promotion that focuses on a junior heavyweight style with emphasis on high flying moves, flashy grappling, and submissions. Dragon Gate USA featured wrestlers from the main roster of Dragon Gate along with notable North American wrestlers. After a few years, Dragon Gate USA booked mostly North American talent and less of the main Japanese roster. Eventually, Dragon Gate USA was folded into EVOLVE shows before going on hiatus.
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The height of Dragon Gate’s popularity is nowhere near that of NJPW. It is unclear how NJPW will execute its vision.
The realistic goal would be to run shows in California a handful of times per year in venues that seat a few thousand people. The loftier goal would be to run a full-time territory based in California with the talent split between Japan and California, which would be much more difficult since NJPW would need a roster with a lot of depth. The current NJPW roster would be spread very thin if they split talent and would most likely hurt business in Japan and the USA.
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The realistic goal of running a handful of shows per year is being accomplished.
This year NJPW ran their first ever show in the USA. These shows held at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California sold out shortly after tickets went on sale. NJPW is returning to Long Beach, California at the Walter Pyramid on March 25. While the Long Beach, California shows target the hardcore wrestling fans, the appearance of Chris Jericho will bring in broader wrestling fans.
Don Davies has 10 years of professorial writing experience, has published books and articles in many disciplines, and has been a fan of pro wrestling for 30 years.