Takami Ohbari talks NJPW’s business during pandemic, doesn’t think they would’ve lasted if they continued with business portfolio

Photo Courtesy: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

The President of NJPW speaks candidly about the company’s business during the pandemic. 

Takami Ohbari, President of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, sat down with Proresu-TODAY for an extensive interview about NJPW and how the company made it through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He opened up about how tasking it was and shared that if they continued with their business portfolio at the time, he does not think the company would have lasted much longer. He stated that the majority of business was dependent on revenue from the venues. 

There was one occasion when Hiroshi Tanahashi came to Ohbari and asked how much longer will NJPW last if the pandemic continues to affect business the way it was. Ohbari said in his head, he could count on one hand how much longer but he told Tanahashi not to worry. 

It was a long time (that difficult period). I try to look at sales separately inside and outside the venue. Especially because of the Corona disaster. Inside sales are tickets and merchandise sales, which at one point were down 60 percent due to the decline in attendance. Even in the most recent year, it’s still down about 40 percent… it’s only back up to 60 percent. If we had continued with our existing business portfolio, I think the company would have ceased to exist within a few months, let alone take a major hit. The majority of our business was dependent on revenues from the venue. One day, Tanahashi asked me, ‘Boss, if this situation continues, how many more months will this company last?’ I could count on one hand. At the time, I could count on one hand. With a smile on my face, I replied, ‘Don’t worry.’

Tickets and merchandise, which Ohbari describes as ‘inside sales’, fell during the pandemic but he said NJPW is at a point now where they can cover 60-70 percent of that with their ‘outside business’. He added that come June, it’ll probably be the second largest year as far as sales go. He said NJPW is at a level where they are just barely able to turn a profit. 

The inside sales fell by a frightening double-digit billion yen (during the pandemic), but we are now at the point where we can cover about 70-80 percent of that amount with our outside business. As mentioned, in terms of sales scale, the current fiscal year ending in June will probably be the second largest in our 50-year history. However, ticket revenue is a fixed cost business, and after covering that, almost all of it is profit. A decrease in attendance means that only the most profitable part of the business is lost, and in terms of profit, we are just barely able to reach a level where we can turn a profit.

Continuing on the topic, he looked back on the changes that were made within the company during that time period. Ohbari discussed cost-cutting measures he enacted when he took on the President role in October 2020

He stated that he canceled the ‘President’s car’, moved to a low-cost office building, recommended low-cost airline flights. The company asked their talent and employees to be patient through the process but many employees left. Ohbari said those who left were never replaced. 

We arranged for tests and vaccines. We also made internal rules, and the recently abolished guidelines were the first edition written word for word to protect customers, wrestlers and others involved from the virus. In terms of expenses, we made various cost-cutting measures, which we called ‘winter preparations,’ after assuming the presidency. I canceled the president’s car, moved to a low-cost office building, imposed cross-quotes and price negotiations on all contracts, and recommended low-cost airline flights, which are cheaper than bullet trains, for business trips. Of course, we also asked wrestlers and employees to be patient in terms of treatment.

Many employees left the company, but we never replaced them, and everyone worked together to make it happen. Looking back, the success of the double Dome was a big break from the boom times, so we had to make a drastic change… and we had to rebuild from a financial standpoint. However, that is the advantage of being a small company. If management is serious, it can turn things around and make changes all at once. Believing this, we changed our position in the face of a strong headwind and while discerning the ‘tailwind component’ that was contained in minute quantities in that headwind, we made a breakthrough in that area by making a single point and using the Corona disaster as a lever to grow as fast as we could. As a result, this has borne fruit over the past three years, and I believe that this fiscal year, which ends in June, will be the second highest in New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s history in terms of sales.

NJPW is wrapping up their 2023 Best of the Super Juniors tournament. On May 26th, Master Wato and ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey are meeting in the A block semifinals and El Desperado is taking on Titán in the B block semifinal. 

About Andrew Thompson 8246 Articles
A Washington D.C. native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.