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In recent years as fan interest has risen in New Japan Pro Wrestling outside of Japan, fans from other countries have increasingly wanted to attend New Japan live shows. NJPW has sold out big shows in California and New York, with Australia and the United Kingdom becoming targets as well. New Japan’s biggest shows still take place in Japan and so international fans have been traveling to Japan in larger numbers for major events just like they’re traveling to AEW’s top shows and to WrestleMania each year.
New Japan’s approach to these fans has been considerably different to those of other companies. While other promotions in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States (or for that matter other Japanese promotions) welcome foreign fans like any other fans, New Japan discriminates against non-Japanese. For years, they have done this through their New Japan Fan Club.
The concept of the New Japan Fan Club is simple. Ardent New Japan fans can pay an annual fee and in return they get access to ticket presales, like ROH does with its Honor Club. Only New Japan doesn’t welcome just any fans into their club. Their rule is that you need a Japanese address in order to be a member. Needless to say, most people in Denmark, New Zealand, and Germany don’t have Japanese residences.
There’s nothing logistically requiring New Japan to deter foreign fans from having an equal shot at the best tickets to events. All that’s involved with getting tickets through the New Japan Fan Club is them mailing a fan club card to you and you then picking up the tickets at a later date. They could charge foreign fans an additional fee in order to mail the card to a foreign address, just like any international company would do. The ticket pickup process is even easier, as tickets are available for pickup at convenience stores throughout Japan. The residency requirement is plainly there to treat non-Japanese as second class fans, who aren’t given the same respect and consideration based simply on where they live.
There’s a tendency among many of us to defend this sort of thing when it’s not our society. It’s a different culture, goes the argument. However, ask yourself how fans would react if WWE announced a new policy where only fans living in America could enter a lottery to get the best tickets to WrestleMania. I don’t mean how fans from other countries would feel. I mean, ask yourself how American fans would react.
I feel confident in predicting that American fans would react with great anger towards such a policy. Even if it gave us an advantage in purchasing tickets, it would offend our basic sense of fairness and decency that our Canadian, Australian, and Mexican friends were being discriminated against and not allowed a fair shot at sitting where they want. If we apply that moral standard to our country, we ought to apply it too to Japan, a highly developed democracy with similar norms to us.
In spite of those principles, the New Japan Fan Club has continued on for years and fans haven’t complained too much. A big part of that is because New Japan’s biggest foreign fans discovered work arounds to the New Japan Fan Club. A Japanese company set up a system to provide mailing addresses for foreign fans. Those foreign fans would pay New Japan directly for the chance to enter the New Japan ticket lottery, the Japanese company would mail the fan club membership card to the foreign address, and those most hardcore of fans would have the chance to get good tickets to major events. That was, until this week, when New Japan sunk to even lower depths of bad faith towards its own fans simply on the basis of where they’re from.
When this week New Japan announced the results of its lottery for Wrestle Kingdom 2020, most non-Japanese fans got an unpleasant surprise: They weren’t entered into the lottery. The purported justification for this is a supposed ban on third party sellers, but this doesn’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. To begin with, we’re not talking about scalpers. We’re talking about companies that take a nominal fee to help fans access the ticket lottery they couldn’t otherwise access. The third party issue could be easily avoided if they simply allowed non-Japanese to pay to be New Japan Fan Club members, making it clear it isn’t about third party sellers but about the intent to discriminate against non-Japanese fans.
If New Japan was serious about cutting down on third party sales, it could have simply stopped taking New Japan Fan Club memberships from this particular company, which they have known about for years. Instead, they continued taking that fan club money, right through recent weeks. The money those non-Japanese fans paid to New Japan was paid as part of a contract. They would pay New Japan and New Japan would provide them the right to enter the ticket lottery.
Instead, New Japan took the money but didn’t honor their end of the deal: No fans who paid for their fan club membership through the primary outlet for non-Japanese fans were able to acquire tickets on the floor for either Tokyo Dome shows. Given the volume of tickets available on the floor in multiple price sections and the uniformity of the result, it’s quite clear there was an explicit directive that those fans would be blocked from entering the lottery en masse.
This goes beyond simple discrimination. New Japan actively defrauded its own customers. They took those customers’ money explicitly for the right to enter their ticket lotteries and then denied them all precisely what they had paid for, in some cases just days after they paid New Japan for that right. If New Japan wants to deny non-Japanese fans the opportunity to get great seats for their events, that’s one thing. To knowingly accept those fans’ money while already having a hollow excuse for not providing them what they are providing that money in return for is a completely different level of misconduct. And it’s directed at the promotion’s most loyal and passionate fans.
New Japan’s bad faith is further accentuated by the fact they were in fact willing to sell to third party sellers. They didn’t block all ticket sales from the most common third party seller. Rather, they denied access to the best group of tickets and the second best group of tickets and the third best group of tickets. Only fans willing to buy the fourth best group of tickets, off the floor, were entered into the lottery. In summary: no to third party sales for non-Japanese who want good tickets, yes to third party sales for non-Japanese who want bad tickets. Some principle. New Japan is also offering some tickets through an international presale. It will be interesting to see how large, or more precisely how small, the segregated section of the floor for foreigners is.
New Japan’s rise in recent years outside of Japan has largely been driven by word of mouth. I know I’ve gone out of my way to tell friends what a great product New Japan has and how they should subscribe to New Japan World. For those of us around the world who have proselytized for New Japan and helped to spread the world about the product, it’s sad that the promotion continues to treat us as less than. They’ll treat us unequally, assume we’ll take what we can get, and take our money without feeling obligated to provide what we paid for. That doesn’t sound like a company worth fighting for. That sounds like a company that doesn’t deserve our money at all.