May 01, 2013

Keirin Sexes Up Bicycle Racing in Japan

Organisers of Japan's most well known cycling sport, Keirin track racing, have been fighting a battle to lift the image of the sport on their home soil for decades.

Despite the popularity of Olympic Keirin racing amongst cycling fans world wide, at home Keirin cycling is heavily associated with gambling and the average spectator is perceived as a 50 something, chain smoking, half drunk male with a gambling problem. Keirin Japan have been trying, unsuccessfully, to change this perception of the sport with a series of television commercials and advertising campaigns.


In their most recent attempt Keirin promoters have abandoned all creativity and fallen back to the sex sells advertising method which features professional women's cyclist Tanaka Maimi in high heels and a short red skirt straddling a Bridgestone Anchor track bicycle.  The catch phrase of the poster can be roughly translated as "Its not the face, its the thighs". Classy Keirin, classy.

Sadly no matter what style of advertising Keirin Japan comes up with it will not attract new fans to the sport because very little is being done at the tracks to improve the spectator experience.  Lured to the track by television commercials featuring a carnival like atmosphere including brightly lit grandstands packed with young fans (clutching betting tickets, fail) loudly cheering on the riders while enjoying delicious looking food and drinks, potential fans arrive at the track to be greeted by groups of depressed looking, 50 something, chain smoking, half drunk, males with gambling problems drinking One Cup Ozeki while huddled around monitors which don't display the races, just the race results while the grandstands sit cold, dark end empty.

Given the recent, but now waning, popularity of single speed bicycles among young Japanese hipsters you'd think that Keirin would have seized the opportunity to attract them to the track, but organisers single minded focus on gambling rather than the actual sport saw that opportunity pass by.

I remember visiting the track with my family as a child.  There really was a carnival like atmosphere with food and drink vendors calling loudly competing for trade, with performances and other events between races to keep the crowds warmed up.  The stands were always packed with men, women and children cheering on their favourite racers as they knew them all by name, not just as numbers or colours on a betting sheet.

I have fond memories of the track, and was heartbroken when I first visited the depressing atmosphere of a Japanese Keirin event.  Lets hope organisers look past simply improving the image of the sport and actually concentrate on improving the experience.

But on a positive note the latest advertising campaign is sure to expand their market from 50 something, chain smoking, half drunk, males with gambling problems, to 50 something, chain smoking, half drunk, male perverts with gambling problems.

What a leap. Go Keirin Japan!

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