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Why do sports delight us?
- Rugby’s spike in popularity

Daichi Oshimi
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Japan's victory over South Africa – A story of David and Goliath

On September 19, 2015, Japan challenged and defeated South Africa at the Rugby World Cup. News of Japan’s victory not only sent immediate shockwaves throughout the rugby community but also throughout the world. Up until this victory, Japan's record in the Rugby World Cup was 1 win to 23 losses. Japan beat South Africa, a metaphorical rugby giant with a record of 25 wins to 4 losses and two championship victories. No wonder the news shocked everyone. Following the victory, rugby spiked in popularity and achieved an all-time high rating during the matches against Scotland (14.6%) and Samoa (19.3%), despite both matches being broadcasted late at night.(1) This phenomenon, I believe, was caused in no small way by the historic background of rugby's once flourishing popularity that has stagnated in recent years. This win instantaneously released pent-up frustration, stirring up delight in the hearts of the public.

Fig. 1 illustrates the delight resulting from Japan’s victory. Contrary to satisfaction, delight is an explosive force that drives the heart and behavior of people experiencing something that has exceeded expectations. In this text, I wish to consider from the perspective of audiences and fans why the South Africa game delighted us, and whether this boom in popularity is sustainable.

Fig.1. Effect of satisfaction and delight on audience loyalty Revised by the writer based on Ono (2010)(2)

The game against South Africa where various aspects of delight overlapped

Sports arouse all kinds of emotions. Some are positive, such as joy, happiness, and delight, and some are negative, such as sadness, disappointment, and anger.(3)。Such emotions are said to be the result of a “psychological awakening” stimulated by uncertainty about an outcome (unable to foresee the game's result), competitiveness (competition against an opposing team or player), and commitment (passion) for a specific team or player.(4)。These emotional experiences are what make spectator sports enjoyable. Many use the words ‘sports’ and ‘delight’ as symbolic keywords when expressing the psychological benefit of watching sports. Table 1 is a summary of five questionnaire surveys we conducted on professional soccer and basketball spectators and university students (a total of 1,741 subjects) employing statistical methods to identify eight exciting scenarios in sports.

Table 1. Eight delight scenes and their definitions (5)

Delight scenes Definition
Sympathy/Unity A sense of unity when cheering together with other passionate spectators
Spectating in stadium Watching famous or favorite players live at the stadium
Dramatic scenes Your team finishes with a dramatic victory
Outstanding plays Excellent individual skills or teamwork
Success from disadvantageous situations Players overcoming disadvantageous situations and playing well
Earnest effort Players and team pushing themselves until the game is over
Humanity Players expressing great emotion
Additional elements Entering a beautiful stadium and receiving outstanding service from staff

It is not possible to explain all eight aspects since rugby spectators were not included in the creation of these eight exciting scenarios. However, applying this table to the South Africa match demonstrates at least four of them. First is "dramatic scenes." Japan was down 29 to 32 near the end of the match and their comeback victory on the final try certainly qualifies as “dramatic scenes.” Japan's nearly flawless and excellent performance qualifies as "outstanding play," and their hard and courageous play without ever giving up the entire match qualifies as "earnest effort." This victory was an unprecedented upset, which qualifies as a "success from a disadvantageous situation." The Japanese team overcame its poor record and differences in physique. I watched this late-night game by myself, but if I had watched the game with a group or at the stadium, I would have felt "sympathy and unity" with other spectators. Delight is the result of multiple factors, and in this case, each of these factors had a strong impact that left a powerful impression.

Spike in popularity the result of constant delight

Fig. 2. Delight arousal mechanism, from Oshimi (2015)(7)

Japan's victory elevated rugby into the spotlight and helped it become a daily topic in newspapers and broadcasts. Traditional media and social networking sites contributed greatly to the spread of delight among people who previously had no interest in the sport. However, delight cannot last forever, and passion will eventually subside as we become less interested. Fig. 2 shows the mechanism of delight. Delight is said to be the result of positive emotions and a feeling of surprise that leads to exceeded expectations (positive disconfirmation).(6) Delight withsurprise generally have a strong impact but it does not necessarily lead to a prolonged effect. On the other hand, there exists delight without surprise. This is "pre-established harmony delight."(8) An example of such delight would be the feeling you have when you hear a song you have heard many times before or a movie or book that makes you cry every time you watch or read it. There is no surprise in such emotion. Delight is the result of a specific characteristic pattern. Of the delight experienced in the stadium, there is, for example, delight felt every time you sing the team song with other supporters before the game, which would fall into the category of pre-established harmony delight. The benefit of pre-established harmony delight is the possibility of reproducing an already experienced emotion. It is difficult to reproduce delight with surprise in a sporting event that involves uncertainty regarding the outcome. It is necessary to continuously introduce factors that will arouse satisfaction and delight even if the team you are rooting for should lose the game.

The world of rugby has a great opportunity. Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the Japanese team will participate in Super Rugby, a tournament in which the world’s top teams compete. According to reports, although the number of members in school rugby teams is decreasing, there are more children attending rugby schools.(9) It is important to be careful when approaching these new rugby fans (overnight fans). The rugby community should not allow these fans to be disappointed when watching rugby matches in the Japanese league after the World Cup. Along with strengthening the team and improving factors other than performance, the community needs to analyze the behavior of rugby fans and consider how to approach them. This includes setting up WiFi at the stadium, developing applications that explain the rules of rugby, enhancing stadium services, and creating an atmosphere that is friendly to beginner rugby fans. Delight from watching the game at the stadium and establishing a feeling of sympathyand unity among spectators requires the stadium to be filled. For this reason, the sport of rugby needs the help of overnight fans. The experience of watching games at packed stadiums would lead to renewed delight among all spectators, even if they are not familiar with the rules of the game.

Many observed this phenomenon in the Waseda-Meiji Game Spectator Gathering Project formed prior to the 2013 Waseda-Meiji University Rugby Match. This project was established to attract visitors after the number of attendees for the Waseda-Meiji match decreased and the National Stadium where the matches were held was demolished. The project focused on Waseda University graduate students but also welcomed Meiji University’s participation. In addition to post-match events organized by groups at both universities and a performance by a famous singer, event towels were distributed, a commemorative magazine was published, and other marketing initiatives were promoted utilizing various media platforms. The event attracted over 46,000 spectators. From the perspective of maintaining the sport’s popularity, the rugby community needs staff and organizations that are able to consistently plan such events. The sport also requires marketing initiatives and structural organizational reforms to attract spectators.


^(1) Video Research http://www.videor.co.jp/index.htm
^(2) Joji Ono (2010) Kokyaku Manzoku [CS] no Chishiki (Knowledge about Customer Satisfaction [CS]). Nikkei Bunko.
^(3) Sloan, L.R. (1989) The motives of sports fans. In: J.H. Goldstein (ed.), Sport, games, play (2nd ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Hillsdale, NJ, USA.
^(4) Wann, D.L, Melnich, M.J., Russel, G.W., and Pease, D.G. (2001) Sports fans: The psychology and social impact of spectators. Routledge: NY, USA.
^(5) Oshimi, D., Harada, M., (2010) Heart-Capturing (Kandoh) Scene in Sports. Japanese Journal of Sport Management, 2: 163–178.
^(6) Oliver, R.L., Rust, R.T., and Varki, S. (1997) Customer delight: Foundations, findings, and managerial insight. Journal of Retailing, 73: 311–336.
^(7) Oshimi, D. (2015) Emotions of sport spectators. Sports Management and Sports Humanities, Kanosue, K., Kogiso, K., Oshimi, D., and Harada, M. (Eds.). Springer, Tokyo, Japan.
^(8) Oshimi, D., (2015) Chapter 1: J-League from Psychological Perspective. J-League Marketing no Kiso Chishiki (Basic Knowledge on J-League Marketing), Harada, M., Oshimi, D., Fukuhara, T., Sobunkikaku
^(9) Nihon Keizai Shimbun (2015) October 5 (Evening newspaper)

Daichi Oshimi
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Date of birth: March 9, 1981
Birthplace: Tokyo

Sports management, sports marketing

[Education background]
1999: Graduated from Hiroshima Saniku Gakuin Senior High School
2005: Graduated from the School of Human Sciences, Waseda University
2010: Completed Master's Program of the Graduate School of Sport Sciences, Waseda University
2013: Completed Doctoral Program of the Graduate School of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

[Career background]
2005–2008: JTB Corporation, assigned in the Tokyo area
2013–2015: Research Associate in the School of Sport Sciences, Waseda University
2015–present: Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

[Social activities]
Editorial committee member for the Japanese Association for Sport Management, Operations committee member for the Japan Sports Health Industries Federation, etc.

[Literary work]
J-League Marketing no Kiso Chishiki (Basic Knowledge on J-League Marketing), joint authorship, 2013, Sobunkikaku
Sports Sangyoron, 6th edition (Sports Industry Theory, 6th Edition), joint authorship, 2015, Kyorin-Shoin
Sports Management and Sports Humanities, joint authorship and editing, 2015, Springer
Sports Hakusho (Sports White Paper), joint authorship, 2014, Sasakawa Sports Foundation