Analysis: New Japan Prepares to Go Global Following Wrestle Kingdom Success

Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4 was an international success for New Japan Pro Wrestling.

English language commentator Steve Corino revealed some details about NJPWWorld subscription numbers during the January 5 New Years Dash even the next day. Corino said on commentary that New Japan's video streaming service had gained 10,000 new subscriptions for its biggest event of the year the day before. He said 5,500 of those new subscriptions were from outside Japan. According to Chris Charlton, New Japan historian and frequent translator of wrestler interviews, this puts the total subscription count for NJPWWorld at about 60,000.

In December the Wrestling Observer Newsletter mentioned less than 10,000 subscriptions were from outside Japan.

Non-Japanese web traffic to NJPWWorld from September to November 2016, according to Similarweb, indicate non-Japanese subscriptions are probably somewhere in that ballpark.

This entails subscriptions outside Japan have been brought to a total of about 15,500, with 44,500 inside Japan, for a total of 60,000 subscriptions worldwide.

While a good spike for New Japan, to put these numbers in perspective, the WWE Network as September 30, 2016 had 1.4 million subscribers worldwide: 1.1 million in the U.S., 373,000 from outside the U.S.

If this spike for Wrestle Kingdom is anything like the spike in subscribers WWE Network experiences around WrestleMania each year, we can expect NJPWWorld will lose many subscribers who are interested enough to stay subscribed for the biggest event of the year, but not interested enough to remain year-round subscribers. However if subscribership unfolds in a pattern like WWE's, some will stay on and New Japan will make net gains in subscribers year-over-year.

We don't know how this compares to past years, but NJPWWorld received 207,000 non-unique visits on January 4. That's more than four times the traffic the site received on October 10 (45,000), the day of New Japan's King of Pro Wrestling show, which was the highest traffic day from September to November 2016.%

There's reason to be more optimistic about NJPWWorld subscribers. There's evidence the company made real strides in stirring up excitement among non-Japanese wrestling fans and raising awareness in general about its product.

Web traffic for NJPWWorld.com in the 28 days before January 5 consisted of 58% non-Japanese traffic -- the majority. Compare that to traffic from September to November 2016 when 36% came from outside Japan.

 
(Source: Similarweb.com)

Google Trends suggest non-Japanese and worldwide interest in New Japan peaked over previous years' Wrestle Kingdom events.

Worldwide searches were 19% higher than for the week of Wrestle Kingdom last year: the most Google interest there's been in New Japan at least since Bushiroad purchased the company in 2012, if not ever. (Google Trends show relative levels of interest only and are adjusted for the total number of searches overall, so this data shouldn't be skewed by an overall increase in the use of Google. However it's fair to point out that these increases could be related to the increased use of NJPWWorld itself, which has only existed since December 1, 2014.)

Google searches in Japan also peaked slightly less strongly, up 2%.

Google searches in the U.S. were 30% higher than for Wrestle Kingdom in 2016 and 39% higher than they were for 2015, the year the event aired on traditional pay-per-view in the country.

Google searches from the United Kingdom were up 36% from 2016. Searches from the U.K. for the event in 2015 were much lower than in the U.S., probably due to it not being marketed in the U.K. like it was in the U.S. due to the U.S. traditional PPV offering.

Paid attendance for Wrestle Kingdom 11 at the Tokyo Dome, where the event is held every year, was 26,192. That's up slightly from last year's 25,204.

IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada noted the international response he received after defense against Kenny Omega. Charlton translated Okada's comments from a press conference on NJPWWorld:

"I've heard a lot of people say it was a great match, or from fans relieved I retained the belt. That's normal from Japanese fans, but this time I was really floored by the number of responses from fans all over the word who loved the match. And other wrestlers from abroad saying they loved it, that's been really special. That's a credit to Kenny, that the match had the ability to, and did, resound all over the world. Perhaps Okada versus Tanahashi didn't pull in the international crowd, but Okada versus Omega can." 

The attention Wrestle Kingdom 11 got and in particular the strong response to the main event between Okada and Omega couldn't have come at a better time for New Japan. The company announced on the same night that it will make its debut in the U.S.on July 1 and 2 in Los Angeles.

According to Twitter account @enuhito_eng, New Japan promoter Takaaki Kidani revealed his ambitious to continue expanding globally, as well as the motivation of those ambitions.

Kidani is alluding to WWE signing A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows away from New Japan shortly after Wrestle Kingdom last year.

He also said the company would train more international wrestlers to develop more global appeal. In the last few years, New Japan took in Jay White from New Zealand and David Finlay, son of Irish wrestler Fit Finlay.

Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter tweeted that New Japan will run an event later this year in Australia.

It will be interesting to see how this develops and to what extent WWE responds to assert its global dominance. WWE is a far bigger company which already tours and distributes its content worldwide. New Japan generated $32 million in 2016. When WWE publishes its full-year 2016 earnings in a few weeks, it'll probably report a revenue figure of around $700 million.

Edit: An earlier version of this article using an earlier collection of Google Trends data showed slightly lesser differences for Google searches between Wrestle Kingdom events from 2015 to 2017.

You can follow Brandon on Twitter @adecorativedrop. Email him at [email protected].

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