Gedo and Kazuchika Okada stood in the middle of the Tokyo Dome to close Wrestle Kingdom 12. Perhaps there are no two figures more responsible for the modern resurgence of New Japan, even more than Hiroshi Tanahashi, who is so often referred to as "the John Cena of New Japan".
Okada pointed out the remaining empty seats in the Dome, where Wrestle Kingdom is held every year. He promised to fill them at future events.
New Japan promoter Takaaki Kidani told Tokyo Sports that the wrestling company is two years ahead of schedule compared to where he expected it to be on attendance at the Tokyo Dome. He said he now wants to fill the Dome within two years.
It's not clear what the Tokyo Dome's legitimate capacity is. For decades, various promotions have claimed sold out crowds ranging from 50,000 to 70,000. Depending on setup, the actual capacity for a modern New Japan show with a large stage may be under 50,000.
Gedo and his tag partner Jado became bookers for New Japan in 2011 when the company was acquired by current parent company Bushiroad. By the next year, Gedo had his new hand-picked main eventer chosen and pushed him to the top, having Okada beat Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in the first major meeting of a feud that primed New Japan for worldwide appeal.
It took several years, but Gedo has booked New Japan out from under the depths of the 2000s and into a decade dominated by his chosen star, "the Rainmaker" who makes Okada bucks flutter from the ceiling whenever he makes an entrance.
In producing a product that's in line with his audience's demand, Gedo has earned goodwill for New Japan that will carry it through surprising and questionable booking decisions (Okada going over Tetsuya Naito and Tanahashi beating Jay White) at Wrestle Kingdom. Fans of New Japan have learned that if they "let it play out", the booking usually does in fact make sense.
New Japan's business continued on an upward trajectory following its biggest show of the year on January 4. Paid attendance was up to 34,995, compared to 26,192 the prior year, an increase of 34%. A reported 2,400 of those in attendance were from the U.S. or Europe, as Wrestle Kingdom morphs into a travel destination for wrestling fans, like WrestleMania became earlier this century. NJPWWorld subscribers were at 99,784 as of January 9, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. That's an increase from 60,000 following last year's Wrestle Kingdom, or up 58%. Overall company revenue is at its highest point probably since the 1997, when New Japan ran multiple shows per year at the Tokyo Dome or other stadium-sized venues.
To whom goes the credit for Wrestle Kingdom 12?
Chris Jericho's pairing with the hottest worldwide star outside WWE, Kenny Omega, certainly deserves some but not all of the credit for drawing any fans from overseas. New Japan was heating up with international fans with or without Jericho, who definitely made it bigger event than it would have been otherwise.
The increase in attendance in the Tokyo Dome from this year to last year should go most of all to the main event of Okada vs. Naito, and is reflection of their increase in star power from the previous year.
Credit Jericho more for the increase in NJPWWorld subscribers. Last year, subscribers from outside Japan numbered about 15,500, or about 26% of total subscribers. A breakdown hasn't been reported, but I would expect a larger portion of subscribers this year to be from outside Japan, due to Jericho's appearance against a buzz-worthy opponent.
Google search data
Google searches related to New Japan were at a record high for at least the past five years and probably several more -- that's across any relevant geography: worldwide, Japan, U.S. and U.K.
Looking at the five key players (Jericho, Omega, Okada, Naito and Tanahashi), Google search data suggests Jericho was the biggest deal worldwide while Okada was most important in Japan.
During the 30 days from December 8 of last year to January 6 of this year, Jericho led among of the five for searches worldwide and in the U.S. Tanahashi won the race in Japan, but that looks like it was largely due to surge of searches related to him on Christmas Eve.
For the seven days from January 1 to January 8, Okada led the pack in Japan. Jericho still led worldwide and in the U.S.
Google search data is adjusted for time and location.
The search data supports the notion that Jericho and Omega were the biggest stars to the international audience who may have been watching on NJPWWorld or AXS, or that their match may have encouraged some traveling fans to attend. Meanwhile Okada and Naito were the biggest stars to the domestic market in Japan.