Japan sports retailers cheer as rugby shirts fly off shelves

Japan matches at the Rugby World Cup are played in front of a sea of red-and-white as fans snap up team jerseys. (Reuters)
Updated 09 October 2019

Japan sports retailers cheer as rugby shirts fly off shelves

  • Host nation success a bonanza for clothing brand Canterbury as sales leap

TOKYO: It is early morning outside the sportswear store near the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Stadium and customers are already queuing to get their hands on Japan’s hottest property: A Brave Blossoms replica shirt.

The red-and-white jerseys are flying off the shelves as the Japan team continues to defy expectations at the Rugby World Cup, winning three from three and on course for a historic quarter-final.

Japan games are played in front of a sea of red-and-white shirts and sales have exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts — with 90 percent of the stock for the whole tournament already gone.

Shirts are being sold as soon as they can be replaced, said Danny Robinson, manager of the Rugby World Cup megastore in Tokyo.

“Everybody loves the Japanese jerseys. It’s much, much more than we anticipated. Every day people are waiting at the door and coming in to grab the jerseys. So it’s very difficult to keep them on the shelves. We keep bringing them in every day,” he told AFP.

However, it is not just the Japanese who are snapping up the shirts. Robinson estimates that around half of the people buying Brave Blossom jerseys are foreigners.

Jesai Knight, an Australian rugby fan, has been searching high and low for his souvenir.

“I came today to get one of those Japanese jerseys. We came here yesterday at about 9.30 in the morning, and they were sold out already at that point. And they told us to come back in the late evening today to get one,” said Knight.

The 38-year-old has also encountered an issue many foreigners living in Japan find infuriating — finding the right size for the Western build.

“I am an extra large... it was a little difficult,” he told AFP, gleefully snapping up the one XL jersey available.

The availability of Brave Blossom shirts has not been helped by a supply problem with a warehouse in Chiba, to the east of Tokyo, that was affected by Typhoon Faxai a fortnight before the tournament began.

“The warehouse actually lost electricity,” said Robinson. “So people were picking by hand with flashlights to get the products here.”

The hiccup was resolved “a long time ago” and deliveries are now coming in two or three times per week, he added.

The World Cup has been a bonanza for Canterbury, the company that produces the Brave Blossom shirts along with other rugby gear.

They had forecast sales of 200,000 throughout the tournament — which ends on Nov. 2 — and “90 percent has already been sold,” said Yoshi Katsuta, head of Rugby World Cup operations for Canterbury Japan. “We are truly sorry” that some fans cannot get their hands on a Brave Blossoms jersey, but such demand was “really difficult to predict. We expected foreigners to also buy Japan shirts but not on this scale,” he admitted.

Another feature of this World Cup — the first held in Asia and in a non-traditional rugby hotbed — is how the home fans have “adopted” teams and dutifully bought their replica jerseys.

“I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a World Cup where the home fans have supported all of the teams this well,” tournament organizer Alan Gilpin said in a recent interview.

“And the merchandising sales for replica jerseys for every team being bought by Japanese fans is brilliant.”

The famous black shirts of defending champions New Zealand have proved especially popular, not just because they are one of the tournament favorites but also because “the Japanese love the haka,” said Robinson.


Founder of troubled Metro Bank steps down early as chairman

Updated 23 October 2019

Founder of troubled Metro Bank steps down early as chairman

  • Board member Michael Snyder will be interim chairman until a permanent successor is appointed
  • US entrepreneur Hill, who launched Metro Bank almost a decade ago, has agreed to accept the honorary position of emeritus chairman

LONDON: Vernon Hill, the founder of Metro Bank, has stepped down as chairman two months early, as the British lender continues its battle to recover from an accounting scandal.

US entrepreneur Hill, who launched Metro Bank almost a decade ago, has agreed to accept the honorary position of emeritus chairman and will remain a non-executive director of the bank until Dec. 31, the bank said on Wednesday.

Board member Michael Snyder will be interim chairman until a permanent successor is appointed, subject to regulatory approval.

News of Hill’s exit follows a near-catastrophic year for Metro after it disclosed a major accounting error that had under-reported its exposure to higher-risk loans by almost 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion).

The bank, famed for its glossy branch network and unconventional customer perks including pet treats and weekend opening hours, was later forced to raise capital at expensive rates to plug the gap in its balance sheet.

It is due to report third quarter results later on Wednesday.

British regulators have yet to take any action against Metro or its management team for the January accounting error but the lender has warned that possible penalties could be substantial and could lead to criminal investigations.

Metro had said in July that Hill, who regularly referred to the bank’s customers as ‘fans’, would step down from his role after a permanent replacement had been found.

The bank did not say why that plan had changed, but a spokeswoman said the decision was entirely Hill’s and was not linked to the ongoing regulatory probes.

“The Board thanks Vernon for his vision which inspired and created Metro Bank ten years ago. He leaves a lasting legacy of creating fans through exceptional customer service and has revolutionized British banking,” Snyder said in a statement.

While customers warmed to his publicity shots starring pet dog Duffy, Hill endured a fractious relationship with some investors, both before and after the accounting error.

Metro originally claimed it had discovered the mistake before later admitting the Prudential Regulation Authority had uncovered the error first, leading to a crisis of confidence over the quality of the bank’s corporate governance.

Some investors also raised concerns about Hill’s lack of independence and questioned payments made to his wife’s architecture firm, which Metro later said would be phased out.

But he survived two threatened rebellions over his chairmanship and the bank’s shares, which have shed almost 90 percent this year, were broadly flat in response to the news.