[ODDS and EVENS] Dream Bowl a Vital Catalyst for American Football's Growth in Japan
The Dream Bowl represented an opportunity for Japan to plant the seeds of American football for this era and beyond, to grow the sport and renew interest.
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To improve in any sport, it's important for athletes and teams to face tough competition, and that's what the 2023 Dream Bowl represented for the event's host nation.
American football is a niche sport in Japan. There have been limited opportunities for Japanese players and teams to test their skills against foreign teams.
Which is why an event like the Dream Bowl, officially dubbed the Japan US Dream Bowl 2023, was a dream for the X League's players and coaching staff on Sunday, January 22 at Tokyo's National Stadium.
It was an important event, too, with more than 50 X League players and six university student-athletes selected to compete for the Japan All-Stars against the Ivy League All-Stars, who won 24-20.
Who played in the game?
Most of the Japan All-Stars roster was comprised of ex-college players continuing their careers in the X League and working as company employees, whereas the Ivy League squad had former and current players from the eight Ivy League schools.
Kudos to the X League, for recognizing the significance of Sunday's event, which attracted a crowd of 12,000-plus spectators.
A spot-on perspective was shared on the X League's official Twitter account after the game.
"Thank you, Ivy League All-Star Team," read the tweet. "It was a great asset for us to be able to host an international match in Japan. We'll grow and raise the level of football in Japan."
Above all, in my view, the Dream Bowl represented an opportunity for Japan to plant the seeds for this era and beyond, taking steps to grow the sport competitive-wise and renew fan and media interest.
NFL's Presence in Japan Has Diminished
In recent years, Japan has been dormant as a location for a major event in the sport.
For instance, the NFL hasn't held an exhibition game in Japan since the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts squared off in October 2005 at Tokyo Dome.
The first NFL preseason game in Japan was held in 1976 between the St Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers at now-demolished Korakuen Stadium. And throughout the 1990s and early part of the 21st century, the NFL played a preseason game nearly every year at the Big Egg.
Regrettably, fans haven't had a chance to attend a game featuring teams from the world's best football league in Japan in nearly 20 years. The NFL's global strategy to grow its fan base in Asia shifted to China and elsewhere.
Credit the Ivy League, the X League and the Japan American Football Association for having the vision to hold this international showcase, hammering out an agreement to hold the Dream Bowl.
It's a relaunch of sorts for American football in Japan ― if organizers can capitalize on the positive momentum from this game being held and carry it over to next year and for years to come. In other words, re-establishing the sport as a part of Japan's calendar of international events.
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Author: Ed Odeven
Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter ＠ed_odeven.
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