On July 24, I published an article here at Voices of Wrestling examining All Japan’s attendance for the first half of 2019 and seeing how that compared to the first half of 2018. Additionally, I discussed Jun Akiyama’s resignation as company president and his replacement by Takeshi Fukuda, the money men behind the promotion.
Rumors that the company would become isolationist turned out to not be true. All Japan continues to work with Dragon Gate, Big Japan and 2AW on a regular basis, and the first tour of 2020 will feature many outsiders.
On the negative side, business has continued to decline year-over-year. That was the case in the first half of the year and continued into the second half. Let’s look at the main stats:
- From July to December 2018, All Japan had a total attendance of 41,423 spread over 67 shows, for an average attendance of 618 per show. In the same period in 2019, All Japan held 63 shows with a total attendance of 37,898, for an average attendance of 626 per show. That is an increase of 1.3% for average attendance and an 8.5% decline in total attendance year-over-year.
- But the picture is less rosy when you look at the attendance changes over the entire year. In 2018, All Japan had a total attendance of 85,392 spread over 133 shows, for an average attendance of 642. In 2019, All Japan had a total attendance of 82,010 spread over 132 shows for an average attendance of 621. That is a decline of 3.3% in average attendance and a 4% decline in total attendance year-over-year.
- An even more distressing statistic is the average attendance for Korakuen Hall. In 2018, average attendance at Korakuen Hall was 1,410, and that year, All Japan ran 16 shows there. In 2019, All Japan ran 21 shows at Korakuen Hall with an average attendance of 1,341. That is an average attendance decline of 4.9% year-over-year.
That decline in attendance at Korakuen Hall is clearly a case where the is trying to lean on its good Korakuen Hall numbers to make up for stagnant or declining numbers outside of Tokyo (there are exceptions that I will discuss in a moment). For example, after drawing 2,458 in Osaka in July 2018, All Japan could not even draw 1,000 in Osaka this year.
But increasing their visits to Korakuen Hall comes with its own issues.
After a really strong run of Korakuen Hall shows in the first half of 2019 that had an average attendance of 1,447 over 11 shows, in the second half of the year, the average attendance at Korakuen Hall was 1,223 over 10 shows. That average in the second half of the year would have been even lower if not for the Atsushi Aoki Memorial Show which drew their largest crowd in Korakuen Hall all year. Without the Aoki memorial show, their Korakuen Hall average for the second half of the year would have only have been 1,158.
Though other promotions have had issues drawing in Korakuen Hall this year and there was an increase to the sales tax in Japan, I would argue that the increase in running the venue and the lackluster cards on some of those shows was a factor. All Japan even did their first sub-1,000 attendance in Korakuen Hall since March 2016, on July 10.
And while they were still great main events, the September Kento Miyahara vs. Naoya Nomura Triple Crown match and the October Kento Miyahara vs. Jake Lee Triple Crown match were rematches of Korakuen Hall main events from the first half of the year and each one this Autumn drew less than in the first half of the year.
There were two bright spots attendance-wise for All Japan this year. They continue to draw strongly in Nagoya and regularly do over 1,000 fans there. They have also built up a good presence in Hokkaido. While they draw solidly though not spectacularly in Sapporo, they manage to draw strong crowds by their standards for spot shows in smaller cities across Hokkaido. All Japan even ran nearly every show on their Summer Explosion tour this past August in Hokkaido and drew quite well. The only other nationwide touring company to run smaller cities in Hokkaido is Dragon Gate. So All Japan deserves credit for identifying an area of Japan that is underserved by pro wrestling.
While there are many details still lacking about what 2020 will hold for All Japan, there are some hints. Obviously Naoya Nomura and Jake Lee will continue their ascent up the card. Yuma Aoyagi, after a star-making performance in the Real World Tag League, will probably be making some big leaps next year as well.
As for how ambitious the company plans to be in 2020, there are some mixed messages. For the first time since 2017, All Japan will not be running a February show at Yokohama Bunka Gym. 2019 also saw them run Yokohama Bunka Gym once, whereas they ran it twice in 2018 and also ran Osaka EDION Arena #1. So with the limited schedule we have for 2020 so far, it doesn’t seem like there are big plans. On December 18, Miyahara gave an interview to Tokyo Sports where he mentioned Sumo Hall and said that he wanted All Japan to run big venues. That could be a clue that a big show is in the pipeline, but we will have to wait and see.
All Japan enters 2020 in a somewhat diminished yet still stable place. However, it is also clearly a time of transition. Now that Kento Miyahara has solidified his spot as one of the best pro wrestlers in the world, it is time for him to help make new stars. He may even be losing the Triple Crown as soon as January 3 to Jake Lee.
And while there is a feeling of staleness at the top of the card, I would argue that there are plenty of bright spots on the horizon. The undercard has significantly improved since the beginning of the year. The three young boys – Hokuto Omori, Atsuki Aoyagi and Dan Tamura – have in part helped to make that happen and have shown steady improvement as they embark upon their second year as pro wrestlers.
There are signs that All Japan could have a rocking Junior Heavyweight division in the not too distant future, which is a rare thing in this company. Yusuke Okada is developing into an incredible worker and All Japan bringing in the young Italian wrestler Akira Francesco has also been a shot in the arm to the division that still feels aimless since the tragic death of Atsushi Aoki in June.
Ultimately, All Japan’s success or failure 2020 is going to come down to their own Three Musketeers – Lee, Nomura and Aoyagi. If they can seize the moment and become stars, then the promotion will have many bright years ahead of it.