On the pitch, FC Gifu’s focus has been on their pre-season training camp in Oita. Off the pitch however, the main news from Gifu has been the securing of funds which will alleviate the immediate financial concerns surrounding the club, while giving breathing space so the club can find ways to put itself on a stable financial footing going forward.
To give the story some context, FC Gifu have been running at an operating loss for the past 2 years. J.League rules stipulate that if a club runs in the red for three consecutive years, the league has the ability to suspend or even revoke said clubs J.League associate member licence. Indeed, in November, members of the board of directors were summoned to J.League headquarters to explain their vision for the future and how they planned to get the club out of the red and into the black. That must have been a tricky meeting to be involved in but, as it turned out, help was not so long in coming.
Around the halfway point of last season, with Gifu struggling near the foot of J2, rumours began to circulate among the fans that the club was struggling financially. On September 1st, then chairman Imanishi was replaced by Daijiro Kunda, a local businessman and low level local politician. Kunda went about overhauling the management structure on the business side of the club and tried to shuffle things around (as in move staff about) in order to try and save some money. Towards the end of the 2012 season, there was a very real possibility that relegation would have meant the end of FC Gifu as a professional outfit, such were the money troubles.
FC Gifu managed to survive in J2 on the final day of the season due to rivals Machida Zelvia being beaten by Shonan Bellmare, but the immediate financial trouble wasn’t just going to disappear. Many players knew that their contracts were not going to be renewed and a lot of players left the club, including top goal scorer Koichi Sato, who eventually moved to J2 newcomers V-Varen Nagasaki.
It wasnt looking too pretty. But, on December 25th, it was announced that Kunda had come to an agreement with an investor who would pump much needed funds into the club. A nice and welcome filip for all those involved in FC Gifu.
The money, around ¥150m, has come from a company called J.Trust. J.Trust, listed on the Tokyo stock exchange, deals with real estate, corporate restructuring and providing financial assistance to companies in debt. It is headed by Nobuyoshi Fujisawa, a Gifu native who moved to the bright lights of Tokyo to make his money. In theory, the fit between FC Gifu and J.Trust makes sense. J.Trust deals with companies that are a loss making enterprise and gives them financial aid in order for them to turn things around. What usually follows in this type of transaction is an agreement for dividends to be repaid alongside the initial capital injection. However, the agreement between FC Gifu and J.Trust is probably going to turn out a bit differently than usual. In the first sense, I don’t see that much return, if any, is going to made on this in the near future. Football clubs are notorious for being financial sieves, and Gifu seems to be no different. Heavily reliant on money from the J.League and without a shirt sponsor for two years, financial incomings have been much less than outgoings. Another way that this deal might be different for J.Trust is that they usually insist on some sort of corporate restructuring at board level. In this instance, Kunda is still at the helm with, seemingly, all the power to employ and fire people. Fujisawa has so far been of the position that he doesn’t want to come on to the board as he has too many responsibilities with his role at J.Trust. But it seems only a matter of time before a proxy is put on the board to oversee where and how this money is spent/invested.
While the bulk of the money has come from J.Trust (a small portion of it is said to have come from Fujisawa’s own pocket), it is on the say so of Fujisawa who seems to have let his heart make this decision. As he said in his press release after agreeing the assistance, he saw that his hometown needed a lift from somewhere. This is partly true, as the old centre of Gifu is now a shadow of what it was in the past. The impact of the out of town shopping malls/cinema complexes, while convenient for consumers, has left the old heart of the city (known to locals as Yanagase) as just a series of run down shops, seedy “bars” and boarded up places. Fujisawa said that one of the main reasons that he put money in was to give the residents of Gifu something to rally around.
As part of making things more local the new board, headed by Kunda, has made strides to increase the awareness of the club in the local community. He has promised to earmark funds for youth football in the prefecture, along with an optimistic sounding pledge to have 30% of the FC Gifu squad local born/raised/trained in the near future (a date was not mentioned). He has also employed local faces to important positions within the club, most notably the re-hiring of Hideki Matsunaga who was the manager when Gifu were promoted from the JFL. Matsunaga has been given the role of General Manager, and it will be his job to look after and develop the football side of the club. The club has also made more of an effort to recruit local players. The additions of Masukawa and Kiyomoto in this off season reflect this stance.
Of course, for all these changes to have the desired impact, the fans must be on board. Towards the end of last season, when Gifu’s future, not just as a J.Leage club but as an entity, was in doubt, the club, in conjunction with the main supporters group started two major campaigns. The first, the “You & Me” campaign, held collections at all home games encouraging fans to give anything they could spare towards the financial health of the club. Over the last six or seven home games of the season, the fans contributed nearly ¥1 million, not an insignificant amount. The second campaign was centred around the build up to the final home game of the season, where Gifu knew a win against Tokushima
Vortis would secure their survival in J2. The club and supporters came up with a new slogan specifically for this situation. The slogan オレンターノ岐阜 (in the Gifu dialect it means “Our Gifu”) resonated with the people of the city and the prefecture as it helped produce Gifu’s biggest ever league game attendance as over 11000 turned out to watch a nervy 0-0 draw. There have been rumours this off season that the team name could change to Orentano Gifu, but so far there has been no movement on this.
So, FC Gifu head in to the new season financially secure, in the short term at least, but still with a below average cast of players. Whether the optimism that financial stability brings can be transposed on to their performances in the new season will be something to watch for.