Friday, Jul 20, 2018
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Beyond Sports Every Day

12 months ago

Yuji Saeki, President & CEO of Mikasa
share by WhatsApp

Yuji Saeki

President & CEO of Mikasa

Japanese firm Mikasa produces the official games balls for the Olympic Games, as well as the official volleyballs for all Fédération Internationale de Volleyball worldwide competitions, and numerous domestic leagues outside of North America. Yuji Saeko, the company’s President and CEO, discussed with United World the history and outlook of the company today.

The global sporting goods market is expanding rapidly and the annual growth rate will reach 4.1% within the next five years, with the United States representing 40% of the global market. What are Mikasa’s strategies in order to leverage the global growth in the sports goods sector?

Generally speaking, the sports goods sector is growing. Mikasa’s brand is a globally-recognized name in volleyball. However, looking at the market volume and the population of consumers playing volleyball, I wonder whether the volleyball market is growing or not within the overall market trend. Especially in Japan, the population of volleyball players is decreasing. It’s one of the problems we are facing. Our company is located in Hiroshima, which is a very small market as well, so we have to think about going out and gaining more market share abroad.

We intend to enrich our relationship with FIVB, the International Volleyball Federation and also sponsor the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and other tournaments too. By doing this, I believe that we can sustain our brand name in the market.

The President of FIVB, Mr. Graça, mentioned after the renewal of the partnership for Tokyo 2020 with Mikasa that in the sports industry working with the best is key and Mikasa has the best ball technology.” Can you give us a broader overview about the longstanding relationship that you have with the FIVB?

My grandfather Kunichi Nakata founded this company 100 years ago. Mikasa was called Myōjō Rubber Industry then. We were a simple ball manufacturer at first but due to our efforts we quickly became recognized internationally. We had to be outstanding, to be different from other companies. At that time soccer balls were popular but my grandfather thought we should focus on volleyballs since soccer had matured already.

First we focused on the domestic market but later we shifted our strategy by looking more overseas; and that’s when he decided to contact the FIVB. Volleyball wasn’t as popular as it is nowadays and FIVB was very small. Mikasa was small as well but both my grandfather and FIVB had a strong wish to expand the market through volleyball so they worked and grew together. Ever since the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, excluding the Mexico City 1968 and Montreal 1976 , each Olympic volleyball game was played with Mikasa balls. Because of the increasing popularity of the sport, the Japanese team also became stronger and stronger.


What makes your products unique?

While making balls for the Olympics, we have always had good relationships and communication channels with players. We always listen to the players’ comments and official requests in order to produce better balls. That’s how we work together; we listen closely to their feedback.

My staff is always open to opinions and critiques on how to improve our products. For instance, before commercializing new products, we develop a prototype and let volleyball teams play with it first. Based on their feedback, we create a second and improved prototype. We repeat this over and over until we reach a satisfactory level. It is through listening to professional players and embedding their feedback that we are able to yield high-quality products.

Mikasa’s expertise goes beyond ball manufacturing. Could you tell us more about the industrial products business segment?

The industrial products are totally different from all of our other sections. The customers are different, the purpose of it is different, and the sales channels are different too. We are two companies in one in this sense. One thing that is common is the utilization of rubber.

It all started from the port of Kure in the Hiroshima Prefecture. We started receiving a great amount of inquiries from diesel companies located there and we took advantage of our unique know-how to develop the industrial parts business.

In this segment, we are seeking to expand in the American market through our subsidiary. Mikasa provides under-water bearings used for marine vessels and field pumps, rubber covering for marine propeller shafts, rubber rolls used for production lines of iron and steel, paper making, and resin plates. In the field of under-water bearings, we provide rubber bearings, friction-free (FF) bearings, and ceramics bearings. The key characteristic of these parts is that they are all environmentally-friendly bearings, since they use water as lubricant.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to open the Japanese economy to the global market. Your relationship with the US started in 1973 in California. What does the American market represent today for Mikasa?

The US market is one of the most difficult and competitive in the world for us because the USA Volleyball Federation has chosen to adopt another brand as their official ball. We have a subsidiary company in the US, but the large part of the sales in the market comes from low-cost playground balls.

I strongly believe that we have a great growth potential to achieve in the US. We are doing a good job in terms of turnover given the circumstance, but we are not completely satisfied as we see still significant room for growth that we want to tap into.

Soccer is becoming more and more popular in the US, for instance. We have developed a special technology for laminated balls, for which we are recording increasing interest and sales. With our unique technology and know-how, we can expand this expertise over soccer balls in the US and globally.


Why should American sportsmen pick Mikasa’s balls over those of competitors?

I am very confident in our products’ quality. Upper-level players require top-notch levels of quality and criteria and we always pay attention to continuously improve ourselves and match the increasingly sophisticated customers’ requirements.

Our passion and expertise doesn’t stop at volleyball. We apply it to basketball, soccer, football, water polo, rugby, tetherballs, kickballs, dodgeballs, and playground balls. For this reason, at the core of Mikasa’s strategy, there is remarkable investment in R&D and innovation that is focused on quality and playability.


Looking at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, what are your expectations and how do you think this global event will benefit Mikasa?

I cannot still disclose much, but we are definitely ready for the 2020 Olympics with new and exciting products. As far as we can disclose, there will be new colors and the new balls will have newly-developed synthetic leather as well.


Looking beyond Tokyo 2020, this year Mikasa is celebrating its 100th anniversary. What is your personal vision for the company and where do you want to take it from here?

The future definitely lies with our ball business. I will ensure that Mikasa maintains and further improves the high standard of quality and reputation that everyone associates with Mikasa’s balls and industry parts.

We are not just a trading company. Above all, we are a manufacturing company. We have the capability to produce outside Japan, so no matter where, we will keep going. As previously mentioned, at the moment we have two pillars. One is our ball business and the other is industrial products.

Looking forward, I want to develop a third one and it will be a totally different business. Healthy lifestyle and sports are good for people, so the third pillar will be related to wellness. Some ideas we have are related to products for mothers who, just after giving birth, need to take care of their health by exercising. We want to provide products for stretching when the back hurts, for instance. In addition, we are already manufacturing in this new line a softer version of volleyballs for infants, who can’t play with regular balls because they are too hard.      My company’s creed is “MIKASA Sports every day!”




ENTREPRENEURSHIP: An overused concept for an underused reality.


When being part of a generation on which the flag of entrepreneurship seems to be constantly waving in the sea of young professionals looking to succeed in the business world, more often than not, we tend to drown in the... Read More






© Worldfolio Ltd.

The Worldfolio provides intelligence about the economies with the highest growth potential in the world, with a focus on understanding them from within.


FOLLOW US                   | Terms and conditions - Privacy policy - Cookies policy.