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Sunday, May 16, 2010
Five Arrows face uncertain future after bankruptcy
By ED ODEVEN
The Takamatsu Five Arrows may become the first bj-league team to go out of business.
After Sports Project Takamatsu filed for bankruptcy with an estimated ¥50 million in debts in Takamatsu District Court on Friday, the news sparked a flurry of activity for those affected by the decision.
A league insider told The Japan Times on Friday night that Five Arrow players have been making numerous phone calls, hoping to secure a job for next season. The source said the players told him their current employer "is out of business."
Repeated attempts to reach the Five Arrows' front office by telephone on Friday evening were unsuccessful.
Contracts for all of the team's players, coaching staff and team officials were terminated on Friday.
Takamatsu had a league-worst 13-39 record this season under first-year coach John Neumann.
The fifth-year league, meanwhile, has repeatedly stated it plans to have 16 teams next season, including three expansion clubs: the Miyazaki Shining Suns, the Shimane Susanoo Magic and the Akita Northern Happinets.
The Five Arrows' original main sponsor, Anabuki Construction, Inc., filed for bankruptcy in November. At the time, it was reported Anabuki owed debtors ¥140 billion.
Just hours before the start of the playoffs, this dark cloud of uncertainty hovered over the league's postseason showcase.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the Five Arrows told Jiji Press that if a new company takes over the team it can return to the league. However, that is very unlikely, the lawyer added.
The bj-league released a statement on Friday, acknowledging the Five Arrows are looking to find new sponsors and that it will try to offer assistance.
The league's news release also stated that it was surprised by the Five Arrows' announcement.
"Because the Takamatsu Five Arrows are the only team in Shikoku, the bj-league will seek a solution for the team to return to the league next season," said Toshimitsu Kawachi, the bj-league commissioner.
Losing Anabuki's sponsorship last summer, the Five Arrows' fate was unknown until just days before the 2009-10 season began. Team officials had said the Five Arrows might skip the 2009-10 season and re-enter the league a year later.
Five Arrows officials said last summer the team needed ¥80 million in additional funds to meet its financial obligations for the upcoming season. (The operating budget was estimated at ¥190 million.)
Compounding the problem was the fact that the team didn't have a full roster — zero foreigners — when the season began. (In this league, all teams customarily start three foreigner players.)
In their first game of the season on Oct. 3, the Sendai 89ers beat the Five Arrows 103-56, a game in which the losers suited up eight Japanese players. Over the next three games, the Five Arrows, who quickly became the embarrassment of the league, fielded the same uncompetitive team.
On Oct. 4, Sendai won by 18 points. On Oct. 10, the Shiga Lakestars clobbered the Five Arrows, winning by a 120-72 decision. In their rematch, Shiga won by 30 points.
Despite the team's struggles, All-Star guard Yu Okada became the first Japanese player in league history to finish a season in the top 10 in scoring. He averaged 19.0 points per game.
Kawachi spoke during the annual All-Star banquet in Sendai in late January about the league giving all teams financial support, including cash that is is distributed when new teams join the league.
(One criteria for prospective expansion teams to join the league for the 2011-12 season, is to have ¥250 million to ¥300 million in available cash.)
But it remains unclear how much cash the league gave the Five Arrows and how much of it came from new local sponsors this season.
However, a second reclamation project for Takamatsu's revamped front office appears unlikely.
The source said, "All I hear is that there is so much anger towards Anabuki, the bankrupt company that ran the team, that no one wants to give any money to help the team that Anabuki created and ruined."