In Japan, IBM employees have formed a football team complete with pro stadium, cheerleaders and televised games

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What started off as a way for IBM employees working in Japan back in 1976 to enjoy an American past-time, football, has become a really big deal.

According to IBM’s Tumblr page, IBM’s employee football team, called Big Blue, now …

includes cheerleaders, a professional stadium and a nationally televised audience. It all started in 1976, when a handful of new IBM Japan employees gathered together and decided to start a team. By 2001, they not only had an undefeated record, but also reached the top division.

In fact, American Football has become a big deal in Japan. The country’s so-called X League was founded in 1971, just a few years before IBM joined.

Today there are so many teams that the league has multiple divisions. Teams can be made up of a company team (all players must be employees) or club teams (open to anyone via try-outs). X League players are often so good that they have reportedly been recruited to play for pro teams like the Japanese National Team, which competes in the American Football World Cup.

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IBM’s Big Blue team didn’t finish 2014 on top. It lost its playoff game to the Fujitsu Frontiers who won the X League for the first time ever, and then went on to win the national championship bowl, beating a university team.

However, the Big Blue team is still a popular one with its own website, its own Facebook page, its own mascot (mascots are very popular in Japan) and its own fan club.

And like many a pro U.S. team, the Big Blue cheerleaders are also popular, featured on the team’s website, with their own Facebook page, and a calendar of promotional appearances, too.

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