Although the K League wasn’t bad in 2017 is certainly suffered a bit of a dip in interest. Attendances in the K League Classic in 2017 dropped 17.3% compared to 2016 with an average of 6,505. However the Challenge did improve due to Goyang and Chungju leaving, bumping it’s average up to 2,324. The numbers overall are weak when compared to Korea’s number one sport Baseball as well as other Asian Football Leagues.
So where is it going wrong? Well there are a number of issues both on and off the field. Before starting these are thoughts off the top of my head, almost a Jerry Maguire style thing. Anyway here are my five M’s to improve the K League in 2018 and beyond (in no particular order);
This seems like the obvious place to start following the #FreeModernSeoul situation last year. The K League as a whole does some media things well especially within Korea, but it’s lacking in other areas. The broadcasting of games is great, plenty on TV and all available via Naver Sports and/or AfreecaTV. You won’t miss a game and even better is that it’s all free! But that’s within Korea, for foreign fans it’s very difficult. A few streams have come up over the past year or so, but they normally drift away to the J-League and Chinese Super League.
Also the league doesn’t have an active Twitter Account which is also true for most of the teams. Therefore fan engagement can be low.
Finally a Football Focus/Soccer Saturday style program would be great.
Overall for Media; More interaction and Foreign Broadcasts.
Firstly lets start with the positives, tickets are cheap and easy to buy on matchdays. Most of the stadiums have a good transport links and staffing on matchdays.
Now onto the negatives; too many of the stadiums are oversized with large parts closed off and unused. Then you have the stadiums with the athletics tracks, which takes the fans away from the action. Some teams Daegu and Bucheon are addressing this issue, so fingers crossed things will improve.
Also moving games from Sunday Evenings to Friday Evenings would be an interesting move. Plus having FA Cup games played on weekends to try and develop more interest in the competition and create some “Cup Magic”.
Overall; it’s good but it could be better.
This point is for both the clubs and the league in general. A lot of the points in the other sections will be aimed towards management but their are a few things they could do to improve the league as a whole. Firstly a little more fan interaction, if a team is performing poorly on the field listen to the fans opinions. Now this obviously goes for every team in the world (apart from fan owned ones), but in Korea it does seem like the board and owners do what they want ahead of popular opinion. A good example was the Jeonbuk Hyundai shirts last season…blue?
Also expanding the league to include more teams would be nice. Playing the same sides year in year out can be a little boring at times. Plus smaller squads; some teams have 40+ players in the books. Cut it down to 30 and use the U18 in the R-League games.
Overall; more interaction and more teams.
Marketing (and Merchandising)
My degree and background before Korea was in Marketing and therefore it’s maybe easier for me to see the opportunities and also costs of doing different campaigns. The main area that K League Clubs and maybe the League in general struggles in is Merchandising. Rarely do you see people walking down the street in a K League shirt. One of the issues at some teams (Incheon United for example) is price. If your shirt is only current for a year and is more expensive than the Barcelona one at Homeplus, why would the casual fan buy one? The same applies for tourists coming to a game. $40/$50 maybe, but $80+ it seems unlikely. Then you have the issue in regards to availability. The websites are all in Koren (understandable), but then no fan overseas is going to buy a shirt. Sometimes shirts and other items are only available on a matchday at the stadium.
The Solution have a Hub Website similar to NFLshop.com.
Also having cheaper t-shirts and scarfs aimed at traveling fans and especially kids could bring in some extra income (basic example below). Finally more information in English for traveling fans would help.
Overall; there is demand, but not at sky high prices.
The final point money. Of course the Korea sides don’t have Chinese Super League money, but the money could be spent more wisely. Firstly arranging big summer friendlies could both bring in some extra income but also promote the league overseas. Manchester United played FC Seoul back in 2009 and at the time it was a big deal. But since then a really big name side hasn’t made the trip. Tottenham with Son would be a big game at the moment; but sides like Chelsea, Manchester City or even Barcelona would be national news.
Also signing some Marquee name players would bring in the fans. The K League is a solid standard, but young future stars and some past world cup heroes might be tempted if the paycheck is sizeable. That in turn would bring in the fans and shirt sales.
Overall; you need to spend money to make money.
The K League isn’t broken but can be improved.
Any thoughts, comments or questions. Feel free to comment below or message me via Twitter.