KBO on pace to break spectator record
By Jung Min-ho
Korean baseball fans heading to stadiums reached the million-mark in just 65 games Sunday, the fastest in local history, beating the previous 79 games in 1995.
As popularity for the sports grows, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) has set the goal of 7.1 million spectators from 532 games by the end of the season.
“This is the fastest record in history. If we can maintain this pace until the end of the season, we can possibly reach 8 million,” Yoo Byung-suk, a KBO public relations official said. “More realistically, however, our goal is to surpass 7 million this year.”
Korean baseball hit a new record with 6.8 million going to ballparks last year. The current pace gives an average of over 15,000 visitors per game, a 14 percent increase from the same time last year.
“Obviously, Korean baseball is in a good way,” Yoo said. “We are going to try our best to maintain its popularity with all our efforts.”
There are a number of reasons for the sport’s popularity this season but star players from overseas are regarded as one of the biggest contributing factors. Slugger Kim Tae-kyun and former major league pitcher Park Chan-ho have both received extensive media coverage, even before the season began when they signed deals with domestic teams.
“Players like Park Chan-ho, Lee Seung-yeop, and Kim Tae-kyun, who joined the league this season, are attracting a slew of fans to the stadiums, filling pretty much all the seats for every game they play,” Yoo said. “However, the league’s popularity is not just limited to the games they play. Rather, the boom is happening everywhere.”
Interest in local baseball dwindled in the early 2000s but bounced back when the Korean national team won gold at the Beijing Olympics four years ago. A year later, the nation came second at the World Baseball Classic.
“Undoubtedly, those two major events drew numerous baseball fans back to the stadiums,” Yoo said.
The enhancement of facilities and strategic marketing plans has also contributed to boosting the number of fans, following a remarkable achievement in the bid to revitalize the popularity of baseball.
“More importantly, however, I think a baseball culture has started to settle in our society as it has in America,” Yoo said. “Baseball is no longer entertainment only for fanatic supporters but also for those who enjoy it in their own way. It has become part of the culture.”
The SK Wyverns have seen the biggest spike in the number of visitors with a 43 percent increase, followed by the Samsung Lions and Nexen Heroes with a 25 and 23 percent hike respectively.