The popularity of the Korean Football League (K League) is on the rise. It once suffered a downturn, with the lowest TV ratings among the four major professional sports in Korea (soccer, baseball, volleyball, and basketball), but this year it’s showing a completely different face in terms of box office.
Until 2018, the average attendance of the K League was less than 8,000, and from 2020 to 2022, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, attendance plummeted. This year, however, the K League is enjoying unprecedented success, with an average attendance of over 10,000.
This dramatic increase in attendance is largely due to the 2022 Qatar World Cup. International players such as Son Heung-min, Lee Kang-in, and Hwang Hee-chan, as well as domestic players such as Cho Kyu-sung, Baek Seung-ho, and Kim Moon-hwan, who led the team to the round of 16 at the Qatar World Cup, raised interest in soccer and the K League. In addition, the 2023 season of the K League kicked off immediately after the World Cup, which was held in winter (November-December) for the first time in history, and many fans naturally flocked to K League stadiums.
New media environments, such as ‘UGC’, also contributed positively to the expansion of soccer fans. Around 2020, the KBO League regulated the creation and distribution of memes by individuals, which led to a significant drop in interest among 20-somethings. On the other hand, there were no such restrictions in the K League during the same period, and the league laid the foundation for the influx of young people amid social distancing due to COVID-19 by producing their own content and collaborating with various creators. 스포츠토토
Another factor is the growing interest in the league itself. The K League 1 2023 season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever. After falling to the bottom of the table at the start of the season, Jeonbuk Hyundai has bounced back with a managerial change and is now on track to qualify for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. In addition, the competition for the mid-table is fierce, with promoted teams such as Daejeon Hana Citizens and Gwangju FC. Suwon Samsung, who suffered a disgraceful start to the season, are also showing signs of revival after their ‘giant killing’ of overwhelming leaders Ulsan Hyundai.
For the first time in a decade, the K League has given the green light to the box office. I wonder how it will keep up the momentum. It is just as important to prevent the water from running out as it is to paddle when it comes in.