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K League's Record-Breaking Attendance: What's Behind the Success?
  • By Kim Han-seul, cub-reporter
  • 승인 2024.04.15 00:01
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▲ The match between FC Seoul and Incheon United in March set a record for the highest attendance in a single game (Source: K League)

In the 2024 Hana 1Q K League 1, Round 2 match between FC Seoul and Incheon United held at Seoul World Cup Stadium on March 10th, a crowd of 51,670 spectators was counted, setting a new record for the highest attendance in a single K League match. The match on that day marked the home debut of Jesse Lingard, a former Premier League player and England national team member. The opportunity to see famous players has been highlighted as the main reason for the new record. K League, South Korea's professional football league, has been experiencing steady growth not only due to the "Lingard Effect" but also over the past few years. This article aims to focus on the reasons behind this rise in popularity.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary last year, K League 1 welcomed a total of 2.44 million spectators to the stadiums, marking a 122% increase compared to the previous year since the commencement of paid attendance counting in 2018, gathering the highest number of spectators. Combined with K League 2, over 3 million spectators attended matches last year. The average attendance per match was 17,733, surpassing the 10,000 marks for the first time since 2011. Thanks to these achievements, the K League rose to 20th place in the global football league average attendance rankings last year, marking a remarkable success.

Ahn Chi- joon, the head of the marketing team at the Professional Football Federation, stated, "We cannot overlook the effect of advancing to the round of 16 in the FIFA Qatar World Cup. Additionally, in the K League, Ulsan's back- to- back victories breaking Jeonbuk's dominance, as well as the performance of promoted teams Daejeon and Gwangju, played a significant role in the increase in attendance." He also mentioned, "Improvements in the quality of OTT exclusive broadcasts by Coupang Play and the incorporation of entertainment elements such as Coupick, have greatly enhanced the marketability of the league itself. Han Jun- hee, the Vice President of the Korea Football Association and a commentator for Coupang Play, attributed the increase in popularity to the league's own "entertainment value." He stated, "There were many exciting matches, dramatic outcomes, and the games provided spectators with value for their money." He further remarked, "There was a lot of positive feedback from the audience." Regarding the impact of advancing to the World Cup round of 16, he commented, "The World Cup effect is something that happens every time. In the past, there was a brief surge in attendance after the opening, but in the 2023 season, spectators filled the stadiums throughout the year." He highlighted that this surge in popularity is not a one- time occurrence but a sustained trend.

K League clubs are also making significant efforts to secure fan support. They are setting up various food booths, providing quality services such as merchandise shops, photo booths, and interactive events for fans who visit the stadiums. Through celebrity marketing initiatives like inviting famous entertainers to the stadiums, they actively attract new fans. Last year, FC Seoul attracted 40,000 fans by inviting singer Lim Young- woong, while newly promoted team, Daejeon Hana Citizen, invited actor Lee Do- hyun and IVE's Ahn Yu- jin, gathering many fans to the stadium. An FC Seoul official stated, "We paid attention to understanding fans' demands and established the 'Fan Experience TFT' team to directly engage with various fans and conduct surveys at every home game to collect customer data. Through collaborations with the fields of popular culture beyond football, we led new fandoms to naturally immerse themselves in football culture."

Experiencing an unprecedented surge, K League is currently in full swing. The sustainability of this success and its potential to lead to steady growth, as well as opportunities for overall development in the professional football industry, are being closely watched. As the home stadium of K League 2 club Gyeongnam FC is located near CWNU, we recommend students take this opportunity to visit the stadium and experience a match firsthand.

By Kim Han-seul, cub-reporter  hozejunior@naver.com

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