[SPORTS VIEW]K-League needs to be bigger, smarter

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[SPORTS VIEW]K-League needs to be bigger, smarter

Now that we're halfway through the first week of the New Year it's fair to check if you've made good on your resolutions so far. Whether you resolved to quit smoking or lose weight, the need to light up or lie back on the couch and work the remote control will soon become overwhelming. If you want to avoid another year of blackening your lungs or expanding your waistline, you need to do whatever it takes to succeed. Tell the world about it. Paint your promise on a mug or plate. I, myself, have told my girlfriend to say goodbye to my belly.

As individuals make their pledges, organizations should do the same. One group that really needs to straighten its goals is the Korea Football Association, which otherwise deserves credit for boosting the nation's soccer reputation this year. Overseen by the association, the local professional league, the K-League, has tons of things that need fixing. For example, in its 20-year history, the league has never had a club make a profit in a single season. The K-League has become notorious for its inability to make the league a productive one for players and an entertaining one for fans.

There is cause for optimism, though. The league set a record at the gate last season, averaging 17,392 fans per game. Building on the momentum of last year's World Cup soccer tournament, the K-League seemed poised to finally take off from its abyss -- but by the end of the season it was sputtering again, as attendance really dropped off.

What does the K-League need? Expansion, for one thing, from 10 teams to 12. It says it will add two clubs by next year, but has no firm plans to do so. It also needs to develop its minor league and build a comprehensive marketing system that will generate profit and attract more people to the stadiums. Stability and marketing are the cornerstones of a successful professional league; you don't need to be a genius to figure that out. But the people who run the K-League don't seem to get it.

That not even one team has ever had a profitable season, and that the average team loses about 2.5 billion won per year ($2 million), says it all about the ineptitude of the K-League.

Granted, the league has a vague plan to add two more teams; it says it will create the teams this year and they will begin play next year. But the league has been dragging its feet about this all along, goaded only by the KFA to get the process moving. I called up a K-League official recently; he said that no real timetable has been set up to decide who will get the new teams and how they will secure players. The only thing that seems to count is the franchise fee the teams will cough up.

For a different story, take a look at Japan's pro soccer league, which has only been around for about 10 years. I think that the Japanese learned from our mistakes. Japan has 16 teams in its big league and 12 in its minor league. The big league's income is consistently at least 10 times higher than the K-League, and every year about two-thirds of the teams turn profits.

If the K-League is ever going to turn its fortunes around, it and the soccer governing body need to make a belated resolution, tell the world about it and stick to it.

by Brian Lee

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