Baseball needs more sparks in parksSince 1995, the popularity of Korean baseball has fallen like the fortunes of Park Chan-ho, the Texas Rangers pitcher. From a peak of 5.4 million fans eight years ago, the number has plummeted to 2.3 million. On the flip side, the K-League has enjoyed a renaissance, successfully carrying World Cup fever to the domestic scene. During the same time, its attendance figures almost doubled to 2.6 million.
Yet nobody at the Korea Baseball Organization seems to have a clue how to change this. Surely, someone by now would have taken action to reverse this course because from this perspective the future is very bleak.
Hello, KBO! This is not the ’80s anymore when Koreans had limited entertainment choices. We are talking about an age when the country has diversified its sports as well as the means of watching them. People now flock to see ― and cheer for ― guys who get beaten up and spill oceans of blood at no-holds-barred fighting matches. This lunacy is still in its infant stage, but car racing has taken off and looks like it is here to stay for quite some time.
This is a country where millions of people watch Major League baseball and its beautiful ballparks and wonder, “Why can’t we have that?”
In Japan, a company wanted to make condoms in the shape of a tiger (in honor of the Hanshin Tigers) and bearing the team’s logo. The company’s effort was rejected, but hats off to them. It is the spirit that counts.
The KBO just sits on its laurels. They lack initiative and creativity. They grumble over trivial matters such as whether or not to decrease the numbers of cheerleaders. Why must we have this distraction? Granted, there should be something for everyone but there has got to be a different mind-set about the game.
Hmmm. How about guaranteed bench-clearings every time a batter is hit by a pitch? Maybe a professional stripper on the organization payroll, who disguises herself as a fan and runs around the field would boost attendance? Perhaps a free round of beer might do the trick! Wait, I got it! A one-to-five cheerleader-to-fan ratio will save the day.
Just as most fans are lured to the parks to see their favorite player, the ballparks themselves count a lot these days when there is so much emphasis on visual stuff and comfort. People judge many things by what they see and how they feel about their surroundings.
Take a look at the World Cup Stadium in Seoul’s Sangam-dong. People are flocking there like bears to honey. But this is no surprise: The stadium houses a multiscreen movie theater and shopping mall. The stadium is a venue for operas and other cultural events because it is properly equipped. This means “business” before, during and after a game. Sponsorships, ads and the price tag for television rights are ultimately determined by the number of fans in the stands and watching at home.
With the five-day workweek becoming commonplace, here is a chance to revive the fortunes of Korean baseball. It is not only the game itself but other things that must be considered. Our star players are opting to go abroad. Korean baseball must offer more than the game itself. Are we ever going to see the promised dome stadiums? Korean baseball needs to do more ― a lot more ― and it has to be done now. To wait any longer will spell its demise.
by Brian Lee