Old-style wrestling needs some modern marketingWhat athletes of the LG Securities Ssireum Team had to tell some reporters after last week’s Cheonhajangsa Championship didn’t sound very encouraging. All they had to offer was that they would “not give up” and would find a way to resurrect their team, which officially ceased to exist after the championship due to financial woes. Now only two professional teams exist in the ssireum league.
During the championship, TV broadcasters did their best to arouse some interest among the viewers in the plight of Korea’s professional wrestling scene, but their comments were also hollow. The best they could offer was to repeat the old litany, “Show some love of the game.”
When I asked Lee Man-ki, the Korean ssireum legend, he too lacked creativity in his comments, as he kept on mentioning the “lack of government support,” and said “the people should show some love of the game.” Same old story.
You can show your puppy some love ― this is the kind of thing you can do unconditionally. But you can’t do that for a sport, at least not for ssireum, not when you are fighting to attract people to watch the sport.
Ssireum failed miserably because it never had a strategy on how to position itself in the market. Every business company has a strategy upon which the little details are formed.
When the country had few professional sports leagues, ssireum had a head start in the early 1980s. The power of customers (the fans) was limited, while the power of suppliers (the ssireum league) gave the league much power. There weren’t any substitute products, because ssireum was a unique game. The threat of new entrants was minimal at best. Yet to this date, it never succeeded in carving its own niche and image.
While it is projected as a traditional Korean sport, one glance at a ssireum event is enough to tell anyone that it is simply not the case. Athletes are dressed in tight spandex pants, have dyed their hair while techno music is being played in the background. The dresses worn by the referees are a mix of the traditional hanbok and something else. The flags on which the teams’ names are written down are not in the traditional calligraphy but modern print forms.
Japanese sumo wrestling has become a product that is widely seen as “made in Japan,” as every detail in that sports speaks to that tradition. Clothing, hairstyle and the ceremonies ― you name it. It’s the total package that has succeeded in projecting the image of a traditional sport. If ssireum wants to project itself as a traditional sport, it should do it the “Japanese way.”
Having its own exclusive stadium is also essential. Right now, fans have to watch from basketball courts transformed into ssireum arenas. There is just too much of a distance between the fans and the players. This takes much fun away from the sport, which is essentially a combat sport that needs to be watched from a distance where you can hear the players breathing and sizing each other up before the actual battle begins.
If there is government help available, this might be the area where it counts. Once there is stadium marketing, the sport is the Korea Ssireum Association’s job.
by Brain Lee