[Sports & Business] Sports clubs bet on stadiums

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[Sports & Business] Sports clubs bet on stadiums

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K-League Classic clubs, which have been struggling financially in recent seasons, are coming up with various measures to increase their revenue from sources other than ticket sales. Clubs such as Incheon United FC, left, are looking to utilize their stadiums during off-season, while FC Seoul, right, provides more amenities during the season such as food trucks. [NEWSIS] [ILGAN SPORTS]

K-League Classic clubs are under financial duress. As it becomes more expensive each year to renew players’ contracts and pay bills to operate the stadium, fewer and fewer fans are finding their way to K-League stadiums. For this reason, the league is seeking creative ways to maximize revenue.

Teams are considering many different options. Some are looking to turn the surrounding area of their stadiums into parks and mobilize food trucks to increase revenue, while others examine the possibility of turning the stadium into an ice rink or a sled park during the off-season.

“Clubs must figure out a way to create financial sources other than the support by their sponsors to be able to up their competitiveness further,” said a Korea Football Association (KFA) staff member. “It’s a trend among them to recognize the importance of creating financial sources on their own.”

Among them, Incheon United FC has an idea to host football in summer and ice skating during winter. The club has been talking to consultants to examine a way to turn the stadium that is idle during off-season into an ice rink.

“We are discussing whether it would be possible to earn additional profit during the off-season by installing an ice rink or a sled park on the ground. We are talking with experts about the matter and things look positive at the moment,” said Park Young-bok, president of the team.

Incheon could catch two birds with one stone with their plan. Not only can they get fans to visit the stadium during winter, but they could also earn additional profit.

Some sports clubs in the United States have already implemented such plans and are making lucrative profits. Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox, for instance, turned Fenway Park into a snow arena and hosted the 2016 U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix Big Air at Fenway this year. The club installed lamps after paving the ground with flooring, which prevented damaging the ground and allowed it to be fully ready to use once the season started.

The Washington Nationals remodeled the Nationals Park so it can be used as an ice rink last year. Working closely with the National Hockey League, they hosted a NHL game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals.

Incheon United is reportedly suffering from a debt of 9.1 billion won ($7.9 million). Although it gets help from the city of Incheon, the team cannot maintain its business without means to become self-sufficient. “We hope to attract a major sponsor,” added Park. “Incheon has many big businesses. We hope to obtain at least one to two additional sponsorships to reduce debt and make stable income in the long run.”

Teams like FC Seoul are focused on marketing schemes to attract more fans. FC Seoul has hosted more spectators on average than any other K-League clubs. According to data provided by the KFA, approximately 18,895 fans have visited Seoul World Cup Stadium, home of the FC Seoul. Although Seoul is the capital of Korea, the large number of fans can also be attributed to the club’s aggressive marketing strategy.

One of the notable marketing tactics that FC Seoul has used is the “Food Park.” By installing several food trucks on the square by the stadium, FC Seoul is raking in a substantial profit. Not only do these food trucks boast varied menus, but they are inexpensive, meeting the demands of the younger fans who come to the football stadium.

“I was surprised to find more than 20 different offerings here,” said an FC Seoul fan. “They are cheap and delicious. I also liked the fact that they installed benches in front so we can sit down and eat.”

That K-League clubs are trying to turn around their financial troubles is welcoming news for the KFA. The football governing body has convened staff members from each club and hosted various info sessions to help them meet their goals. “More fans will come out to watch the games if we provide them with more exciting games and amenities to enjoy,” said Huh Jung-moo, the vice-president of the KFA. “Their experience should not be limited to just watching the games but also they should be able to enjoy various events and facilities.”

BY SEO JI-YEONG [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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