K League match attendance, online viewership shoots up

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K League match attendance, online viewership shoots up

This year, the K League’s popularity is surging.


Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC celebrates after winning a game against FC Seoul at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in North Jeolla on April 28. [ILGAN SPORTS]

K League clubs are seeing a significant increase in the number of fans at the stadium and online this season. K League 1 clubs have been averaging 8,539 fans per game over their first nine matches, a big jump from the 5,364 fans per game around this time last year.

During the K League 1 clubs’ first matches of the season, a total of 79,355 fans visited six stadiums. Last weekend, during the ninth match, a total of 47,233 spectators watched games in the stadiums. Although there was a decrease in the number of fans compared to the first weekend, this is still an improvement compared to last year. Last season started with 54,854 fans, which decreased to 11,790 by the ninth matches of the season.

“Starting this season, we’re only counting the fans who actually bought tickets to get into the stadium as official spectators to a game,” said Lee Jong-kwoun, K League’s media manager. “But when we count the fans who entered the stadium for free as part of the unofficial count, it’s close to 10,000 fans per match. The actual atmosphere of the stadiums is a lot more exciting.”

Aside from the fans who actually visit the stadiums to watch their favorite players, the number of fans watching live matches online has increased significantly, averaging about 21,052 views per game. This is a good 60.6-percent increase compared to last year, when online viewers averaged 13,895 views.

Clubs are playing more aggressively this year, which makes for more entertaining football.

Of all 12 clubs, FC Seoul has made the biggest change this year. Under head coach Choi Yong-soo, Seoul is starting a lot better than last year, as they are ranked third. Last year, they barely avoided relegation, finishing 11th out of the 12 teams.

During Seoul’s most recent match against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on April 28, Seoul lost 1-2. Yet they still received compliments from fans for their strong effort until the whistle blew.

In the 33rd minute, Seoul’s midfielder Ikram Alibaev was given a red card so Seoul had to finish the match one man down. Rather than giving up, Seoul kept playing aggressively and managed to square the match with Aleksandar Pesic’s goal in the 88th minute. As Jeonbuk’s Han Seung-gyu scored during stoppage time, Seoul lost the match, but they still managed to get fans excited until the end.

In addition to Seoul’s head coach, Jeonbuk’s newly-appointed head coach Jose Morais is slowly transitioning the team to a more aggressive style of play.

Along with the all-time K League powerhouses, Daegu FC has seen a significant increase in their fans, thanks to goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo and their new stadium, DGB Daegu Bank Park. Jo became a superstar in Korean football after his impressive performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

“This season, the K League clubs strengthened their roster well,” said Han Joon-hee, football commentator. “Just by looking at their aggressive strategy, it shows that they’re confident that they can win even after they focus more on playing offensively.”

As the popularity of K League increases, the clubs are becoming more sensitive about their performances. After the seventh game, Incheon United, the bottom-ranked team at the time, sacked their head coach Jorn Andersen. After Andersen’s departure, Lim Joong-yong was appointed as Incheon’s new head coach.

Then, after the eighth game, the Pohang Steelers, who dropped to 10th, parted with their head coach Choi Soon-ho. Pohang replaced Choi with Kim Ki-dong.

The two clubs’ decision to part ways with their former head coaches may have been the right decision as Incheon moved up a spot to 11th and Pohang is now ranked 8th.

This weekend, the clubs will play their 10th match of the season, and it’s more likely that the clubs will see more fans as the weekend will feature some much-anticipated matches.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., Daegu will host Sangju Sangmu at DGB Daegu Bank Park. Starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Ulsan Hyundai FC will head over to Pohang Steel Yard to play against Pohang while Gyeongnam FC will travel to Jeju World Cup Stadium to face Jeju United. Following the two matches, Seongnam FC will host Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC at Tancheon Sports Complex in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, at 4 p.m.

Then, to finish the weekend on Sunday, Gangwon FC will host Incheon United at Chuncheon Songam Stadium in Gangwon while FC Seoul will play the Suwon Samsung Bluewings at Suwon World Cup Stadium. Both matches will start at 4 p.m.

BY SONG JI-HOON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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