Audiences fall for shows centered on sports stars playing new games

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Audiences fall for shows centered on sports stars playing new games


The cast of JTBC’s “Soccer Adventure” in June. The cast includes sports stars like basketball player Hur Jae, tennis player Lee Hyung-taik, baseball player Yang Joon-hyuk and former football star Ahn Jung-hwan. [YONHAP]

Sports-themed TV entertainment programs have emerged as major prime-time content in Korean show business, with famed sports legends enjoying popularity on the small screen at the same time.

Cable channel JTBC’s “Soccer Adventure,” launched in June, is at the vanguard of the trend. In the one-hour program, airing every Sunday night, legendary sports stars like basketball player Hur Jae, tennis player Lee Hyung-taik and baseball player Yang Joon-hyuk play together on a football team led by former football star Ahn Jung-hwan.

Special guests like Olympic swimming gold medalist Park Tae-hwan and former Major League Baseball pitcher Kim Byung-hyun also showed up and blended well with the members.

Its viewership ratings have been steady around 5 to 7 percent, rivaling tvN’s weekend dramas like “Arthdal Chronicles” and “Melting Me Softly,” which have posted an average rating of 6.5 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Former legendary stars from different sports struggling to play football and their off-field relationships have caught the eyes of Korean TV audiences.

Thanks to the popularity of the program, Hur, who takes the role of a jaunty goalkeeper, has been receiving a number of calls from other TV shows.

SBS, one of the country’s three terrestrial channels, will release a sports reality show around former basketball star Seo Jang-hoon next month.

Seo will coach a basketball team of TV stars in the upcoming “Handsome Tigers,” slated to debut in January, and his team members will include Cha Eun-woo, a member of boy band Astro, and actors Lee Sang-yoon and Seo Ji-seok.

SBS Plus, a cable channel subsidiary of SBS, launched a football show called “Cha Cha Cha” in November. It presents a football team’s efforts to defeat the country’s top futsal club. The team’s coach is Lee Chun-soo, a former national football team player, with rapper DinDin and former Wanna One member Ha Sung-woon on the squad.

Apart from popular sports like football and basketball, ssireum, Korean traditional wrestling, has also made inroads onto the small screen.

KBS launched a new reality show, “The Thrill of Ssireum,” on Saturday, featuring a nationwide competition for lightweight wrestlers. It freshly focuses not only on athletics and the daily lives of wrestlers, but also on their uncommonly good looks.

Insiders said people love to see sports on TV as players grow and show sincerity through exercise and competitions.

“These shows that combine sports and entertainment can create a synergy as their target audiences are very loyal,” an official from one of the three terrestrial broadcasters said. “The trend of sports-led entertainment shows will continue further in the industry.”

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