Korea soon to have a music arena fit for its K-pop acts
Korea doesn't have a dedicated arena for pop-music performances despite the immense popularity of its bands and groups.
Due to the small size of the available venues, some stars will limit tour dates in the country.
CJ LiveCity, 90 percent owned by CJ ENM, finally started constructing a K-pop arena in Goyang, Gyeonggi, last November, fifteen years after the project was first announced.
The lack of concert infrastructure is in part a result of the fact that Korea's cultural consumption has just started and its power is a recent phenomenon.
The country was late to the global music scene, and Korean artists have soared so rapidly to the top of the game that the local market has not had the time to catch up.
According to data from the Korea Development Institute (KDI), BTS's ticket sales in 2019, the last full year the world was Covid-19-free, ranked fifth globally.
The boy band performed 33 times that year and sold 1.33 million tickets, coming in behind some of the biggest names in the world. No. 1 was Ed Sheeran, with 2.46 million tickets, followed by Pink with 1.82 million tickets.
The BTS success story is often called a "miracle" in Korea, especially considering the relatively small size of the local music market.
The live performance market in Korea reached a 571.6 billion won ($449 million) in volume terms in 2019, according to global consulting firm PwC.
This is only 4 percent of the $10.8 billion in the United States, the largest live performance market, and 16 percent of Japan's, the second-largest. Even considering the population and the size of the economy, Korea's market volume is very small.
Music venues are normally broken down into halls (fewer than 5,000 seats), arenas (around 20,000 seats), super arenas (more than 30,000 seats) and stadiums (more than 70,000 seats).
Unlike the United States and Japan, Korea does not have any arena-like concert venues that can accommodate more than 10,000.
Japan has more than four arenas, including the Yokohama arena (17,000 seats), usually operated for music performances only.
Uncertainty is one of the biggest problems for the market.
Artists will only be able to make profits if the venue is filled, as empty seats will directly lead to losses, but only a few Korean musicians can fill an arena.
Twice performed at Tokyo Dome in Japan, with 50,000 seats, three consecutive times, while the biggest venue that the girl group could fill in Korea was the 15,000 seat KSPO Dome.
Musicians in Korea use sports stadiums to hold large concerts, and they have to avoid the sports season.
Sports stadiums in Korea include the Seoul Olympic Stadium (69,950 seats), the Seoul World Cup Stadium (66,806 seats), the Gocheok Sky Dome (25,000 seats), and the KSPO Dome.
Top Korean musicians, such as BTS, H.O.T. and G.O.D, and global pop artists, such as Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga, have performed at the Seoul Olympic Stadium.
Market maturity is a key factor for the culture market to grow as consumers need to have the time and money to spend on cultural activities. In the case of Korea, the tourism industry needs to be more active for the music market to expand.
"Japan's recording industry started much earlier than Korea's, and the country has a stronger domestic music market," said Park Yong-jeong, chief researcher at the Hyundai Research Institute.
"It is hard to make big investments in building arenas considering the low domestic demand, but it could be possible if more K-pop fans visit Korea."
K-pop is one of the reasons why international tourists visit Korea, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.
CJ LiveCity will have 20,000 indoor seats and room for more than 40,000 outside.
Initiated by the Gyeonggi Provincial Government in 2004, as the "Hallyu World" project, it was postponed until last year. If the construction of the venue is successfully completed in 2024, it will have been a two-decade journey.
In 2025, the Seoul Arena, with 18,269 seats, will also be completed in Dobong District, northern Seoul.
"We believe the number of K-pop fans visiting Korea will surge as soon as countries enter the endemic phase," said an official from CJ LiveCity."We will make sure fans visiting Korea from all over the world experience more than just the performance itself."