Attendance Down Sharply in South Korea’s KBO

Total attendance was way down in South Korea’s Korean Baseball Organization (“KBO”) this year compared to last, dropping almost exactly 10%, despite playing 44 more games in 2013 (the KBO added a ninth team, the NK Dinos, in 2013, but the schedule dropped from 133 games per team down to 128).  The per game average dropped 16.1% from 13,451 fans per game down to 11,284 per game.  It’s also worth noting that the NC Dinos in their first year of existence finished 5th, or exactly in the middle, in attendance with 8,261 fans per game.

The KBO had set all-time attendance records four years in a row through the 2012 season (the league has been playing games since 1982), so the league was due for a down year.  Even so, the extent of the decline in 2013 has to concern the league and Korean baseball fans.

The main reason for the decline in attendance is apparently the fact that the South Korean national team did so poorly in the World Baseball Classic (“WBC”) this past spring.  The Koreans failed to make the second round this year after being the tournament’s overall runner-up in 2009.  The Koreans’ WBC success in 2009 stimulated a KBO boom — 2013’s disappointing performance has apparently caused a sharp contraction.

My own personal opinion is that KBO baseball is probably about the same amount below Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (“NPB”) as NPB is below the North American major leagues.  If AA baseball is ranked as 0, AAA baseball is ranked as 1 and MLB is ranked as 2, I would rank NPB at about 1.4, and I’d rank the KBO at 0.3 or 0.4.  Check out myKBO.net if you want to see some of the AA caliber play in this year’s KBO play-offs.

Both NPB and the KBO would obviously put a better caliber of play on the field if there were no limits on the number of foreign players that can play on their respective teams.  NPB currently allows only four foreign players on the roster of each top level team, while the KBO allows only two foreign players per top level team (the NC Dinos, being an expansion team were allowed three foreigners this year).

The KBO is currently discussing whether to raise the limit of foreign players for next season to three, with the Dinos and the KT Wiz (another expansion team expected to start play in the top KBO league in 2015) able to sign four foreign players.  I’m obviously in favor of allowing more foreigners to play rather than fewer.

Aside from possible xenophobia (or fear that the fans are xenophobic), the main problem with allowing the unlimited signing of foreign players is that both NPB and KBO have wide discrepancies between the wealthiest teams and the poorest teams, and foreign players generally cost more than native players.  This is almost certainly the reason why a majority of NPB teams are reluctant to allow the signing of more foreign players, and similar dynamics seem to be in play in the KBO (the top two drawing teams this year drew more than twice as many fans as each of the bottom five drawing teams this year, and more than twice as many fans in 2012 as the same bottom four teams).

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