South Korea’s KBO Sets New Attendance Record
The KBO set a new single season attendance record this year, drawing 7.365 million fans with 85 games left in the 2016 regular season. All ten teams’ attendance is up this year, and, of course, the KBO has added two teams in recent years, making league-wide attendance records easy to break.
Nevertheless, it’s a significant development in the world of baseball, since more fans at the games means more revenues to spend on players to put a better product on the field. The KBO is still subject to fluctuations based on how the South Korean team performs in international competitions, but it does seem clear that the KBO is developing a growing domestic fan base that sees paying to watch Korea’s best baseball players, and a few increasingly well-paid and thus talented foreign players, as a worthwhile entertainment investment.
The KBO’s attendance, at about 11,500 per game average, is still well behind Japan’s NPB, which has also seen attendance growth in recent years. However, KBO teams have been somewhat more willing to spend money on foreign players, at least relative to their likely revenue streams, than NPB teams have been, I assume in order to build up the perceived quality of KBO league play and thus keep interest in professional baseball growing domestically.
Unfortunately, the KBO is still quite aways off from the next likely increase in the number of foreign players on each roster from the current limit of three, because the revenues aren’t likely there yet for more highly-paid foreign players. Ten or 15 years from now is probably the next time we will see the roster spaces for foreign players on KBO teams increase to the four allowed on NPB teams’ active rosters, assuming that attendance continues to grow at recent rates.
It is worth noting that while NPB teams have now been at four foreign players per active roster for some years now and league finances could likely support an increase to five or even six foreign players per active roster, the wealthier NPB teams have taken to stashing extra foreign players, sometimes as many as four or five per team, at the minor league level, so that the team is never without four foreign players on the active roster in spite of injuries or failure of performance. Needless to say, the foreign players relegated to play in NPB’s minor league aren’t as well paid as major league players, which impacts the talent level of the players signed.