Great fans, the backbone of the K League

“Incheon is my pride, my last soul.”

The Incheon chant echoed through Jeonju World Cup Stadium after the Korea Football Association (FA) Cup semifinal match between Jeonbuk Hyundai and Incheon United on April 1. Despite Incheon’s 1-3 loss to Jeonbuk, which ended their hopes of reaching the final, more than 600 Incheon fans chanted “don’t give up” and “it’s okay” at the bowed heads of their players. Instead of criticizing them, Incheon coach Cho Sung-hwan and his players stood for a while before responding with applause.

It was one of the most memorable moments of the past two and a half months as a soccer journalist. Fans who sincerely believe that they can “do it” even when they lose a game are the real fans. The foreign players of Incheon, including Jerso, who scored a goal in the game, said they were “touched by the fans who traveled a long way to support them on a weekday” and paid for the bus.

The Daegu FC fans, who are known as the “Ildangbaek,” were just as enthusiastic as the Incheon fans, demonstrating the power of “jikgwan” (direct viewing). Daegu’s home stadium was sold out for the tenth time this year. It took less than 30 minutes for all 12,000 seats to be sold.

Suwon Samsung fans also seem to be rallying around the club’s first relegation. “There is a saying that there is no player greater than the team, but I think there is a fan greater than the team,” said Han Jun-hee (Vice President of the Korea Football Association) to the Suwon fans who filled the away stands and cheered in the cold during the ‘Suwon Derby’ against Suwon FC on the 12th.

Thanks to fans like these, professional soccer, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, is making new history. Attendance topped 2 million for the first time since the 2018 season, when we began tracking paid attendance, and the average attendance per game surpassed 10,000 at 10,584 (through 36 rounds). FC Seoul, which is closing in on 400,000 cumulative fans, is averaging around 20,000.

What’s noticeable is that the fan base has grown. According to Project Weed, the company behind Kick, the K League membership app, 19,851 female members make up more than 40 percent of its membership. The number of families attending stadiums in matching uniforms has also increased significantly, according to club officials. Commenting on the rapid popularization of soccer fans after COVID-19, Lee Woong-jang, CEO of Project Weed, said, “Cheering has become a form of play culture,” while a committee member said, “The ‘unexpectedness’ of the propaganda, which exceeds expectations, has been effective.” 보스토토 도메인

The important thing now is to sublimate the power of fans who enjoy soccer itself into the competitiveness of the K League. Only fair competition can give fans a sense of excitement, and that starts with the financial health of the clubs. Clubs can’t rely solely on owners and sponsorships in hopes of creating an English Premier League (EPL)-level fan culture. They need to cap player fees and invest in youth education, facilities, and marketing to ensure a steady stream of fans, even if it doesn’t pay off right away.

Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has been able to attract world stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo with its capital, have also taken note of the fiscal consolidation system introduced by the K League.

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