Professional baseball in South Korea isn’t about to lose its crown as the national pastime anytime soon, but recent attendance figures for the country’s top league have nonetheless been a cause for concern.
On Monday this week, the Korea Baseball Organization released some not-so-rosy numbers. Through 92 games this season, the nine KBO teams were averaging about 10,380 fans per game, compared to 12,600 fans per game over the same period last year.
The KBO surpassed 1 million fans for the season on Wednesday after 100 games, the slowest pace in five seasons.
In comparison, the league needed only a record 65 games to reach the 1 million mark in 2012.
Except for the NC Dinos, the expansion team playing in their inaugural KBO season in 2013, seven of eight teams have seen their home attendance fall on-year. Even the Kia Tigers, the only club to enjoy an uptick in home attendance, are averaging only 5 percent more fans than a year ago.
Pro baseball’s popularity reached an unprecedented height in 2012 as the KBO drew a record 7.15 million fans.
It was the fourth straight season in which the KBO, founded in 1982, broke its own single-season attendance record.
Prior to this season, the teams had set out to attract even more fans this year ― 7.54 million to be exact. At this rate, however, the clubs will be lucky to even reach 7 million.
Team and league officials, along with analysts, point to unseasonably chilly weather as a major factor that has left seats empty.
According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, South Korea experienced its coldest April in 17 years, with an average temperature of 9.31 degrees Celsius.
That’s almost 2 degrees Celsius colder than April last year.
Some sloppy play on the field has also been blamed for keeping away fans. In the 92 games this year, played through last Sunday, teams have committed 133 errors. Over the first 90 games in 2012, they had 95 errors combined.
Slow starts by the league’s two bottom feeders have also created a chasm between the top tier and the bottom portion.
The struggles of the Dinos, though disappointing, have been somewhat anticipated. The Dinos, mostly featuring castoffs from incumbent clubs and unheralded rookies out of high school or college, lost their first seven games in a row before earning their maiden win.
The Hanwha Eagles began the season by losing 13 games in a row, the KBO record for the longest slide to start a season.
Through Wednesday, the Dinos and the Eagles have identical records, with five wins, 17 losses and one tie.
Officials and analysts said that both the attendance figures and the quality of play will improve as the mercury rises. (Yonhap News)