[SUPER RICH] The superrich club of sports fans

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 31, 2014 - 20:51
  • Updated : Apr 1, 2014 - 20:16
The superrich’s pursuit of sports often goes beyond the role of spectator or a participant. They show their affection on a scale befitting their assets.

Heesung Group chairman Koo Bon-neung is well known as a passionate baseball fan. Koo, who is currently the president of the Korea Baseball Organization, has published a photobook featuring his lifetime collection of baseball photos. He himself played the game as an outfielder when he attended junior high.

Chung Mong-joon, the largest shareholder of Hyundai Heavy Industries, is the undisputed leading soccer fan in the corporate world. The candidate for the Seoul mayoral position in the upcoming local elections founded several professional soccer teams, and he reportedly carries soccer cleats on every business trip.

The superrich laugh and cry with their favorite players, with some making a public display of affection. Baseball and soccer, two of the most popular sports in Korea, have well-known superrich fans. The head of LG Group takes the lead as the biggest baseball enthusiast, while Hyundai bigwigs are known aficianados of soccer, with Chung Mong-joon and Chung Mong-gyu, chairman of Hyundai Development Company.

The superrich’s love affair with sports does not stop at just the major games. Superrich fans of lesser known sports include: Halla Group chairman Chung Mong-won, an ice hockey enthusiast and LS Group chairman Koo Ja-yeol, who cycled around the peaks of the Alps. SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won, also endorses handball, the subject of the popular movie “Forever the Moment,” and Chung Eui-sun, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, is a supporter of archery.


Baseball grabs heart of rich

At the recent “Professional Baseball Media Day” held at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Koo Bon-neung, chairman of Heesung Group and also the 19th president of the Korea Baseball Organization, gave LG Twins manager Kim Ki-tae a grin and a thumbs-up. He was giving Kim’s signature thumbs-up, which any true Twins fan would be able to recognize.

A noted baseball fanatic, Koo’s love for the sport goes way back.

He first encountered the sport in junior high as a ball boy, and soon he became an outfielder for the starting lineup.

Although he put down his mitt when he moved on to high school, his love for the sport lingered.

In 2005, he went on to publish a photo album titled “100 Years of Korean Baseball Seen through Photographs,” not to mention continuing to take part in amateur community baseball leagues, which implies that he doesn’t just enjoy watching the game but playing it as well.

LG Electronics vice chairman Koo Bon-joon, Koo Bon-neung’s younger brother, also has strong ties to baseball.

The younger Koo was a pitcher in his younger days and is currently the general manager of the popular LG Twins.

Rumor has it that he had once even personally visited the team’s overseas training ground to offer the players words of encouragement and seasoned advice from when he used to play.
Doosan Group chairman Park Yong-maan

Doosan Group chairman Park Yong-maan and Samsung Electronics vice chairman Lee Jay-yong are also noted baseball advocates.

The unspoken tension off the field between the two baseball fanatics during the last Korean Series, during which the Doosan Bears played against the Samsung Lions, also drew the public’s attention.

Park is known to often watch the game from the bleachers to enjoy it with boisterous baseball fans, while Lee, who has been fond of baseball since studying abroad, is said to attend all of the Lions’ major games.

Huh Min, the founder of social commerce website We Make Price and the owner of independent baseball club the Goyang Wonders, also received much publicity from his baseball debut in the United States by joining the Rockland Boulders, an American independent professional baseball team based in New York.


Wealthy fans help fuel soccer success

Unlike baseball ― hands down the most popular sport in Korea ― few businessmen have played soccer.

Nevertheless, many still generously demonstrate their affection for the sport by becoming club owners or taking up vital positions in various soccer associations.

Hyundai Heavy Industries’ largest shareholder Chung Mong-joon once led the Korea Football Association for three successive years after former Daewoo Group chairman Kim Woo-joong.
Hyundai Heavy Industries’ largest shareholder Chung Mong-joon

Including the Ulsan Hyundai Football Club, he is also responsible for establishing numerous coed soccer teams for institutions such as Hyundai Technical High School, Ulsan College and Hyundai Steel.

There are even stories of how he carries his soccer cleats with him on overseas business trips so he can break a sweat playing soccer in order to quickly get over jet lag.

Hyundai Development chairman Chung Mong-gyu, the standing chairman of KFA, is also a big fan of soccer.

For almost 20 years now, since 1994, he has stayed close to the world of soccer and was involved in several professional football teams: the Ulsan Hyundai Tigers, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Busan IPARK.

Nam Jong-hyun, the chief executive of Glami, a company most well-known for Dawn 808 (a drink that relieves hangovers), is also a soccer fanatic.

He previously served as the president of Gangwon FC and, needless to say, continues to visit the stadium as an avid fan.


Tycoons support minority sports

Halla Group chairman Chung Mong-won has been frequently spotted at the ice hockey rink. Not only does he personally frequent the stands, but also takes to the locker room to cheer on the hockey players. Chung has been a faithful supporter of the Anyang Halla Ice Hockey club since its launch 20 years ago. He maintained it even during past business upheavals by selling some of its most important subsidiary companies.

Few Korean business tycoons show as great passion for wrestling as Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee. His achievement in the sport burgeoned at an early age, while he was a student at Seoul National University High School. While studying overseas in Japan, Lee met with late world heavyweight champion wrestler Kim Sin-rak, also known as Yeokdosan, several times to share their passion in the sports. The chairman has led the Korea Wrestling Federation from 1982 to 1997. 
Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee

LS Group chairman Koo Ja-yeol has been open about his insatiable passion for cycling, as “the ambassador of cycling". One of Koo’s most well-known cycling achievements is his cycling trip to the Alps, where he conquered a peak as high as Mount Baekdusan each day, on wheels. He also has taken on a non-stop cycling journey along the four major rivers of Korea several times. The chairman has been a regular cyclist despite his hectic work schedule, riding at least twice a week.

Hyundai Motor Group vice chairman Chung Eui-sun is known to cherish archery, the country’s gold-earning basket in world competitions for a long time. Just like his father and group chairman Chung Mong-koo, he has headed the Korea Archery Association since May 2005. Many sports fans still remember the touching moment when the victorious Korean archers rushed to the vice chairman at the 2012 London Olympics, a scene that was televised in realtime at home. Chung Eui-sun has provided more than 30 billion won to foster the country’s archery talents, bought electronic gifts out of his own pocket and maintained family-like bonds with the players.

SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won and SK Telecom honorary chairman Son Kil-seung are also among the country’s superrich with special interests in sports. Chey is passionate about handball, flying overseas to watch away games. Son is famous for his frequent attendance at major fencing games.