Attendance in the South Korean baseball league spiked over the weekend, with vocal cheering permitted for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning with Friday's games, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) allowed fans to sing and chant, just like in pre-pandemic times, in line with eased social distancing rules nationwide. Fans still have to keep their masks on while cheering, and they are banned from engaging in cheering activities while eating or drinking at the same time.
The league and its 10 clubs have blamed early-season attendance woes on the ban on cheering. Stadiums have been operating at full capacity from the start of this season, a welcome departure from the past two campaigns, but teams still have had difficulty filling their seats.
The KBO has not yet had a sellout in 2022, but on Saturday, three ballparks established new season highs in attendance.
The LG Twins and the Doosan Bears, co-tenants of Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul, drew 17,799 fans on Saturday. The Bears were the home team, and this was their largest crowd of 2022 by more than 1,500. It was also the second-largest attendance in the KBO this season, trailing only the 21,005 fans who watched the SSG Landers against the Kia Tigers at the 23,000-seat Incheon SSG Landers Field.
Then 14,848 fans showed up for Sunday's finale of the three-game set at Jamsil, the third-largest crowd for a Bears home game this year.
Also in the nation's capital, the Kiwoom Heroes brought their season-best 8,338 fans to Gocheok Sky Dome on Saturday when they hosted the Kia Tigers. It was still barely over 50 percent of capacity at the 16,200-seat stadium, but an encouraging number nonetheless, given the club's recent struggles at the gates. There were 7,406 fans on Sunday, the third-largest gathering of fans at Gochoek this year.
Unlike other open-air stadiums, eating and drinking in the stands had remained prohibited at Gocheok, which is classified as an indoor facility. The Heroes believe that particular restriction had kept fans away, and they reached a low point on April 12 when only 774 fans showed up to watch the Heroes host the NC Dinos.
The ban on eating and drinking will be lifted this week, and the Heroes' next home game is Friday against the KT Wiz.
The Samsung Lions hosted the Lotte Giants in front of 14,610 fans on Saturday at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The previous season high had been 12,821 fans who watched the April 9 game against the Heroes. On Sunday, the Lions had 12,409 fans in their 24,000-seat ballpark.
The defending Korean Series champions KT Wiz also enjoyed a major jump in their attendance over the weekend.
On Saturday, for the second game of a three-game series against the Dinos, KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, had 8,255 fans, followed by 5,719 on Sunday.
The Wiz had the largest attendance in the league on April 2 Opening Day with 17,057 fans, and had 10,321 fans the next day. Over their next six home games, though, the Wiz averaged just 2,274 fans. (Yonhap)