First Week Attendance Down 10%... or maybe not?

This article over at MK Sports caught my eye this morning. They are claiming that attendance for the first week of the season is down about 10% compared to last year. Here's a rough translation of the article, followed by my own thoughts at the end.

According to statistics released by the KBO, attendance at the first 28 games of the season has decreased 10% compared to 2012. Total attendance in the first 28 games (Mar 30 - Apr 7) was 328,148. In the same period last year it was 364,075, a decrease of 35,927 people.

Excluding the new addition to the league, the NC Dinos, all teams have seen a decrease in attendance except LG and KIA. Last year KIA had a total of 18,043 fans at their first two home games, compared to 25,000 this year, an increase of 39%. While LG received 45,962 spectators for it's first two games last year, this year they had 47,362, an increase of 3%.

The Doosan Bears have seen the biggest drop in attendance so far. In 2012 they received 64,227 fans for their first three home games. This year they had 28,489, a decrease of 56%. For the rest of the teams, the Nexen Heroes have decreased by 44%, the Lotte Giants, Samsung Lions, and Hanwha Eagles have all fallen by at least 16%, and SK's attendance has decreased by 4%.

There was also a drop in attendance at exhibition games before the start of the season in comparison with last year. Korea's early elimination from the WBC may have diminished excitement for the coming baseball season. In addition, chilly early spring weather may be keeping fans away. Cold weather is expected to last throuh the end of the week.

The KBO has stated its total attendance goal for 2013 to be 7,538,600 (13,088 average per game). In 2012 the total was 7,156,157 (13,451 average per game). Meeting the goal will require an increase of 5%.

There are several odd things I noticed about this article.

First, they didn't take any account of where or when the games were played. Looking at the first week schedule for both this year and last year, we can see that in both years the season opened on a Saturday, there were no games on Monday, and the 7th day of games was a Sunday due to one rainy day during the week. In 2012 the rainouts occured on a Tuesday (a generally low attendance day), while this year the rainouts were on Saturday (the highest attendance day of the week).

In 2012 the first 28 games were played at the following stadiums:

Seoul (Jamsil): 7
Incheon (Munhak): 5
Busan (Sajik): 5
Daegu: 5
Gwangju: 2
Seoul (Mokdong): 2
Cheongju: 2

And in 2013:

Seoul (Jamsil): 5
Daejeon: 5
Busan (Sajik): 4
Daegu: 4
Masan: 3
Seoul (Mokdong): 3
Incheon (Munhak): 2
Gwangju: 2

The three largest stadiums in the league are Jamsil, Sajik, and Munhak. It's pretty clear that one of the reasons for the "decrease" may be that there were more games played at large stadiums during the first week last year, simply due to the nature of the schedule. Mutliplying the total capacity of the stadium by the number of games played during the first week gives us 582,000 for 2012 and 517,857 for 2013. So the total POSSIBLE attendance for the first week decreased by about 9% before tickets even went on sale. Is it any surprise that attendance dropped by 10%, especially when we consider there was a rainout on Saturday in 2013?

Then there is the example in the article of Doosan, whose attendance at their first three games fell 56%, which sounds like pretty bad news until you look a little further. In 2012 their first three home games were Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday, including a home game for opening day. In 2013 their first three home games were Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and they played away on opening day. Seems to me like a classic comparison of apples and oranges. Weekend games always see more attendance, and likewise the first day of the season always draws big crowds.

My verdict: It's way too early to make any meaningful conclusions about 2013 attendance numbers.

On a side note, over at Naver there are more than 150 comments posted on the MK Sports article. None of the Netizens came up with the same conclusions that I did (which is somewhat worrying), but many of them posted their own interesting theories about why attendance might be down. Here are a few of them

 

  • Ticket prices too high. This was by far the number one complaint. Funny, because I'm guessing if you surveyed foreign fans of the KBO they might cite low ticket prices as one of the major attractions.
  • Bad economy (somewhat related to ticket prices I suppose)
  • Korean players don't hit as many home runs compared to MLB
  • The best pitchers in the KBO are foreigners, most of whom stay in the league for a year or two at most, it's hard for fans to develop any attraction to them as stars
  • The baseball "fad" is ending. All the women who bought jerseys and took pictures of themselves at the stadium without even knowing the rules of the game are losing interest.
  • Watching on TV is better
  • There aren't any stars left in the league after Ryu Hyun-Jin, Lee Dae-Ho, etc leave to play abroad.
  • The cheerleaders are more popular than the players
  • Quality of play in Korea is getting worse
  • WBC failures (as mentioned in article)
  • Cold weather (as mentioned in article)

Some interesting thoughts. Perhaps in the future comment translation might be something fun to try.