Korean Sports TV Ratings

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I saw an interesting article over at Naver Sports last week discussing TV ratings for various sports programming in Korea, including baseball. With all of the rainouts lately, and today being an off day, I thought it might be fun to take a look at something a little bit different. It's a bit long for a full translation, but I'll try to cover the interesting parts along with some of my own comments.

Not surprisingly, KBO baseball is the most viewed domesting sports league. Here are 2013 KBO ratings from the top 3 cable sports channels. The ratings include games from the beginning of the season until June 30.

  MBC Sports KBS N Sorts SBS-ESPN
Average Rating 1.393% 1.334% 1.148%
Highest Rating 2.643%
(May 5 Nexen vs KIA)
(April 5 Lotte vs KIA)
(April 18 KIA vs LG)

We can say that MBC may be the most popular sports channel (by a slim margin), but perhaps more striking is the fact that the KIA Tigers seem to draw the biggest TV audience, being involved in all 3 of the most viewed games this year. It may help to understand the significance of these numbers when compared against other sports. See below for other domestic sports ratings

Korea Pro Volleyball Ratings
  MBC S (Men) MBC S (Women) KBS N (Men) KBS N (Women)
Average Rating 0.980% 0.844% 1.036% 0.892%
Korea Pro Basketball Ratings
  MBC Sports KBS N Sports SBS-ESPN
Average Rating 0.280% 0.237% 0.250%
K-League (Soccer) Ratings
  MBC Sports KBS N Sports SBS-ESPN
Average Rating 0.401% 0.333% 0.268%

The most surprising thing to me here is volleyball coming in at number 2 behind baseball. Flipping through the channels you do see volleyball on TV a lot, but I was unaware that there was that big of a following. I've lived in Korea for nearly a decade and I've met plenty of soccer fans, although they do seem to prefer the European leagues to the K-League, I've met the occasional basketball fan, but volleyball? I can't recall a single person telling me they like volleyball, but these numbers say otherwise.

Here are some numbers for foreign sports leagues.

  MLB English Premier League Spanish Primera League
Average Rating 0.758% 0.510% 0.123%
Highest Rating 2.839% (April 14 LA Dodgers vs Arizona) 1.792% (March 16 Aston Villa vs Queens Park Rangers) 0.787% (March 2 Real Madrid vs Barcelona)

The average MLB ratings come in at just over half of the average KBO ratings, but the April 14 game between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks drew a bigger audience than any KBO game this year. Although it should be pointed out that that game was broadcast on over-the-air channel MBC showcasing Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin, whereas KBO games are generally only available on cable TV. The EPL match between Aston Villa vs Queens Park Rangers also featured Korean player Yun Suk-Young. These numbers prove something most of us already knew: Koreans love to see their countrymen playing sports abroad.

The article also points out that the average rating for Dodgers games this year is 1.076% whereas the average for games where Ryu pitches is 1.943%, nearly double. This is even more impressive when we consider the time differences involved here. Live MLB games will usually be starting early in the morning in Korea, a time when many people are busy at work. European soccer is a bit more manageable, with matches usually starting late at night Korea time. I've occasionally wondered, in an alternate universe where MLB and KBO games were both on TV in prime time, which would be more popular in Korea? What do you think?

The article gives some historical ratings for the KBO, in 2011 for games up until June 30 the average was 1.352%. In 2012 it was 1.472%. In 2013 it is 1.231% (including XTM). So there has actually been a slight decline in ratings this year compared to the past 2 seasons. The article points out that the TV ratings don't include "alternative" viewing methods such as internet streaming, cell phones, etc. So the small decline may be explained by an increase of fans watching online.

There aren't any ratings given for international soccer, which seems to be quite popular. World cup qualifiers, and even some friendlies are often broadcast on over-the-air channels. It also might have been interesting to see the ratings from the WBC this year, but it seems like everyone in Korea is doing their best to pretend like that never happened.

One final thought, and before I say this I should point out that I am not an expert on TV ratings or how they work, so please correct me if I am wrong, but the KBO always has all 4 games start at the same time. It seems to me that they are splitting the potential TV audience 4 ways. Obviously they probably want to keep all the games in evenings on weekdays, but I wonder how the ratings might be affected if they staggered the game start times on weekends. They could have games on TV all day long, which seems like a good idea to me. Or maybe they've done some research and found that fewer people would watch earlier in the day? From my perspective, trying to watch 4 games at the same time is a bit of an annoyance, but maybe there aren't many people like me that actually want to do that. I suppose many people might just watch their favorite team, but I would really like to see the league experiment with different start times, especially when the 10th team joins the league in 2015 and we have 5 games going on every day. Plus, how cool would it be to go to the early game in Mokdong and be able to make it to Jamsil in time for the nightcap?

Any comments? Share them below