Korean Football Reform – Military Conscription

Welcome to the Tavern’s new weekly column series, Korean Football Reform! In this series, we will be taking an in-depth look at an issue that is plaguing the development of Korean football and what solutions could help spur positive change. The aim of this series is not to be all doom and gloom criticizing the goings on of Korean football. Instead, we want to take a look at what’s working and what’s not working and see what could make things even better. Like in any footballing nation, even the football powerhouses, there is always room for reflection to make sure that development is not stagnating and the footballing scene is always moving forward. Feel free to post in the comments your own solutions to the Reform topic or to propose a topic you would like to see the Tavern address. For this first Reform column, I decided to tackle the thorniest issue out there: mandatory military conscription.

Update: I realize after seeing the response in the comments as well as feedback on Twitter that I have made a mistake that I want to address. Since this is a football website, I only discuss how mandatory military conscription affects footballers. However, I am in support, however difficult or controversial it would be, of a full reform of the military conscription system that is fair to all men, regardless of profession, personal beliefs, or identity. 

Mandatory Military Conscription: The Current Situation

Look at that picture above: it’s Lee Keunho after scoring his goal against Russia at the 2014 World Cup in a 1-1 draw. He’s doing a military salute because at the time he was serving his military duty with Sangju Sangmu. However, after a promising career in Japan with Gamba Osaka, he may have been able to move to Europe if he had a military exemption. Therein lies the rub with military conscription: if you get an exemption, you have a ticket to Europe. If you don’t, you may never get your chance.

So what are the current rules and why are they in place? Well, the reason Korea has military conscription is because since the Korean War ended in armistice, neither South Korea nor North Korea has signed a formal peace treaty. There have been skirmishes over the past 65 years since the war has ended and it is an important priority for South Korea to maintain a strong, able-bodied military that is ready for action in the event of a resumption of the fighting between South and North. This necessity will not go away if a peace treaty is agreed for many reasons, one of which being that we don’t know when the two Koreas will reunify. As a result, the current rule for all able-bodied Korean men is that they must serve a military duty that lasts for about 2 years before the age of 35. Each branch of the military has a different length of service: 21 months for the Army and Marines, 23 months for the Navy, and 24 months for the Air Force. For most Korean men, they elect to serve their duty right after graduating high school and put off university entrance for 2 years so they can study in university and begin their career unburdened. However, for footballers, the habit is a little bit different and presents a lot of complex dilemmas.

For footballers, the Korean Armed Forces Athletic Corps has Sangju Sangmu FC and the Korean Police Agency has Asan Mugunghwa FC. These two clubs accept domestic-based players on a rolling basis and conscript players for a 21-month period loan. Sangju is currently playing in the K League 1 and Asan is in K League 2, although Asan’s strong midfield class that includes KNT call-ups Ju Se-jong and Lee Myung-joo has them in the Promotion Play-off places so we could see them both in the top division very soon.

How do you get selected for these teams? There are a couple rules and we will be examining the shortcomings of the current rules in place. The first rule is that both clubs are only allowed to pick players currently playing in the K League. Even more than that, the player has to have been active in the K League for the past six months. This was why Lee Myungjoo finished out last season with FC Seoul before starting his service with Asan. Another rule is that you must begin your service before the age of 27 (28 Korean Age) to serve with one of these clubs. If you wait until after that deadline, you will serve in a normal military unit and will not be able to train with these football clubs during your service. As it stands, most Korean footballers serve at Asan or Sangju in their mid-twenties after playing a few seasons in the K League. For players who play abroad like Lee Myungjoo, they return to the K League around that time and sign for a K League club before getting loaned. For the most part, it is rare for a player to return to a career abroad after finishing their military service (although I would love to hear of historical or current examples of this in the comments).

Exemptions: How do you get one?

Thankfully, the Korean Military Manpower Administration has laid out some athletic accomplishments that allow a footballer to become exempt from conscription. The 2002 World Cup heroes who achieved 4th place at the World Cup hosted in South Korea and Japan were given exemptions. However, this rule doesn’t seem to be permanent as there hasn’t been another World Cup squad given exemptions. It might be up to the current administration to decide if the World Cup squad has done well enough to deserve exemption (paging Moon Jae-in). The rule that is set into law is that an Olympic medal or an Asian Games gold medal is enough to allow any male athlete exemption from military service. The 2012 bronze-winning side and 2014 Asian Games gold medalists are all military exempt. Ki Sung-yeung himself has said that this was key to allowing this generation of Korean footballers the chance to pursue careers in Europe. Ki once went home during the offseason to do a month-long training spell with the army but that’s about it. Think about that! To go from 21 months to just one month is a huge gift!

There are also some loopholes in these military conscription rules that Korean footballers have tried to exploit, to some success and controversy. For example, Lee Chung-yong was spotted by FC Seoul as a middle schooler and subsequently dropped out of school to join their youth sides. This was because at the time the Korean military did not draft men who hadn’t completed high school so as a result Lee has never had to do military duty. However, that loophole has since been closed. A controversy arose when Park Chu-young tried to argue that his residency visa in Monaco allowed him to postpone his military duty until he was in his 30s. He became quite unpopular in Korea when he tried this and was only able to avoid military service by being chosen as an overage wildcard for the London Olympics and then scoring a goal in the bronze medal match. These are the most prominent examples of players trying to skirt the rules but I am sure there are more examples.

My Solution

There are many people that have proposed changes to the military conscription rules to allow Korean footballers more chances to develop their skills abroad. The military duty is the main reason that European clubs tend to get scared off of signing Korean players and instead opt for Japanese players. So there needs to be changes so that promising Korean players don’t get overlooked by European clubs that would offer them a contract if they were free from military duty. I mean, imagine a scenario where Dijon don’t sign Kwon Changhoon because he hasn’t won his exemption yet.

There have been some ideas suggested that I think deserve mention here. Our friend Steve Han recently said that Korean players should be encouraged to begin their military services earlier, such as in their late teens or very early 20s. This idea has seen Tim’s favorite young player, Hwang Inbeom, begin his service this season with Asan Mugunghwa FC. Hwang is only 21, but having seen a previous transfer offer to Europe fall through because the club weren’t willing to pay Daejeon’s transfer fee on a player without military exemption, he has decided to get his military duty out of the way even though he may get selected for an Asian Games or Olympics squad. I think this solution has some merits but I can also see why some players elect to wait until their mid-twenties to serve. In your late teens and early twenties, you are transitioning from the youth sides to the first team squad. As such, you’re fighting with the club’s veterans to get minutes in the K League. Sometimes, you get noticed and get minutes as was the case with Han Chanhee. Other times you’re sitting on the bench just waiting for that chance. My guess is if you decided to go straight to the military you might miss that chance to establish yourself at the club. You would be gone for 2 years and if you’re not on good form at Sangju or Asan, you might be right back to the bench when you come back.

The wonderful 48 Shades of Football blog also posted a nice translated article about Son Heungmin’s upcoming military duty. Have a look here: Son Heung-min’s Military Service. This article basically advocates for a points system that would reward players for continued dedication to playing for the national team or for achieving good results at international tournaments. I think that this is the right direction to be going. However, the article doesn’t really lay out clear objectives for this new system. So, I’ll try to give that a shot.

For continual service to the national team, I think a great marker to give exemptions would be players who reach 100 caps. For reference, at 29 years-old Ki is sitting on 99 senior caps. However, the 100 cap mark would be more attainable before the age of 27 if you could also include youth caps as well. Basically, this would reward the consistent player who has developed through the Korean national youth and senior sides and always opted to appear for the national team. That’s a pretty good indication of someone who is dedicated to their country.

In terms of achieving results at international tournaments, I say that this should include more tournaments! For the World Cup, adjust the rule as the senior side progresses up the ranks of international football. At the moment, the farthest Korea has ever advanced on foreign soil was the Round of 16 in 2010. If this Russia squad matches or betters that, give them an exemption. For the 2022 World Cup, the goal would be to advance even further than the last team. This would challenge every Korean squad to want to do better than the squad that came before them! Another tournament that deserves to be added is the AFC Asian Cup. For goodness sake’s, we haven’t won the Asian championship since 1960! As the most consistent nation in Asian football, that’s a bit disgraceful. So give the squad an exemption if they win it! The AFC Asian Cup is also a ticket to the FIFA Confederations Cup, which is a huge opportunity to test out the environment in the World Cup host country before everyone else. While you’re at it, AFC and FIFA youth tournaments should be included as well. This would be beneficial because a young player can secure his exemption early regardless of where he is playing his youth football. This would benefit players like Lee Seungwoo, Paik Seungho, and Lee Kangin who were noticed by European scouts early and joined European youth squads. Although this may insert unnecessary competitiveness into youth football, my thought is that pursuing the title at any tournament Korea enters is always the goal so why not reward players that can achieve that goal?

Finally, in order to be fair to players that elect to pursue a career in Europe early but are unable to win a military exemption, I think Sangju and Asan should be allowed to choose players from foreign clubs as well. For example, should Son Heung-min be unable to earn his exemption I believe Tottenham should be allowed to loan him to Sangju for 2 years so he can fulfill his military duty. As of now, Spurs would have to sell him to a K League side where he would play for six months before he is allowed to begin his military service. Who knows if they would be willing to re-sign him after his service is completed. This is unnecessarily complicated and effectively punishes Son for chasing his dreams in Europe and joining Hamburg’s youth academy in high school. Let’s encourage talented Korean youngsters to chase their footballing dreams in Europe rather than punishing them for it!

Where are we now?

Well, where we are now is that this is a hugely important summer for Korean footballers currently playing in Europe. Son Heung-min, Kwon Chang-hoon, Suk Hyun-jun, and Hwang Hee-chan all have established themselves in Europe but have never won exemption. So the upcoming 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia is hotly anticipated as a chance to secure Son, Hwang, and Kwon’s European careers (and yes, I’m starting to worry that Suk’s journeyman career in Europe may be over). For Son especially, desperation is setting in as he has missed out on three opportunities for exemption in a row. So here at the Tavern, we’ll be eagerly waiting to see how this summer unfolds and hoping that military exemption dilemmas like this current situation can be avoided in the future. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas for fixing Korea’s military exemption problem? And no, the answer is not to get rid of it. But every other suggestion will be welcome! Get active in the comments below!

 

About Michael Welch 20 Articles
That Halfie Korean-American who loves football (I mean, soccer).

34 Comments

  1. I think another solution would be if the Korean government simply allows for professional athletes to serve after they retire. These are athletes we’re talking about here—they’re waaayyy more fit than the average Korean and will do just fine in the military even if they’re in their mid to late 30’s.

      • For K-Pop stars, I feel like there could also be a kind of point system that allows those who have attained great success in their career to earn an exemption. Overall, I think any man who really attains great success in their field at a young age should have the chance for an exemption. But really, the system where most men conscript after high school works really well for the average man. For athletes and K-pop stars, a new system that fits their needs better has to be developed.

    • Although I totally agree that footballers would have no problem serving in their late 30s with their fitness levels, I think that allowing this would be too much favoritism to athletes. A regular salaryman would argue, “Why can’t I put off my military service until I retire? Oh, that’s because I retire in my 60s.” So it’s sort of like, why do footballers get special treatment because they have shorter careers where they make way more money than the average Korean man?

    • Yeah it would be unfair to the average salaryman who could argue that he’s supporting the country in his own way.

      I really like the idea of having more opportunities to get military exemption from other tournaments like the Asian Cup and youth international tournaments. This seems totally reasonable and shouldn’t be too difficult for the Korean government to make this change. Has anyone suggested this before? We should contact the KFA or the government about this. This seems like a great idea!

      I’m not sure about the cap idea. Athletes of other sports might want this cap rule too. It just seems like it would be difficult to implement.

      • My guess is that the KFA is seeing that there needs to be changes made to the military exemption system when we look at how desperate Son’s situation has become. It would be very fair for those reform efforts to be inclusive of all male athletes. For example, Hyeon Chung recently commented that his Asian Games medal was crucial to the advancement of his career. Are there male tennis players missing opportunities because there are only 2 tournaments that earn them exemptions? The same applies to golfers like Bae Sang-moon and Kim Si-woo, why can’t they earn exemptions as well?

  2. The military issue is obviously screwing things up with Korean athletes, but in other ways. It adds another layer of competition, but I think an unhealthy one.
    First, I gotta believe the guys will try harder in tournaments where they can get exemption as opposed to others- that kinds sucks (while understandable). Asian Games, Olympics, they’re gonna do everything they can. Asian Cup, is it really a big deal if they don’t win? I’m just imagining Park Chu Young’s goal against Japan- as awesome as it was, would he have done the same thing in the Asian Cup? (maybe, but it’s even fucked up that people like me are even wondering that). As the starting forward in 2014 World Cup (after he got exemption), we didn’t see anything like that. It’s all speculation, but the point is, for other countries, every tournament is just about winning for glory.
    Also, the best the KNT has ever done was in 2002. Obviously it was in Korea so that was an advantage, but none of those guys played in Europe, and all had either completed their service or knew they were gonna do it (I don’t think they knew beforehand that they would be exempt if they did well- or did they? My memory is fuzzy). In other words, they were one and all of the same mind- just win!
    Now, we have a few guys who got the 2012 Olympic medal who don’t have to worry, others who have done their service, others who are doing their service, and others (Son, Hwang, Kwon, Suk, like you mentioned) who are desperately trying to get exemption. I don’t care who you are, that environment is not healthy for a team. They should all be thinking about the sport, not the prize. The prize just leads to jealousy.

    • But this is why I’m saying just apply the prize to all international tournaments. If it’s applied to all tournaments then it would neutralize that nagging feeling of if the players try harder in the Olympics and Asian Games. My argument is that the prize should’ve been about pursuing excellence in the sport in the first place, and this is one way to do it.

      I definitely see the unhealthiness of the current system so allowing youth players to earn exemptions and allowing players with a lot of caps exemptions too would make it a bit more healthy. And if you know every tournament affords you the chance for exemption, you would think about it a lot less. Oh, I missed the Olympic medal? I’ll try even harder when the World Cup comes around. That’s my take on it.

      • Yeah I understood your point, and I agree 100%. My post was just an additional argument for why it needs to change.
        It’s hard enough to bring players together from so many different clubs and give them time to gel for an international competition. Every country faces that same issue of adjustment. I’m thinking the military exemption issue makes it even harder.

        • Yeah, I’m with you 100%. It’s gonna have an effect on the team chemistry of the KNT and it’s time we took a look at how we can even the playing field and offer more promising players the chance to earn an exemption. Thanks so much for reading my article!

  3. Can servicemen have leave of absence from the military during the season and serve during the off season as long as the servicemen accumulates the mandatory years? This might prolong their time in the military but they won’t miss the football season or the country’s qualifiers. What do the players on top flight clubs do during the off season anyway? They do tours in Asia and America with their club or play friendlies. It can get complicated, but it could work.

    Also, can we discuss if the mandatory military service is preventing ROK from doing passport grabs of dual citizens? American born male Koreans might have the option of dual citizenships but because of the military conscription, their parents might choose for them to only be an American citizen. I don’t know if there are any examples, but American soccer gained a lot of players and lost a few notable players due to dual citizenship. I’m sure there are a few Hines Ward type super athletes out there in America or Germany or EVEN Brazil that can play.

    • I kind of toyed with the idea of trying to allow players to serve their military duties in the offseason but I feel like it would be too complicated. There would be some offseasons where international tournaments would get in the way so I ended up not including that idea. It just seems like the Korean military would never allow some people to do their service is segments while others have to do it all at once.

      That idea about dual nationals is super intriguing! Never considered how the idea of military duty could play a part in Korea’s ability to attract foreign players in the way other nations do. The only personal anecdote I have on this is my Korean grandpa telling me not to accept dual citizenship because it would mean I would have to do military service. So that theory clearly has something to it!

      • Same. My sister is a dual citizen but my parents made sure I was just an American citizen just for that reason.

        Jonathan Gonzalez chose to play for Mexico instead of America recently, and of course during Klinsmann’s tenure America grabbed a BUNCH of mediocre players out there who were German. Korea can’t find one decent goalie out there from Germany or America? Hines Ward, who is half Korean and could have been a dual citizen, is 6 feet tall (which is short for a goalie), but had a 30 inch vertical and a broad jump of 110 inches. Could you imagine teaching someone like him how to play in goal? Our goalies are TERRIBLE! There are 40,000 Koreans in Brazil. I bet if we look we can find at least one 13 year old who can maybe hold the backline better than the sieve we have now in 10 years. I’ve been to Brazil and saw one or two Korean kids playing Joga Bonito out on the streets. Military service is totally preventing ROK from getting the best talent available representing the team at WC!

        • So the KNT did call in a half-Korean youth GK for one of the training camps leading up to last summer’s U20 World Cup. He’s half-German and trains with Hamburg’s youth squads, which is also where Seo Youngjae trains. His name is Kevin Harr, he’s only 18 so definitely one for the future but it would be really interesting to see if he keeps getting brought in for KNT youth squads.

          Even more than just the scouting work that would be required for Korea to bring in more players raised outside of Korea is the cultural growth Koreans need to have to really accept these players. When Lee Seungwoo started to get called up to KNT youth squads, fans were upset by his brash and cocky style because they thought it wasn’t “Korean”. So that’s going to come up when foreign players are brought into the KNT. Will fans, managers, and teammates view them as “Korean”? I hope that as Korea becomes more multicultural we can see that growth where Koreans from around the world can be a part of the KNT setup.

          • I agree. I think they are ready since 교포 or gyopos are looked at more favorably than in the past, but also agree that if gyopos are going to represent Korea in a Korean uniform that they have to conduct themselves a certain way while in a Korean uniform. I don’t think this will be hard for professional athletes as Nike and Adidas and other sponsors always ask their athletes to act a certain way, especially during international “diplomatic” events (ie Olympics). The question still remains- will guys like Kevin Harr (Thanks for introducing him to me. Never knew about him and am excited about the prospect of a foreign trained goalie) decide to play for Germany or for Korea and would the decision be tilted because of non-football reasons ie. Military conscription.

  4. Quick question: isn’t Hwang under 23, so he wouldn’t count as an overage player? I think Son and Kwon should definitely get picked (assuming their clubs let them go). But Suk should also get a shot. Yes, he’s older at 26, and he may not be of much use as a 30 year old at the 2022 World Cup. But he’s had such a turbulent journeyman career, and he’s worked so hard for it. I can’t think of a Korean footballer more deserving. I suppose one could argue he did get a chance at the 2016 Olympics.

    Are there any others that are on the shortlist? Feel like the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Asian Games covered a good number of our best players. Now that I’m doing some research, it’s strange how Jang Hyun Soo was an overage pick for the 2016 Olympics when he already had exemption from the 2014 Asian Games… Anyone know the story there?

  5. You’re exactly right, Hwang is 22 so he won’t count as overage! So hopefully it will be Suk, Son, and Kwon who get the wildcard spots. Suk is still fighting to keep Troyes in Ligue 1 so he still has a shot to stay in Europe next season. Just difficult for Suk since he will be a free agent this offseason and he’s still looking for a military exemption.

    In terms of Jang Hyunsoo going to the 2016 Rio Olympics, this was a bit of an example of Shin playing favorites unfortunately. Yes, he had already won exemption as captain of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games squad but Shin said his leadership was important and selected him again. It is really puzzling but something about Jang’s personality has really impressed Shin. We here at the Tavern will never understand it.

  6. Hey, nice little corner of the internet here. I have a topic suggestion. How come China and Japan have decently attended leagues (+15k average) but South Korea hasn’t been able to achieve this? What’s the problem and how is it being solved. I watched Jeonbuk in the Asian CL and they play well but nobody is following.

    • Looking forward to the article, but my pre-article tease (maybe all just my only opinion, but it’s my impression from all of my Korean friends there now and being gyopo myself and living there for awhile):
      1) Koreans only really like to watch baseball as a professional sport in Korea- not sure the reason though. Could be that the stadiums are easier to get to in the largest cities, and the culture of those teams is well-known.
      2) Koreans love soccer, but honestly kinda snobby about it- Premier League is considered the “good” league, so they’ll only really watch that. If the LA Dodgers came to Korea and played Doosan/Lotte/LG, there would be a ton of support for the Korean team. If Man U came to Korea to play FC Seoul, I’m betting there would be A LOT more Man U fans, and they might even be embarrassed of FC Seoul- sad to say, but I think that’s true.
      3) Similar to 1 and 2- Korean soccer has a celebrity problem. The only celebrities amongst Korean soccer players are those that get to a big club in Europe. And not even all of them, only the big names (really only Son and Ki… most people don’t even know Kwon Chang Hoon and Hwang Hee Chan, though they have had great (in my opinion) seasons in Europe). Conversely, Korean baseball players who have never left Korea can actually easily reach celebrity status. Again, not sure I’m getting to the root why of this (hoping the article can explain it?), but it’s a fact.
      4) Common consensus amongst Koreans is that the KLeague just plain sucks. Once that idea gets ingrained into popular thought, it is very difficult to get the majority of people to change their minds unless everyone changes their mind. I think people familiar with Korean culture understand..?
      5) The corruption and bribery scandals in the KLeague in the past few years definitely have not helped popular consensus

      Having said all of this, it’s all pretty ridiculous. Not sure why Koreans care about the Korean team at the World Cup, but don’t care about their own league. The former can’t improve without the latter improving. The only way it will improve is if people go to the games and support the teams. Probably one of the major bad side effects of the success in 2002- people started caring about KNT before their own league, which is kinda backwards.
      On another note, I personally hate baseball, but as a general sports fan I will say that honestly Korean baseball players SUCK compared to the best baseball players in the world (sorry if you’re a fan, but you know it’s true. The guy from the LA Dodgers- Ryu? is a joke). However, there are some GREAT Korean soccer players though, that individually can do great things at the highest level.

      I think recently the Japanese team has overtaken the Korean team because Japanese fans like watching Japanese soccer. And sadly, if it keeps going at this rate, the Chinese team might get better than the Korean team in the future.

      I don’t understand all the root causes though, and definitely don’t know what’s being done about it, but hopefully the article expands upon it!! Looking forward to it

      • China pays for notable players once they leave Europe. USA is similar with the amount of interest the national team gets compared to the MLS. Sure, the MLS has moderate success but the amount of interest is far less.

        Also, there’s plenty of solid National teams with poor attended domestic leagues : Chile, Denmark, any and all of the African nations.

        If Ji Sung Park played in Korea after his best years instead of with QPR, I’m sure attendance would have had an uptick. If Son plays his twilight years of his career in Korea- that might garner some more attendance.

        Also, what are th tv ratings? Do they have a major television contract ? Maybe out of site out of mind for the Koreans?

        But I agree with your comment on all of the major points.

  7. So, lots to comment on here (to keep things cleaner I’m just going to post them all here).

    1. Basically I think historically why exemptions were limited to Asian Games/Olympics has to do with fairness across the sports. While the MMA could add sport-specific exemptions that could get complicated and become susceptible to shady stuff. The thing about most articles that deal with the exemption issue is that they focus on football only or sports while not considering other celebrities or the general male population. It’s important to remember that ultimately this is a POLITICAL issue that the whole country deals with. There is definitely a generational gap in thinking on this idea.

    2. There are a couple mixed Koreans floating around the youth levels, the mentioned Kevin Harr in the comments as well as Pohang’s Kim Roman (another keeper). There was also Kang Suil who got called up in the past. The idea of calling up naturalized or gyopo type players has been debated before. For whatever reason, Koreans tend to closely self-identify with the national team, so the idea of “pureness” is felt stronger than with national teams from other sports. Also the problem is not so much their ability to blend publicly, it’s within the squad and with coaches. As most know Korea is heavy on hierarchy and it’s super strong in sports.

    3. Nowadays most K League 1 games are broadcast on cable TV (SPOTV), but the television contract is small, and ratings are terrible. The other thing to consider in Korea is that virtually all games (K League 1 and 2) are available free to stream live through Naver, Daum, Afreeca, and/or KakaoTV. So, while Koreans might not watch the TV broadcast many will stream it on their phones.

    4. Koreans like to go to baseball games because the matchday experience is fun. That’s it. Period. The average K League matchday experience is boring AF. It’s really that simple.

    5. I would disagree that local baseball players can become celebrities. It’s possible, but very rare. Right now I would say Lee Dae-ho would qualify as being famous, and I think Lee Dong-gook reaches similar fame levels (although LDG is probably higher bc of his kids).

    • If we keep hiring foreign coaches (which isn’t a bad idea) and stop hiring Korean coaches who pick players just based on politics and if they like them personally and not if they’re the best player, then maybe they’ll pick up gyopos or dual citizens. I don’t think interracial athletes will have a problem playing for Korea if given the chance. But yes, it might be an institutional issue. Maybe the next generation in 20 years will not be so old in their thinking.

      And let’s stop talking about baseball. No one cares about baseball unless you’re old as fuck. It’s a dying sport and even Americans are moving away from it. How is baseball even relevant to soccer? If it’s about generating money or growing viewership in Korea then talking about esports or Mixed Martial Arts is more relevant. I thought this was a soccer blog.

      • Hey, you’re definitely right on foreign coaches as they expand the mindset of Korean football and lead to change. On your point about baseball, we’re only talking about the KBO because it is relevant to the K League’s attendance issues. Don’t worry, my post will address what the K League should do to beat the KBO and generate fan interest.

        • Soccer should follow MMA and esports and the future instead of looking at the past for future success.

          • Definitely wait for my take on the K League. MMA and eSports are pretty different from football but I definitely have ideas for how to improve K League that are forward-thinking.

      • Dude you’re dreaming if you think only old people care about baseball in Korea. Baseball is kicking soccer’s ass in Korea amongst young people. I don’t like baseball either, but just saying “no one cares about baseball” is ignoring the issue when we should be learning from their success and coming up with a way to beat it. There’s nothing wrong with learning from what has and hasn’t worked.

        • That just tells me that the entire country of Korea is old and tired. What’s innovative about the sport of baseball as a whole or the Korean league in marketing the sport? So they have cheerleaders and it’s a giant pep rally- so basically it’s like high school football in Texas? Or is Korea wanting to be like Cuba and the Dominican Republic? Obviously those countries are always on the forefront of sports marketing. 😉

          Again, why are we talking about baseball? Baseball doesn’t have an international competition that anyone truly cares about. It’s not even an Olympic Sport anymore. Don’t even bring up the WBC. Major baseball stars don’t want to compete in it.

          If more scantily clad girls bring more people to see professional soccer in Korea then sure, implement it. That’s always been a tried and true marketing technique.

          Honestly, I don’t really care if professional soccer becomes the most popular league in Korea or not. As I mentioned before, a lot of really great national soccer teams don’t have popular domestic leagues. Or vice versa. The MLS has been trending steadily upwards for the past 10 years. Where has that gotten the USMNT? The MLS has proven to improve the talent on other CONCACAF nations like Costa Rica, but USA can’t even beat Trinidad and Tobago’s 3rd string team.

          The best players will continue to go play in Europe. I don’t think the rise of popularity of the K League is going to change that in the next 30 years.

          • Trust me, I am not going to be advocating for turning the K League into a giant pep rally with cheerleaders and all the stuff that KBO uses. Your point about leagues with poor attendance having good national teams is well taken and I intend to address youth development in a future post for sure.

            For this week’s article, I will talk about the steps the K League and KFA could take in order to make the K League more relevant, better attended, and generate revenue that can be pumped right back into youth development. It’s not gonna be an article focused on the KBO, just informed by how K League can stand out from that and really grow as a league back to the popularity that it once had. I hope you all can really look forward to it. I’m loving how much response this new series has gotten!

      • Foreign coaches vs Korean coaches does not necessarily prevent the favoritism that happens. Stielike also pretty routinely picked the players (like JHS, HKY) that he liked. Foreign coaches may have different coaching strategies that Korean coaches don’t and may not be as subjective to the politics of the KFA, but that’s not a given. Interracial athletes are not a problem as long as they identify with Korea strongly. What the general Korean population won’t accept is a naturalized foreigner who has been in Korea for a few seasons and is looking to become an international/play at the World Cup.

        Baseball is popular across the age groups. I went to a game a few weeks back and the group of elementary kids sitting behind me already knew all of the player songs and chants and genuinely loved the game/experience. It’s relevant to soccer/football in the sense that the seasons and games often overlap and there is a limited population to target for attendance. So if you’re the average Korean who’s looking for an entertaining few hours of sports, right now the choice is easy – baseball. I agree though that the K League cannot just try to mimic creating the baseball atmosphere, it is not possible. And yes, the K League needs to focus more on fixing their own problems (which are many), but that is a difficult conversation and the powers that be are reluctant to have it.

  8. Its also the nature of baseball which probably draws more attention than football unfortunately

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