Posted September. 14, 2011 08:19,
Confucius called a man aged 30 to be in "time for independence in study." If pro baseball, which marked its 30th anniversary this year, were humans, it would be time to establish the base for independence in study.
At this juncture, the league ushered in the era of six million fans for the first time.
A cumulative 5,996,278 people went to baseball stadiums this season through Monday, just 3,722 shy of six million but the mark was expected to be set Tuesday.
This figure represents a 15-percent increase when compared with the number set in the same number of games played last year. If the trend continues, the final tally of attendance is expected to hit 6.9 million this year.
The Gwangju Kia Tigers saw the highest year-on-year attendance growth with 32 percent, as the team aims to recapture the title for the first time in two years. Kia was followed by the Seoul LG Twins, which posted 29-percent growth, followed by the Seoul Nexen Heroes with 18 percent and the Daejeon Hanwha Eagles with 16 percent.
Korean pro baseball has yet to hit the six million mark in attendance. Pro soccer posted its highest attendance of 2,945,400 in 2008, while pro basketball attracted a league record 1,228,855 in the 2008-09 season.
Attendance stood at 1.43 million when pro baseball debut in 1982 and topped three million in 1990 and five million in 1995. The figure then started to decline to two million in 2000, when baseball underwent a slump that continued through 2004.
In 2002, when the World Cup soccer finals were co-hosted by Korea and Japan, the attendance number plunged by 600,000 from the previous year. Baseball was so unpopular that a bicycle running through empty spectator stands was spotted one day.
Pro baseball started to revive in 2005, when attendance recovered to the three million level. Because Korea advanced to the semifinals of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, Korean pro baseball was not significantly affected by the World Cup soccer finals in Germany that year.
As the Korean national baseball team won the gold medal at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, Korean pro baseball saw attendance top five million for the first time in 13 years. As Team Korea ranked second in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 and claimed the gold at the Guangzhou Asian Games last year, attendance broke previous records for three consecutive years.
According to a report published early this year by the Korean Baseball Organization, attendance will surpass seven million in 2022 with the eight teams in the league and stadium infrastructure. If a tenth team is brought in after the ninth team NCSoft, however, the attendance era of 10 million could come sooner rather than later.
Lingering problems are shoddy facilities, with only around 10,000 seats each in pro ballparks in Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon and Seoul`s Mokdong neighborhood. Under this environment, attendance could break 10 million only if the seat occupancy rate surpasses 70 percent (67 percent as of this season).
If all baseball parks have 25,000 seating capacity, however, Korean baseball will easily achieve the 10 million mark with a seat occupancy rate of 55 percent.