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Six Things K-League Can Learn From MLS Part 2

(image via oregonlive.com)

After covering the pie in the sky idea of Soccer Specific Stadiums in Part 1, this segment focuses on something far more pragmatic for K-Leage to learn from MLS: marketing. While new stadiums would be truly terrific and help issues on and off the field, they cost tens of millions of dollars to build and just may not be feasible for most teams. At least not right now. Something that is achievable in the here and now is hiring a digital marketing expert to whip up some excitement in the fanbase or at the very least spread the word about games and promotions.

This site's ongoing 2016 K-League Kits post is a prime example of a missed opportunity by K-League. New threads should go beyond separating the players on the field and slapping a new sponsor on stadium billboards. When done properly, the unveiling of a new jersey can build anticipation for the season, create a ton of chatter on social media, and bring in money for the club. One of the smarter things MLS has done in recent years is compile all of the clubs new kit releases into a one week extravaganza called Jersey Week. Last season 16 MLS clubs unveiled new jerseys in the week leading up to the regular season. Most did this at private events held for season ticket holders, media, and a few select guests. Many have snacks and drinks on hand afterward, fans can meet with a few players, and of course the jerseys are for sale by the truckload.

The cost to the team for these events is quite low and the benefits are tremendous. It makes season ticket holders feel more a part of the club by being invited to an exclusive event, meeting players, and getting first dibs on buying the new kits. Additionally, it's an amazingly easy opportunity to showcase sponsors. Most teams partner with hotels, restaurants, and some kind of sport drink. Host the event in the convention center of the hotel, have the restaurant cater, and hand out free samples of the sports drink. The teams are literally putting their sponsors brands into the hands of folks who they want buying their products. But beyond simple product placement, perhaps the biggest perk for the team in all of this is the ease of a social media campaign. Advertise the event for weeks leading up to it. Have contests so non season ticket holders can get in. Post teaser photos of the new jersey online to get people excited. And then watch the reactions fly. Even if people hate the new jerseys, they're still going to be blowing up Twitter and Facebook for days. All of this for simply having a handful of players show up and wear a shirt on stage.

Since most K-League season ticket packages offer a discount on the team jersey, why not put all of those people in a room and offer em that discount in person? It's a small step that would make season ticket holders feel exclusive and is something they're sure to spread the word on. With actual perks beyond 10% off at the gift shop, the number of season ticket holders is likely to grow and the team can bank on a more reliable attendance number each week. Once the ball's rolling on jersey-centric events, K-League teams could truly get fans involved and have them create and vote for the team's third jersey like the Chicago Fire did in 2013.

If nothing else, the league needs to have a much easier to access and comprehensive online store like MLS does. Yes, most team sites have a store where it's possible to buy jerseys, mugs, and scarves, but they're horrible to navigate and often don't have a ton of items. If the league were to step up its game beyond the official store in Seoul with an online presence, it would be much easier to link to merch online and run promotions league wide. For a nation with the fastest internet and an obsession with all things digital, the domestic league is seriously lacking with the opportunity to spend money on the internet.

However, most of these campaigns are assuming every K-League team has and knows how to utilize social media. They do not. The Jeonnam Dragons Twitter account hasn't even been updated since May 2014... and they have 26,700+ followers. That's nearly two years of silence to more people than can fit inside Gwangyang Stadium. And this is something that could automatically be updated from their much more active Facebook account. It literally takes less than 10 minutes to link Facebook and Twitter and yet a team struggling mightily to get asses in seats hasn't bothered to take the time. Meanwhile, on a team to team basis and league wide, MLS has hired talented and media savvy reporters like Rachel Bonnetta to engage fans on social media, through videos on the league website, and in person. While people as knowledgeable, energetic, and likable as her aren't exactly growing on trees here, I find it hard to believe the teams and the league can't at least find an intern to update the live scores of the game and post a photo every now and again. More than word of mouth, posting banners around town, or a plethora of free tickets, social media is the best way to get out information and engage fans and K-League needs to seriously step up its game.

Social media and jerseys are all well and good, but that's off the field stuff. What can be done on the pitch, within the stadium grounds itself to get more people through the turnstiles? Holiday games. Anyone who's spent any significant amount of time in Korea knows what a "red day" is and looks forward to them with great relish. Red days are another name for national holidays when the bulk of folks have the day off, and there are eleven of them during the K-League season. Traditionally the MLS has done quite well with the 4th of July (the USA's independence day) and has done everything from 3rd jersey reveals to American flag numbers to make it a unique event. Personally not a huge fan of those kits... but it's an easy excuse to sell more jersey or auction em off for charity. But more importantly than selling a few kits, red days here in Korea are a largely untapped gold mine for tickets. There are three matches scheduled for Children's Day on May 5th and I have to assume there are some kind of promotions in place, but there's really no reason for the entire league not to be playing that day. Offer free tickets to the first 1,000 kids 12 and under knowing full well their parents will have to pay full price. Hell, offer it to the first 5,000 kids. Get as many kids and their parents through the gate as possible.

The true majesty of holiday games is creating a co-holiday for the league. Even MLS has yet to do this as well as college football on New Years Day in the US, or the NBA's triple-header on Christmas day. And there are so many opportunities for the K-League to do this. For example, a triple header on Memorial Day, Monday, June 6th. You know people have the day off and spending that time outside in fine weather (maybe even with discounted tickets) taking in a match sounds like a fine idea. Or, if the holiday weekend involved a bit too much soju, then even the casual fan can put in some work on the butt groove of their couch while watching all three matches on TV. Or at least knowing soccer's on all day. Liberation Day on Monday August 15th could offer the same opportunity. And if the league wanted to get real fancy, they could have every team in action at the same time for last day of the season on National Foundation Day, Monday October 3rd. MLS did something similar on the final day of last season and called it Decision Day. Yet another easy-to-market event on social media to get folks through the door.

So, let's say K-League does follow some of these examples and gets more people through the door from social media. Who then creates the in-stadium atmosphere that will keep fans coming back for more? We'll talk about that in Part 3.

Once again if you love these ideas, hate em, would like to offer me a job in the league office, or think I've lost my damn mind, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. These seem like really reasonable steps to take, especially linking twitter and facebook accounts. So easy and instantaneous! Do you have data on the attendance at football matches during red days? Is it generally higher or lower than other times in the season? Just curious.

    1. Yeah... the Twitter and Facebook thing is amazingly annoying to see happening. As for attendance during Red Days, I don't have the figures on hand, but will be paying closer attention this year to see if there's a spike at all.


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