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Bums On Seats, The Biggest Challenge (Part 1 - Taking Stock)

E-Land announced their new team in April 2014 with ambitions almost as wild as the chairwoman's fashion sense. Two years later we take stock of how those targets are being met.
When Seoul E-Land was founded back in 2014 there was a huge amount of expectation surrounding what would be the K-League's first new corporate-backed club since Suwon Samsung Bluewings in 1995. It's fair to say that the guys at E-Land were certainly talking a good game about the way the club would be run and the ambitions that they had for the team. With a target market of some ten million Seoullites the sky seemed potentially the limit for the new club.

Looking back at some of the newspaper coverage from the time shows just how hopeful the E-Land suits were that they were on the verge of something big. The goals they set for the new team were anything but conservative. The aims were set out clearly and trumpeted in the press.

  • 2015-2016: The club would win the K-League Challenge within 2 seasons and average 10,000 fans
  • 2017-2018: On the field ACL football would be achieved and average attendance would hit 25,000
  • 2019-2020: Win the K-League and ACL; average attendances of 40,000

However much of a truckload of salt you want to take those ambitions with, they at least show the intent of E-Land in developing the team. They were looking to grow a team that could compete at the highest levels within the K-League and that would develop a sizeable fanbase to rival at least the other chaebol-owned sides in Korea.

The blueprint for the business model was to learn from other newly-formed franchises around the world including the likes of Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Western Sydney Wanderers. This was going to be a new and exciting model, one that put the fans first and gave them a real say in how the club is being run. It was going to establish a real competitor to the forces of darkness on the other side of the Han River. It was going to bring something completely new to the K-League.

Seattle Sounders in the MLS were one of the benchmarks for E-Land
It's almost two years to the day that these announcements were made by the E-Land Group and the team is now a couple of weeks into it's second season so now seems as good a time as any to take stock. On the park there have been a few ups and downs but I think overall things are probably more or less where they were expected to be. Even with the biggest budget in the K-League Challenge it was probably too much to expect the side to be promoted in their very first year of existence and a play-off spot is probably well within the bounds of 'acceptable' in that regard. Had a few more bits of luck gone the right way then who knows what could have happened.

But what about everything else? It's probably true that anyone with enough money to throw at it could put together a squad of players to compete in the K-League Challenge with a little bit of effort but could they persuade anyone to come along to watch it. For a long time getting bums on seats has been the biggest problem for any Korean football team and it was going to be interesting to see if E-Land could come anywhere close to achieving anything like what they had suggested. It looks as if the answer to that one is a resounding 'not really'.

E-Land's biggest crowds of the 2015 season
In their first season the average attendance for E-Land was around 1,800. Way off not only the 10,000 target mooted at the club's founding but also the 5,000 or so capacity of the temporary seating set up to house the support in the cavernous Olympic Stadium. Only the wildest of optimist would have imagined that E-Land could even touch the sides of the 69,950 capacity of their Jamsil home but surely selling out the more modest total provided by the temporary stand should have been achievable? At least once.

So far that's a target that remains unachieved and the highest attendance to date remains their very first opening day fixture against FC Anyang of 4,342. Other than that, the highest crowds are a handful of games where around 2,500 or so attended. The low-point of the season was a midweek home match against the Ansan Police where only 680 hardy souls were in attendance.

Opening day 2016 and the stand is only about half full - almost 2,000 fans have disappeared since last season's opener
Moving on to 2016 the requirement surely was that the club build on the base established last season and concentrate on growing their crowds. Sadly things seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Last weekend only 1,200 people came to watch them record their first win of the season against newly-relegated Daejeon Citizen. The opening day match (always traditionally the biggest crowd of the season for any K-League team) managed a smidgen less than 2,500. Comparing like for like with the first two games of last season that's almost half of the paying punters that have disappeared. That has to be a worrying trend for the guys in charge and it might be time to go back to the drawing board to look for some new ideas to boost the crowds at Jamsil.

With that in mind then over the next series of articles I plan to take a look at how E-Land have performed from an off-the-field perspective, look at some of the things they have done right and some of the areas where I think they have gone wrong over the past year or so and finally offer my own suggestions for how they might get the fans if not flocking to the stadium then at least trickling in in bigger numbers than they do now. Of course E-Land are not the only side to have a problem with a lack of bums on seats in Korea so there might be a few other clubs that want to take a look too.

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