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K League All Star Alternatives

Despite some tremendous on field displays from Team K League, many fans were left disappointed by the antics Italian giants Juventus displayed in this summer's marquee friendly. In the first of our Patreon Early Access articles, Ryan Walters takes a look at some All Star Game alternatives that would circumvent the disappointment of a single player not taking the field and keep the focus on growing Asian football. 

The 60,000 fans that packed Seoul World Cup Stadium Friday night largely to see Cristiano Ronaldo take the field were ultimately disappointed by the superstar's shock omission after sitting through an hour long delay waiting for the team to arrive at the stadium. With ticket prices for some seats soaring well to ₩400,000, the fans had every right to be angry, call for him by name, and eventually taunt him with chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi." To say things didn't go as planned on the night would be an understatement, but the match itself had a number of positives for K League and proved the best players in Korea can keep up with some of the best in the world.

With that kind of quality on display, K League could and should return the All Star Game's focus to Asia and grow the local game instead of glorifying the European elite who clearly could not care less about the match they were contracted to play in, nevertheless turn up on time and apologize to their fans for not fulfilling their obligations. Instead of catering to teams that already have plenty and are simply looking for a cash grab, here are some alternative options that would keep the focus in Asia:

Champions Cup

If the league is dead set on the draw of European teams, there's a slightly different option than this year's All Star Game that could encompass more of Asia. The 2015 version of the International Champions Cup held in North America is a perfect example of having European giants involved while still showcasing what's on offer locally. That year global giants like Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Manchester United squared off against some of North America's best with Club América, LA Galaxy, and New York Red Bulls all going head to head.  This mix and match approach would appeal to fans of every ilk with matches like Barcelona vs PSG appeasing the Eurocentric fan groups and Jeonbuk vs Chelsea giving local supporters yet another reason to get behind their team as they play the role of underdog. Similar to the North American version from 2015, this tournament could also have one or two top teams from Japan and China involved to really sell the tournament across the region.

The logistics of a full on tournament like this would obviously entail more than a single All Star Game and wouldn't even have an All Star team representing Korea, but instead would offer some of the best teams in the country a chance to face top tier competition. For example, the K League entrants could be decided by whoever is in first, second, and third place at a specific point in the season. Those teams then get to host Champions Cup matches.

If the coordination of that is too much, then specific cities could chosen to host the games and the teams play there. Cities like Daegu and Incheon would be ideal as they have multiple stadiums available to fill every potential turnout. A J.League vs CSL match could be held at the gorgeous new DGB Daegu Bank Park the night before two European giants face off at the 66,000 capacity (and currently unused) Daegu World Cup Stadium the next night. By creating more of an ongoing festival of sorts, K League fans from around the country would be able to take part in the event and World Cup stadiums would get some needed use.

K League vs J.League

Korea vs Japan is a fierce sporting rivalry we already see playing itself out between the national teams and in the AFC Champions League (ACL), and could be fostered into an annual competition to benefit both leagues. Long considered the two best leagues in East Asia, a regularly scheduled All Star Game between the sides would create a more light-hearted and fun, but still meaningful competition for bragging rights. If the event were to be a mid-summer affair as previous K League All Star Games have been, then both sides would be on largely equal footing. The Korean and Japanese representatives would have played roughly the same amount of matches in their domestic campaigns and would be on break from any ACL obligations. Given the friendly scheduling options, familiarity between the leagues, and an already fierce rivalry playing out on multiple stages, both sets of fans are sure to be up for the event.

To further keep fanbases engaged, the competition could swap host countries and travel the nation as it does so. If Seoul hosts in 2020, then Tokyo hosts in 2021. Busan in 2022, and Osaka in 2023. The short journey between nations offers an easy excuse for fans to travel and experience what their neighboring league has to offer. By having a traveling event unlike any other K League has to offer, hosting the game would also have the added benefit of bringing people into a specific city for the weekend to book hotels, eat at restaurants, and buy some merchandise from the game itself.

While it may not have the widespread appeal of a European giant like Juventus with Ronaldo (supposedly) in tow, the match would boast the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Lukas Podolski, David Villa, and Thai superstar Chanathip Songkrasin (more on his appeal later) making the journey and would certainly be enough to fill a good portion of the seats in some of the larger stadiums throughout Korea. Given the timing of the game, locations like Busan and Jeju with their beaches and built in summer appeal are begging for an event that would see Busan's Asiad Stadium and Jeju's World Cup Stadium get some much needed love.

More than the one-off cash grab that is hosting a European team, a K League vs J.League match would also have the added benefit of growing the appeal of ACL. With increased familiarity of the players involved and stoking the flames of an already fierce rivalry, we might see a few more folks in attendance for the Wednesday night ACL matches when the results actually matter.

K League vs Chinese Super League

If the star power on offer in J.League doesn't seem like enough, then the Chinese Super League (CSL) should do the trick. Hulk, Oscar, Paulinho, Javier Mascherano, and Graziano Pellè all suiting up would surely get the more Euro-centric fans here in Korea into the stadium. With multiple ties to the English Premier League, La Liga, and the Argentinian, Brazilian, and Italian national teams between them, their global recognition cannot be denied and would demand a decent price per ticket in return. Additionally, the likely return of familiar faces like Kim Minjae, Marcão, and Kim Shinwook would also bode well in an effort to get more K League fans through the turnstiles.

Similarly to the matchup against J.League All Stars, this could be an annual event that plays on the rivalries between the national teams and in ACL that travels around each country. With the added star power the CSL offers, the biggest stadiums in Korea like Busan's Asiad Stadium and possibly even Jamsil Olympic Stadium and its nearly 70,000 seats could be near capacity for the first time in a very long time.

In China, K League could put its best and brightest on display to a massive audience in an attempt to increase its reach in the region. Entertainment is a fight for eyes on your product and K League could get a decent leg up on other leagues in the region by courting China and its immense fanbase and showing what Korean talent has to offer. If the event were held regularly enough and promoted properly in both countries (admittedly a very big if), then some of the mega-corporations sponsoring CSL sides might be tempted to give some of their funds to Korean teams. While that may be a bit too much of a leap, the next option is much more grounded in reality.

ASEAN Nation Tour

The notion of K League as an exported product takes full effect in focusing on ASEAN nations. As was attempted in 2017 when the K League All Stars played Vietnam's U23 team, this setup would make K League the exported product to be desired as opposed to allowing in European teams that are often apathetic about the Asian game. These matches could be hosted in Korea and would do well as a reward for teams building more intimate football specific stadiums like those in Daegu, Incheon, and Pohang. However, there's a much more beneficial option.

Instead of hosting the event, this version of the All Star Game would see K League exporting itself and making appearances overseas to market and sell itself much in the same way Juventus was attempting to increase its brand in Korea this summer. With the new ASEAN player quota set to take effect next year, K League clubs would be wise to start targeting the region for new viewers and potential sponsorship opportunities. There are few better ways to do that than directly stepping foot in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and especially Vietnam given the connection already present with Park Hangseo in charge of the national team.

By putting their best players on display throughout the region, K League would make itself a valuable and entertaining league to be desired instead of simply bowing down to already massively popular and wildly successful European giants. As Team K League proved Friday night, they can go toe-to-toe with some of the world's best, and instead of simply playing host for a team that doesn't care about the development of Asian football, the league could put itself in a position to help grow the game in the continent they call home.

If All Star Games throughout SouthEast Asia were a regular occurrence, then K League clubs might take the ASEAN player quota more seriously knowing the appeal their club, it's merchandise, and sponsorship rights would have with fans they would be able to greet in person. Like many other things happening at Incheon this season, the Nguyễn Công Phượng experiment didn't work out as expected, but had the club handled things better and had him involved in an All Star weekend in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, then they'd be guaranteed some kit sales, potential TV/streaming deals, and inroads within the Vietnamese football community. And that's just Vietnam.

There are massively passionate supporters throughout the ASEAN nations that K League can and should be doing everything in its power to court for viewers, sponsorship, and growing its own fanbase. By keeping the focus in Asia, this version of the All Star Game would suggest football on this continent is not some inferior product to its European counterparts, but indeed something unique and compelling that should be celebrated.

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