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South Korean football clubs running into financial trouble

K-League match between Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai at Pohang Steelyard on March 3, 2012. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Korean football clubs are facing dangerous financial problems due to the suspension of their season, the Yonhap News Agency has reported.

The 2020 K League 1 season was due to kick off on February 29, but has been postponed indefinitely. According to Yonhap, league and team officials have agreed in principle to shorten the season from 38 to 32 rounds, but they have not yet settled on the new start date.

As well as missing out on revenue linked directly to matches, clubs are also having trouble securing sponsors for the new season. The report cited a marketing staffer at a K League 1 club as saying, “Companies haven’t told us yet that they’ll pay us less than planned, but if we have a shorter season, I think it’s inevitable we’ll get less money from them.”

Supporters are either stopping or trying to cancel their season tickets, and executive boxes have no takers. With the economy hit hard and businesses struggling, corporate potential sponsors now have other priorities.

The dozen teams in the top-flight K League 1, and 10 teams in the second-tier K League 2, are still paying their players. Unless players volunteer, teams can’t legally force them to take less money.

“The player salary is a sensitive matter, and I don’t think any club can take any preemptive action,” one K League 1 club official said. “There has to be some consensus across the entire league first.”

An employee of another K League 1 club said: “These players have been training since the start of the year, and it’s hard to slash their salaries. We haven’t sent them home yet, and so we have to keep paying them.”

Elsewhere there has been mixed news for Korean sport. Citing the ongoing influence of Covid-19, the Professional Billiards Association has cancelled the 2019-20 Shinhan Financial Investment PBA-LPBA Final, which was originally scheduled to be held from February 28 to March 6 in Seoul.

Meanwhile, the Korean Professional Golf Association has decided to postpone the opening tournament of the season indefinitely. The DB Accident Insurance event was scheduled to start on the 23rd of next month at Oak Valley CC in Wonju, Gangwon-do, and run for four days. No decision has been made as to when the tournament will be held again.

There was better news for baseball. With the number of new virus cases in the country staying below 50 for two consecutive days, there is optimism that the KBO League might yet complete its 2020 season. The regular season would have begun on March 28 under normal circumstances. As long as the season begins in the first week of May, league officials said, there will be enough time to salvage the season.