K League struggles to attract fans

K League struggles to attract fans
The Jeonnam Dragons take on Kawasaki Frontale at Gwangyang Football Stadium.

SEOUL - Olympic Stadium is a massive concrete bowl here on the south bank of the Han River. It is the stadium where Canada's Ben Johnson in 1988 astonished the world by winning the Olympic 100-meter finals in a world record 9.79 seconds, only to later test positive for an anabolic steroid.

Considerably less dramatically, the stadium on March 29 became the home of Seoul E-Land, a new second division club in South Korea's K League, at 32, Asia's oldest professional football circuit. One early spring afternoon, 4,300 fans occupied temporary seats erected next to the pitch -- and in front of 60,000 empty permanent seats.

Since it was E-Land's first K League game, the fans did not know what to chant. But the team managed a 1-1 draw with Anyang. It was a hesitant performance on and off the pitch -- the stadium announcer struggled to get the fans to sing along even after Kim Jae-sung scored the historic goal -- but there is plenty of time for that to change.

The K League's newest club is owned by E-Land, a conglomerate that started in fashion before expanding into other industries. The company paid around $490,000 to enter the second division, then a $45,000 annual membership fee. Should the team be promoted to the top division, the conglomerate would have to pony up an additional entry fee of the same amount as well as a trebled yearly membership fee.

Understandably, promotion is not a top priority for E-Land. At the moment, the club needs fans and results. "We're doing the media side very well," said Scottish Coach Martin Rennie, a veteran manager of North American football teams, including the Vancouver Whitecaps. "We're getting out in the community, doing fan forums, having fans involved in the culture we're building, making them founding members. And it's unique to be a part of it."

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