Since Korea seized the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics by winning all nine of its games, professional baseball has been enjoying a renaissance here and this season looks to be no exception.
On Tuesday, the total number of spectators during the regular season surpassed the 6-million mark for the first time in the 30-year history of the Korea Baseball League. According to the Korea Baseball Organization, 5,996,278 people had visited baseball stadiums as of Sunday, exceeding the previous record of 5,928,626 set last year.
Four stadiums -- Jamsil in Seoul, Incheon, Daegu and Daejeon -- were packed with people queuing for tickets on Tuesday. In Daegu, where current league leader Samsung was due to face second-placed Lotte, all tickets for the game were sold out by the early afternoon.
Baseball is the first of the four major sports to hit this attendance level in Korea, edging ahead of football, basketball and volleyball. The K-league drew a maximum of 2.945 million football fans in a single season in 2008, less than half the level of interest baseball has seen this season.
Professional baseball looks to have recovered from the crisis it experienced in the early 2000s, when audience figures dropped as low as 2.3 million. This coincided with an upswing in the fortunes of Korean football, buoyed by the remarkable performance of the national team at the 2002 World Cup, where Korea finished in fourth place.
The turning point came at the Beijing Games. Many women who did not even know the basics of the game were captivated by the sport, and people began to believe that Korean players had become world beaters. Since then, the domestic league has attracted over 5 million spectators for four consecutive seasons.
The KBO expects the total number of spectators to swell to almost 7 million this year, well above the original goal of 6.6 million.
"At this rate, we believe the number will reach 6.9 million by the end of this season. If we include the playoffs and the Korean Series, it may go over 7 million," said an official from the league.