Sports Culture in Korea
Korea’s Favorite Sports
While the United States of America prefers American-style football, Europe and Australia have a penchant for rugby and cricket reigns in India and Pakistan. Nevertheless, the majority of the world, including Korea, will forever consider football, also known as soccer in parts of North America, as the world’s favorite game. From the FIFA World Cup to the Olympics or even local Asian Cups, football games are where you typically find many in attendance as well as many viewers from home. Korea has had a long history with football that reaches back all the way to the Silla Kingdom where 축국 (chuk-guk), a game similar to modern-day football, was played. This allowed football to be picked up and maintained, eventually leading to its incorporation into the nation’s physical education curriculum throughout schools, as well as the formation of the Korea Football Association. Today, Korea has three leagues composed of the K League, National League, and K3 League.
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Almost as big as football in Korea is baseball, which is centered around the KBO League. Introduced by the West around the 1900s, baseball didn’t become an officially established sport until the 1980s. Unlike other countries that may have a sports team per state or region, many of the professional teams in Korea are owned by 재벌 (chaebol) or large conglomerates such as Samsung, LG, KIA, Lotte, and many more, with only certain areas having a couple of home teams of their own. Especially during the spring and summer, stadiums are packed with fans, averaging about 11,000 spectators per game!
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Anyone attending a K-Pop concert for the first time may well be startled by the synchronization and power of fanchants. Many were surprised by this very element at the BBMAs. Despite the BBMAs trying to tone down the fanchants and crowd cheering for BTS, many broadcasting stations had trouble filtering out all the sound. Koreans have their own chants for just about anything, including sports. At any football game, forget the cheerleaders and join in with the team chants. Big names like Park Jisung, a former Manchester United player, are some you will have to know, as he is considered the nation’s football hero. Despite the competitive nature of the game, Koreans and Korean football fans show their good nature with supportive cheers for all of their nation’s athletes.
Regardless of language, home country, or team, spectators and fans across the globe become one as they cheer on their favorite teams with words of encouragement during football games. With ticket prices ranging from ₩3,000 for children and up to ₩20,000 for adults, football games are a recurrent and fun outing for friends and families. During international games, the crowd can be heard chanting “대한 민국 (Daehan Minguk)” which translates to “the Republic of Korea” (but may also bring to mind the Song triplets Daehan, Minguk, and Manse from The Return of Superman). If you’re a fervent fan and in Seoul, then a visit to the Football Faentasium is due for an out-of-this-world experience. This location sports the latest intellectual technology allowing you to show off your fancy footwork with games and activities. You can also check out the FIFA World Cup jerseys, artwalls, locker rooms, and much more of what is on display.
Similarly, cheering culture takes over in baseball. Within the tradition of each team is an individual cheer or song customized for each player, which works toward strengthening the bond between player and spectator. If any sport is to be compared to a K-Pop concert, then it’s definitely baseball. Many games often start with a famous idol or actor throwing out the opening pitch, such as BTS’s Jungkook or Girls' Generation member Hyoyeon. The stadium fills up with crowds sporting their team’s colors along with cheering sticks, flags, hats, and signs as they take part in the applause.
Should you be visiting Korea during baseball season, it would be a shame if you didn’t experience a game! With tickets as cheap as ₩7,000 and up to ₩60,000 for family table seating, you will be in for an experience of a lifetime. Recently a seating section was made specifically for couples in hopes of attracting more fans, but it doesn’t stop there. They have additional sections where you can grill your own meat, sections with tables to enjoy meals on, and even a gaming section with Playstations and electronics to enjoy for fans who aren’t too excited about the game. Regardless of where you sit, get ready to jump on your feet and cheer along, as there is even an app documenting all the cheers, chants, and moves to support your team. There’s no rules to having a good time supporting your team other than the obvious: cheering when your team is up to bat, refraining from booing in respect of the other team, and just having a good time!
Game Day Munchies
Aside from the game, there is an endless variety of food to enjoy at baseball games. Unlike football (soccer)/baseball games abroad in the United States where food, drinks, and snacks are often sold at inflated prices, Korean games tend to sell a whole range of foods at an affordable rate. Snacks may include worldwide favorites such as seeds, hot dogs, corn dogs, and more things of that nature. However, Korea has created a whole new game day cuisine with a menu that ranges from KFC, Burger King, pizza, and chips to dried squid, kimbap, ttoekbokki, and ramen.
In Korea, you can’t have a baseball game without chicken! 치맥 (chimaek), which stands for “chicken” (fried chicken) and “maekju” (beer), is the crowd favorite—who doesn’t love crispy, flavorful chicken? Spectators young and old tend to reach for this food favorite (with the exception of children going for a milk, cola, or cider, of course!). While you can buy beer at the game and food is reasonably priced, it is also common for people to bring their own meals and beverages! So whether your next sports outing is to support your favorite team or to simply have fun dancing and enjoying good food, Korean sporting events are a win-win for everyone.
Want to check out more on some of our favorite munchies? Check out the Wonderful World of Korean Fried Chicken.