I have always been a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, so talking about who lost the most from COVID-19 brought no joy. Trying to remain optimistic about the stoppage of society as a whole, we will judge who or what came out of this pandemic stronger.
The jawn that prospered the most due to this pandemic is undoubtedly the Korean Baseball Organization (or KBO).
South Korea has a surprisingly long history of baseball. It was originally brought to the country in the 19th century by American missionaries and found its roots during Japanese rule. Up until the start of WWII, Major League sporadically sent teams in an effort to barnstorm in the country when it was a part of Japan. Babe Ruth actually led a team of MLB All-Stars in Japan, where Korean nationals played for the Japanese team.
Baseball picked up even more traction after the Korean War when Western ideals clashed with Eastern ideals. After the fighting stopped, a culture grew from the ashes left behind and baseball spawned a community in yet another Asiatic country.
It wasn’t until the 1980s however, when the first professional baseball league was launched in South Korea. Six teams were a part of the inaugural league, but it has grown to the ten teams today. In its entire history, the KBO has never reached a global audience until the circumstances brought on by this pandemic.
To fill slots on-air, ESPN picked up the televised rights to the KBO in America. On Opening Day, the broadcast drew in an audience of 173,000, gaining immeasurable exposure to a starving fan base.
The talent level is good, but not great. Some starting pitchers can barely break 90mph on their fastball. The batters don’t have much pop either, as the league actually had to “de-juice” the baseballs in order to give up less home runs.
The league specializes in the video-bites in America through it’s infamous bat flips, and viral presentation of the game (even without fans).
Despite the fact that the KBO will be a distant memory in a few months, the sudden rise in popularity will allow the league to grow. The exposure domestically in Korea will promote the culture within, because legitimizing the sport (remotely) from the Western Hemisphere can bring in funding and further talent to the sport.
Both the league and country has the chance to rival those in other established baseball hotspots, like Japan, Cuba, and the rest of Latin America. As a result of this interest, Korea will soon contend with the rest for a premier avenue for MLB-ready talent.