BTS fandom worth billions to South Korean economy

By Wooyoung Lee
South Korean boy band BTS arrives for the 2018 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas last year. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 5 | South Korean boy band BTS arrives for the 2018 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas last year. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Fans of the seven-member boy band BTS are driving a global surge in the popularity of the "Korean Wave" and adding $3.5 billion a year to the South Korean economy, according to new research.

Besides concert, album and music-streaming sales, the K-pop band is credited with merchandise exports and a spike in foreign tourists visiting South Korea.


The band's economic impact is 26 times the average annual revenue of a midsize company in South Korea, according to a recent study by the Seoul-based Hyundai Research Institute, which analyzed the K-pop band's soaring popularity around the world.

Last year, BTS made history as the first Korean group to top the Billboard 200 albums chart and the fastest artist to reach 10 million views for a music video on YouTube. Its concerts in 12 cities in Asia, the United States and Europe sold out as soon as tickets went on sale. Tickets from brokers were priced at up to $6,194 for a show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and up to $7,277 for the New York concert, the Maeil Business Newspaper reported.


For 2019, BTS has sold out 11 concerts in Japan and Southeast Asia, scheduled until April.

The band's first "Love Yourself" concert to kick off its world tour in August in Seoul grossed around $8 million in ticket sales from an audience of about 90,000, according to Big Hit Entertainment, which manages the band.

Big Hit, which is small compared to South Korea's leading S.M. Entertainment, grossed about $82 million in 2017, an eight-fold increase from the $10 million it earned in 2015. It beat entertainment giants, including YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment in earnings and the speed of growth in 2017.

The 2018 World Hallyu Report, released Thursday by the Korea Foundation, said BTS's unprecedented global success has raised the profile of South Korea popular culture abroad -- the so-called "Korean Wave."

And the band's economic impact back home goes far beyond ticket sales, driving exports of consumer goods, a mainstay of the South Korean economy.

Since the band's debut in 2013, BTS has been credited with annual exports of clothing, cosmetics and food products. Exports of BTS-related products make up 1.7 percent of the total South Korean consumer goods exports, worth $65.2 billion in 2017.

"Foreign demands drive export for products that are exposed via BTS commercials and on social media," the Hyundai Research Institute report said.


Sales of BTS albums, online music streaming and BTS-themed products make up 50 percent of Big Hit Entertainment's revenue.

The Hyundai analysis projects that if BTS's popularity remains steady, it would generate an economic value of $37 billion from 2014 to 2023.

The study also found that BTS attracted 796,000 foreign tourists annually, 7.6 percent of a total number of foreign tourists to South Korea in 2017.

The Korea Tourism Organization, a state-run tourism promotional agency, saw a 39 percent increase in the number of Japanese tourists in August over the same month in 2017.

"We saw a great number of Japanese tourists arriving right before the BTS concert in Seoul in August and strongly assumed that the sudden increase had to do with BTS," said Park Young-hee, deputy director of the public relations division at the KTO.

The number of K-pop fan clubs around the world jump by 22 percent to 89.1 million in 2018, the Korea Foundation report said.

"Behind the impressive records by BTS is the transnational fandom displayed by its fan club ARMY," the report said. "ARMY emerged as a global power that transcends boundaries and ethnicities in the name of BTS."

The ARMY, made up mostly of teenage girls and women in their 20s, has proven its collective power to put BTS at the center of international attention. It recently engaged in achieving 600 million views for the "DNA" music video on YouTube as its first New Year's resolution.


As soon as they hit that number, the fans refreshed their goal to reach 1 billion views.

Celebrating hitting the mark, a fan wrote on YouTube: "I haven't put this much of effort even for my finals."

"But it's worth it for our boys," another fan replied.

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