K League 1

Players in Korea Republic seek to negotiate win bonuses


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K League 1
  • Korean Professional Footballers Association asked K League to abolish cap on win bonuses

  • Players would like to negotiate premiums with their clubs

  • Win bonus cap was introduced during Covid-19 pandemic

Professional footballers in Korea Republic, through the Korean Professional Footballers Association (KPFA), have requested the K League’s board of directors to abolish a cap on win bonuses for teams in K League 1 and K League 2.  

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic with teams struggling financially, the K League unilaterally imposed the cap to reduce costs for teams in December 2020. The cap is still in place, although the necessity for having it seems to have disappeared.   

"While we empathise with the intentions behind the implementation of the cap due to the consequences of Covid-19, we believe it is now necessary to reconsider,” said KPFA Secretary General Hoonki Kim. “We think that clubs and players should be allowed to negotiate these bonuses autonomously, while taking the financial possibilities of their respective club into account."

Suwon Blue Wings
Players of Suwon Samsung Bluewings

The union recently conducted a survey among 520 players from both leagues and 100 percent of players agreed that the cap should be abolished.

Currently, the cap on win bonuses in K League 1 and K League 2 is set at KRW 1,000,000 (approximately USD 750) and KRW 500,000 (USD 375) respectively for players and coaching staff. Remarkably enough, players in K League 3 and K League 4 can autonomously negotiate their win bonuses with their club.

At the same time, the K League also sanctions players and staff in K League 1 and K League 2 with fines for being suspended when receiving either too many yellow cards or a red card. The minimum fine is KRW 700,000 (USD 525) and the maximum fine is KRW 1,500,000 (USD 1,125). It should be noted that clubs could also sanction players for the same offence, while the K League’s disciplinary committee could also sanction players for improper conduct.

One of the consequences of the cap is that players on low wages are having difficulties to get by or take care of their family. Although the minimum wage advocated by the KPFA increased to KRW 27,000,000 (approximately USD 20,000) last year, it is still grossly inadequate considering the current cost of living in Korea, according to the union.

Therefore, these bonuses are extremely important for players on low wages, as they can considerably increase their income when they receive a higher bonus and win. However, due to the current cap, the players can only marginally increase their income with win bonuses, while fines could have a serious negative impact.

Sueng Woo Lee
Seung-woo Lee of Suwon FC

Korean international Seung-woo Lee explained the players’ position: “For low-wage players and staff, win bonuses serve as important rewards. In my opinion, it would be more appropriate for clubs and players to freely negotiate win bonus terms rather than imposing a mandatory cap.”

Lee, now at Suwon after spending five years in Europe playing for Barcelona B, Hellas Verona, Sint-Truiden and Portimonense, continued: “I don’t know any other country where win bonuses are imposed unilaterally and uniformly by the league.

"We have had extensive discussions on this issue within the KPFA. For players, salaries and bonuses are crucial not only for financial motivation but also for morale. As the win bonus cap can be seen as a sensitive issue, I urge for careful consideration. I hope this matter can be brought into public to uphold the rights of players."