Buriram positions itself as Thailand’s sports capital
Like hundreds of others cities in Thailand, Buriram is of middle size, has its fair share of temples, as well as a market and a few nice restaurants to enjoy Isaan specialties. For history buffs there is a small information centre at the campus of Buriram Rajabhat University telling all about the history and culture of Lower Northeastern Isaan. Buriram is also not part of the ‘Big 4 of Isaan’, a term given to the industrial powerhouse cities of Korat, Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani, and Udon Thani. But despite its demure disposition, this lively locale has definitely gained more fame than its counterparts thanks to its position as Thailand’s capital city of sports, with the presence of its famous football club—the Buriram United F.C.—as well as the Chang International Circuit motorsport racetrack.
However, the road to this sporting success was not always smooth. Back in 2011, skepticism greeted the decision of former politician and businessman Nevin Chidchob—who had been an owner of the local Buriram football club since 2009—to build a giant stadium and invest massively in the city’s football team, with the aim of turning it into a champion club both in Thailand and across Asia.
In 2011, after a year under construction, the I-Mobile Stadium—known as the Buriram Thunder Castle—opened its doors. The investment reached US$30 million, and created Thailand’s largest stadium, with a capacity of 32,500 persons.
“The stadium has not only transformed Buriram, injecting a new dynamism in its economy, but it also changed the perception of the city in the eyes of most Thai people,” says Mr. Mod Dang, the stadium’s managing director. “This would represent roughly 850,000 visitors a year to the stadium. We receive on average 3,000 visitors per day to the stadium while football events attract some 25,000 spectators on average.
“The more trophies for Amari Buriram United Football Club, the more followers and friends,” adds Mod. “The reputation of the club now stretches far beyond Thailand itself with Cambodia and Laos turning into new markets.”
Capitalizing on sports is turning Buriram into Thailand’s largest sport events destination, and that reputation continues to grow with the 2014 opening of Nevin Chidchob’s newest “baby”, the Chang International Circuit motorsport racetrack. It is the first FIA Grade 1 and FIM Grade A circuit in Thailand for motorcycle races.
“The investment topped US$60 million but it has paid off,” explains Mod. “We’ve already hosted two major events. The Japan Super GT Autobac race attracted over 130,000 viewers over three days, while the Super TT race was followed by 100,000 spectators last January. We want to organize three to four major events per year, and many national competitions too.”
This facility offers to viewers an almost complete vision of the race. It is also designed to promote private events with a function room able to accommodate 7,000 people and private rides for car testing.
“This is not the end of it and we have a lot of new projects coming which is turning the area between the stadium and the circuit into an event and leisure city,” Mod points out. “A mall with a garden has been open since 2016, and we are currently working on the construction of a cinema complex. There is also a “box” hotel, with 80 rooms, being built next to the circuit.”
Due to its exposure nationwide, Buriram is turning into an increasingly attractive destination. Tourism is now booming, fuelled by direct flights from Bangkok by both AirAsia and Nok Air. In 2015, the total number of visitors reached 1.3 million, while revenues hit US$40 million. Not bad for a “little known” city!