Foxes hunt Thai talent

18 กันยายน 2557, 23:00 น.

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There are many ways for millionaires to build their wealth. Some may start a new business from scratch, while some may do a merger and acquisition. Thailand's duty free tycoon Wichai Srivaddhanaprapha chose the latter.

Eye on the ball: Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, the fourth son of King Power owner Wichai, is determined to build a strong fan base for Leicester City in Thailand.

However, he did not invest in a hotel or a consumer product brand as most Thai businessmen conventionally do. He chose to follow his childhood passion by acquiring an English football team, Leicester City.

After four years of having Leicester City under his group, the club successfully clinched promotion to the Premier League after a 10-year absence, making Mr Wichai the only Thai to own a top English club.

Leicester City's elevation to lining up against Manchester United and Liverpool this season has sparked great interest in Thailand. Fans in Thailand have increased from hundreds to several thousand. Souvenir shops have opened at Suvarnabhumi airport, King Power duty free shops in Bangkok's Soi Rangnam and Pattaya, and at Siam skytrain station, with sales reaching break-even point last year.

In Thailand, few people treat football as seriously as Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Mr Wichai's fourth son, who believes the sport can be a lucrative investment, with revenue from player transfers exceeding hundreds of million pounds. For example, Southampton sold several players for a total of 95 million pounds (5 billion baht) this summer.

With the growing fever for the Foxes, King Power will try to extend the Leicester fan base upcountry by launching a campaign called "Let's Hunt Like A Fox", opening an opportunity for Thai youths to train at the club's academy in England for 30 months while attending high school. This approach has never taken place in Thailand before.

The scheme will launch next month for children aged up to 16. About 16 youngsters will be selected to train at the academy. King Power expects to spend about 200 million baht on the project.

Mr Aiyawatt also plans to spend 500-600 million baht over the next 1-2 years to set up a Leicester City academy in Thailand on a 40-50 rai plot near Suvarnabhumi airport. Facilities will include a football pitch, dormitory for youngsters and a hotel for coaches and foreign players. The aim is to find more young starlets for Leicester City.

"Leicester City's academy in Thailand will be a professional training academy hub in Asia," he said.

The academy will train youngsters aged 8-21, both Thai and foreign, and is expected to produce 200 professional players under its pilot project.

By doing so, it will attract more people to visit Thailand, including the parents of young players.

In addition to the academy and souvenir shops, King Power is negotiating with hypermarkets to open Leicester City shops or sell club merchandise.

Mr Wichai bought Leicester City with a total investment of 100 million pounds.

Now, people around the world know that the Midlands club is owned by Thai people, just as giants Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are under foreign ownership.

With the massive global interest in the English Premier League, Leicester City's matches are seen by about one billion people around the world.

When the club held a celebration of its promotion from the Championship, about 200,000 people came to cheer the team.

"If we spent 100 million pounds to buy a hotel in England instead of buying Leicester City, it would take about 15-20 years to make profit. If we bought up to 50 hotels there, I don't think our recognition would be at the same level as we have received from investing in one football club," Mr Aiyawatt said.