PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) –Three years ago, the 6,000 square meters of land opposite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a makeshift dumpsite that a few people cut across each day on their way to a nearby BBQ restaurant. But where others saw dirt and garbage, Kheang Puthi and a group of longtime friends saw opportunity. Together they pooled $320,000, investing the funds to build a sports complex dedicated to Cambodia’s growing passion for futsal, a version of soccer played on a smaller pitch with five players a side instead of 11.
Opened in October 2012, KB-All Sport Club comprises six futsal pitches with 4,500 square meters of artificial turf. The sporting complex is open from 6 am to 11 pm daily, drawing more than 500 futsal players a day, each paying $1.20 to $2 per hour according to the time slot.
For Mr. Puthi, the decision to develop a futsal complex was not just about his passion for the sport (he is an avid player himself and a diehard fan of English Premier League football) but based on the project’s financial viability. The businessman said he leases the land for $6,000 per month, but apart from the rent and electricity for the overhead lights – so people can play at night – there is almost no overhead.
“It’s a good business to make money and easy to manage,” Mr. Puthi said. “The field can be used for eight years, requiring only maintenance service every six months. I expect to have a full return on investment within three years [of the opening.]”
Futsal has grown immensely in popularity since it was first introduced to Cambodia in 1998, in part because the sport uses smaller pitches and less players than regulation soccer. This makes it ideally suited for casual play, and business owners can squeeze up to 16 artificial-turf futsal pitches into the footprint of a standard soccer field – and without the need for a groundskeeper.
At last count, there were some 20 sporting complexes in Phnom Penh operating several futsal pitches each. Hundreds more futsal pitches are spread across the capital, some belonging to schools and government buildings, and others privately owned or tucked away in back alleys.
Given the cost of urban real estate, the decision to develop land into futsal pitches – instead of commercial buildings or high-rise condominiums – might seem surprising. But entrepreneurs insist there is money to be made in the sport, and the pitches can be built quickly and cheaply, with good return on investment.
Ming Hour Futsal on Street 350 in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Svay Prey district opened in March on land formerly occupied by a university campus. Owner Chhour Chhun Hour said he surveyed the local market before investing in a futsal field, and was satisfied the city had room for many more.
For $150,000, Mr. Hour took over the lease on the 1,600 square-meter property, demolished the existing buildings and constructed a restaurant and three covered futsal pitches in their place.
The complex draws futsal players for practices, league matches and pickup games. It costs groups $10 per hour to rent a pitch during off-peak hours, with the rate doubling during evening peak hours when electricity is needed to power a bank of halogen lights.
Mr. Hour said the three pitches average a total of 32 hours of bookings per day, bringing in nearly $15,000 per month. “After calculating the expenses on water and electricity bills, staff salaries and the cost of renting the land, I can earn a net profit of $4,000 to $5,000 per month,” he explains.
“The futsal pitches attract hundreds people to play each day and create an opportunity to make money by running a restaurant,” he added. “I get advance bookings for almost every evening and throughout holiday periods.”
Room for Growth
Last weekend, 31-year-old Chan Borat was among a group of young men in mismatched jerseys kicking a ball back and forth on the artificial turf at KB-All Sport Club. Mr. Borat, who works in a bank, said he and his colleagues meet every weekend at the club for a two-hour futsal match.
“Our match is just a friendly game to build good relationships among colleagues,” he said. “The total expense [for renting the pitch] is a bit high, but as we play in a group and share, each of us spends just 6,000 riels ($1.5) per match.”
Mr. Puthi, the sporting club’s owner, remains convinced that despite the number of futsal pitches popping up around the capital, there is still room for new investment.
“I still see the demand in the service even if there are already a number of operators in the market,” he said, adding that he is looking for a new location in order to expand. “Once we have a good place and can build good environment for the game, many people will support and come to play with us.”