Until the 2009 season, Nakhon Ratchasima F.C had a loyal but small supporter base. Most games at the club's former Central Stadium home attracted 300-400 fans. Out of this number, about 20-30 made up the colourful singing section. Such low numbers for a club that played in a city of nearly half a million people! On top of that, the stadium was in a convenient city centre location and admission was free. On the occasions when Korat fans travelled to away games, they would usually number less than ten but as often as not, the Korat team would travel to away games without any of their own supporters. The photo shows a sparsely populated 'Open Side' at Korat's Central Stadium during a league match with Samut Prakan in April 2008.
In May 2009 Korat attracted just 258 to a home match with Roiet. This was largely because of a late kick-off time change but this low point proved to be the base from which Korat's attendance boom would rocket. The directors and president of Nakhon Rathcasima F.C embarked on a concerted and high profile publicity campaign in an effort to tap into the huge local population. Huge billboard posters were erected around the city, promotional cars with loud-speakers attached were driven around the city promoting up-coming matches and there were promotional stalls at prominent locations such as The Mall and Klang Plaza department store. These stalls gave away free tickets and sold merchandise. The effect of this campaign was immediate. Over 1,000 turned up for the next two home matches against Mukdahan and Surin. Attendances continued to go up and there were added attractions on matchdays - usually in the form of 'undercard' matches before the 'main event'. For example, before the Buriram home game in July 2009, a Korat XI played the touring Chonburi FC side who were on a mid-season break. The 4,000 mark was broken for the top of the table clash with Loei and over 3,000 turned up for the mid-week cup game against Pattaya. Another crowd in excess of 4,000 were in attendance for Korat's final home match of the season against Nakhon Phanom. From 258 to 4,000+ in a few months. Who knows how big Korat could become? I for one believe that Korat could fill the SEA Games Stadium if they were fighting for honours at the top of the TPL. With luck one day we may well find out! The photo show some of the 4,000+ crowd at the final-day Nakhon Phanom game.
Hopes were high at the start of the 2010 season that Nakhon Ratchasima F.C could build on the attendance gains they had made in 2009. Crowds topped 4,000 in 2009, and in January 2010 the club extensively promoted the upcoming season at the King's Cup. But the 2010 standard was set from the first game when approximaely 1,500 turned up for the opening match against Yasothon. As Korat lagged behind the front two so attendances lagged behind the 2009 highs. The highest attendance of the season came as Korat got as close as they were going to get to the top two. Around 2,100 were present to see them beat Sakon Nakhon 2-0 and move to within two points of second-placed Loei. Despite the fall in home attendances, Korat's away support grew in numbers in 2010. It's a curious one but can probably be explained thus: Even though crowds fell in 2010, the hardcore support is bigger than in 2009. Those fans that attended for the first time in 2009 - and stuck around in 2010 - have become keen fans and therefore more likely to attend away games than when they were 'newbies' in 2009. There was over 100 at Loei and Udon Thani. Over 200 at Buriram and around 250 at Chaiyaphum. Korat took rather less than 100 to every away game in the league in 2009. So what's in store for 2011? Clearly, it all depends on league position. Get in the top two and qualify for the play-offs and the club can expect to see the record of around 4,500 smashed. But have another disappointing season and gates will be heading back towards three figures. Photo: About 1,500 turned up for the last game of the season against Loei. Three thousand more turned up for the same fixture in 2009.
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