Rajadamnern Stadium, Thailand’s first standard Muay Thai arena, was opened in 1945,
the year before the Bangkok Post was established
Over the past 70+ years, the stadium has overcome several obstacles and been constantly adapting to change.
“Over the past two years alone, the number of spectators coming to the stadium has fallen 40 percent.”
“We’ve suffered falling spectator numbers over the years,” said Jit Cheosakul, executive manager of Rajadamnern Stadium Co which runs the venue.
The company was established in the 1950s by Jit’s father, Chalermpong, who managed the stadium for many years.
The land on which the venue was created is owned by the Crown Property Bureau.
Prai Panyalakshana, Rajadamnern chairman of executive directors, added: “We used to attract 4,000-5,000 people for every programme. Now, we’re lucky if we get even 2,000 people at the stadium.”
Prai and Jit both agreed that among the major factors behind the falling attendances at the stadium is the fact that the muay Thai boxing business has become more competitive. Today, there are lots of live boxing programmes on TV and streamed through social media channels, so why make an extra effort to go out and watch them?
“People’s lifestyles have changed. Now you can watch live boxing anywhere and don’t have to make the trek to the stadium,” said Jit, a graduate of San Francisco USA’s Academy of Art University.
There are two major boxing stadiums in Bangkok, the other being Lumpinee. But there are lots of Muay Thai programmes on TV and most fans prefer to stay home or watch the bouts in a bar instead of going to the stadium, says Prai, who has worked at the stadium for 16 years.
Prai, 64, notes that concerned parties have tried to maintain Rajadamnern’s popularity by organising only quality bouts involving top fighters.
“Our promoters focus on the quality and standard of the fighters. It is not that every boxer can fight at our stadium. They must be famous and have a good record in the ring. Our programmes are of high standard and that is why we are still the No.1 [boxing] stadium.”
Prai says he now plans to consolidate Rajadamnern Stadium’s status as a centre for Muay Thai and a tourist attraction.
“We are developing the surrounding buildings to become shophouses that will sell stuff to the fans and we plan to build a parking lot for coaches and buses to accommodate tourists,’’ Prai said.
“This will not only promote Muay Thai but help stimulate national tourism and the country’s economy.”
Jit, 38, said the company spent millions of baht to renovate the stadium last year.
Besides trying to woo a new generation to the stadium, Jit is aiming to bring more foreigners to the venue.
“We now have an English-language website and westerners and Chinese are our major sources of income.”
Jit also pushes for Rajadamnern programmes to be shown live on TV as much as possible. He recently signed a deal with Channel 3 which will broadcast a weekly live programme from the stadium. But he still wants people to come to the stadium.
“We want people to see for themselves that watching a Muay Thai bout at the stadium is much more exciting than watching it on a screen,’’ he says.
Jit has also established the RSM Muay Thai Academy for young people and the general public to train and do Muay Thai for exercise.
“I want a new generation to see Muay Thai as not only a sport but a great way to exercise: it isn’t all about violence at all.”
“The boxing stadium business doesn’t make much money but it’s part of our national heritage. It’s something I want to preserve for the coming generations and for as long as possible.”