Home turf advantage

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What began as a labor of love has become more lucrative than Nguyen Luat Phuoc could have ever imagined.

Phuoc was a professional soccer player in the central highlands province of Lam Dong in the 1980s. After he retired in 1987, he always hoped he could do more to help young soccer fans play the game they love.

Three months ago he opened his first two artificial turf playing fields for rent right in the middle of Da Lat. Now the fields are fully booked from morning until 9 p.m. every day.

"Da Lat has six months of monsoon rains and six dry months, so it will take me around three years to recoup the investment," said Phuoc. "In the delta it would have taken only two years."

"More people are now playing soccer thanks to the fields in town," he added, noting that his love of the game had prompted him to build four more fields as demand continues to rise.

While professional players prefer expensive grass fields, amateurs find synthetic fields good enough to practice and play the world's favorite sport.

Dang Quang Sang, who owns two turf fields in Ho Chi Minh City's suburban district of Cu Chi, said he set rental prices low, starting at only VND100,000 (US$5.25) per hour, so that Vietnam's soccer-crazed youths can afford to play.

Still, the rates can secure a monthly profit of VND20 million, he said.

Artificial turf fields are booming and many investors want to tap the huge demand, said Truong Dinh Long, director of construction firm Thanh Tinh.

"Before 2008 installing an 800- square-meter field cost around VND1 billion," he said. "But with many construction firms entering the market, the cost has fallen to only VND400-500 million, depending on turf quality and facilities like canteens, parking lots and locker rooms."

Cheaper investment outlays and stable incomes have encouraged construction of new fields and the trend has become more than noticeable in the last twelve months. Last year alone around 400 turf fields opened in HCMC, bringing the total number of soccer surfaces in the city to 500.

Two weeks ago construction started on 15 soccer fields in the city's Binh Thanh District and they have already been sold to investors even though they won't be completed until July.

According to Thanh Phat Company, which operates several synthetic fields in Ho Chi Minh City, two years ago customers had to book a field two weeks in advance, but with more fields available they no longer have to wait.

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