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High costs ‘a new reality’ with new National Stadium

SINGAPORE — The new National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub is still a national icon, but it is a different beast from its predecessor and Singaporeans have to accept that high costs are part and parcel of the game when it comes to staging sporting events there, said members of the local sports fraternity.

High costs ‘a new reality’ with new National Stadium

The Singapore National Stadium stands at the Singapore Sports Hub. Bloomberg file photo

SINGAPORE — The new National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub is still a national icon, but it is a different beast from its predecessor and Singaporeans have to accept that high costs are part and parcel of the game when it comes to staging sporting events there, said members of the local sports fraternity.

They were responding to news that plans to hold the Merlion Cup football quadrangular and the Asia Masters Athletics Championships at the 55,000-seater facility have been scrapped because of high costs.

For the Merlion Cup, the breakdown in discussions with media rights company MP & Silva was over a force majeure clause in the contract.

For Singapore Athletics, a S$600,000 bill for the stadium’s conversion from football to athletics mode, and other variable costs, have led the association to search for another venue for the Asia Masters.

Apart from the no-go for the two events, TODAY had also reported on Dec 11 that the Ministry of Defence and Sports Hub are still negotiating the cost of hiring the National Stadium for next year’s National Day Parade.

The string of developments has raised questions, such as whether Sports Hub is proving to be too expensive for Singapore’s national sports associations and public agencies, and whether its public-private-partnership (PPP) model is sustainable in the long run.

“That it’s the only facility that can hold that many people for a sporting event makes it a national stadium. But the business model behind the facility — you can question if it is ‘national’,” said Mr R Sasikumar, managing director of sports marketing company Red Card, which organised this year’s Lion City Cup at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Singapore Rugby Union vice-president Jonathan Leow is sympathetic towards the Sports Hub, noting that it has to run the stadium in a professional way, and “you have to pay the price for it”.

“Gone are the days when it was just a concrete venue. Modern stadiums are completely different and very difficult to maintain. It could fall flat if you don’t have a company running the stadium,” he said.

Veteran sports administrator Annabel Pennefather agreed that it was necessary for a commercial entity to operate the Sports Hub to ensure the facility does not become a white elephant. However, she added: “The issue is trying to find a balance … This is what they were trying to do through the PPP, to bring in the commercial aspect.”

The sports business scene here has also changed, Ms Pennefather noted. During the days of the old National Stadium, “sports was still solely sports”.

“It’s not like now, when sports and business are entwined, and where costs have spiralled as well all over the world in order to stage any event,” she said.

Mr Sasikumar said there is a need for the authorities to “clearly identify the objectives of the National Stadium”.

“Is it to bring in more content? Is there a national agenda? Or is it purely about the bottom line?” said the former Singapore defender.

Mr Leow said national sports associations must now ensure that their events — such as the Singapore Sevens in April — are commercially viable, and work with the Sports Hub to ensure they are a success.

Singapore Athletics general manager Damon Yong added: “Unless there is a shift in mindset or changes, we will be mindful of planning events at the National Stadium. Currently, the only viable event (seems to be) concerts, and that is a bit of an irony.”

Ms Pennefather is hoping the Government will help to cover the costs of organising events at the stadium. “Maybe (they can) set up some kind of funding pool for NSAs to tap to run events there,” she said.

“The challenge is sitting down to see how this (PPP) formula (can work) — it needs all the people, the top-end investors to see what can be done.” LOW LIN FHOONG WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NOAH TAN

HOW THE PPP MODEL WORKS:

The Singapore Sports Hub won the contract from the Government in 2007 to finance, build and operate the Hub over a 25-year period. Under the PPP, the company would bear the cost of the facility upfront and receive annual payments from the Government over the duration of the lease.

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