Is the Sports Hub pricing itself out of the game?

Organisers of at least two events, which would have taken place next year, have turned their backs on the stadium, reportedly over the financial demands of the Sports Hub. The high rental cost has also been a point of intense discussion between the S
Organisers of at least two events, which would have taken place next year, have turned their backs on the stadium, reportedly over the financial demands of the Sports Hub.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH, MARK CHEONG

High rental costs said to be the reason for the National Stadium's threadbare 2016 schedule

It was touted as the centrepiece of the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub, a domed architectural wonder that would put the island nation on the global sporting and entertainment map. But more than two years since opening its doors, the National Stadium is struggling to live up to the hype.

A threadbare 2016 schedule at the 55,000-seat stadium is cause for concern to partners and suite owners alike. As it stands now, only three big-name draws have been confirmed for next year - a concert by Taiwanese singer A-Mei, three Super Rugby games featuring new Japanese franchise Sunwolves, and the World Rugby Sevens Series in April. A Madonna concert is also being discussed but it has not been confirmed.

At least two events have turned their backs on the stadium, with both the Merlion Cup, a football tournament organised by MP & Silva, and the Asia Masters Athletics Championships, backed by Singapore Athletics, pulling out of negotiations this year. In a media statement, MP & Silva said that it had "explored and exhausted all options to hold the event at the National Stadium".

"We have therefore started exploring other venue options and have been in contact with foreign teams and partners to confirm the event details," it added.

The tournament was set for next month and was slated to feature J-League outfit Yokohama Marinos, Chinese Super League's Shanghai Shenhua and the national teams of Myanmar and Singapore.

CHEAPER ELSEWHERE

Our National Stadium is going to be a white elephant if costs remain as they are.

SINGAPORE CRICKET ASSOCIATION CEO SAAD KHAN JANJUA

The Sunday Times understands that negotiations stalled over a few issues, one of which was the Sports Hub's insistence on a seven-figure payment upfront for the first two editions of the event.

The Asia Masters Athletics Championships was also supposed to be held at the stadium in May, but is now looking at Bishan Stadium. Singapore Athletics were believed to have been quoted a $620,000 fee for four days' rental, double the event's entire budget.

Similarly, plans to bring in top international cricket sides and Indian Premier League (IPL) clubs have been shelved as organisers were put off by the high cost - such as a figure of more than $300,000 just to convert the venue into a cricket oval setting.

Said Singapore Cricket Association CEO Saad Khan Janjua: "Top teams want to come to Singapore to play, but promoters are finding it much easier and cheaper to stage cricket matches in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Our National Stadium is going to be a white elephant if costs remain as they are."

The high rental cost has also been a point of intense discussion between the Sports Hub and organisers of next year's National Day Parade (NDP). The Straits Times reported that NDP organisers were initially told to pay $26 million for leasing the venue for an extra 35 days for rehearsals. That amount, however, is said to have been negotiated down to about $10 million.

Responding to queries by The Sunday Times about the perceived high fees to lease the stadium, the Sports Hub said that "all negotiations held with our partners have been conducted in the spirit of transparency and integrity".

"Sports Hub was designed as a unique, multi-purpose world-class venue to maximise the potential of the limited space available in Singapore. The reality is that there are commercial costs and third-party costs associated with the use of Sports Hub, but these costs are made clear to our partners from the onset," said a spokesman.

The lack of premium content at the National Stadium has prompted at least two suite owners to seek legal action.

Depending on the size, the facility's 61 executive suites are rented out to corporations and individuals for between $70,000 and $180,000 annually. Suite owners are entitled to tickets to all sports events at the National Stadium and to two non-sports events at the same venue per year. The Sunday Times understands that one firm has sought mediation, while another has refused to pay its membership fee, claiming the Sports Hub has not delivered on its promise to stage at least 15 public-ticketed events a year at the venue. The matter is now before lawyers.

The Sports Hub said that it is hoping to welcome a European football team in May and added that it will continue to build its event calendar "to offer affordable and innovative sporting, entertainment and community events, as well as high-calibre world-class events".

But prospective partners are being turned off, especially as fees at regional alternatives are lower. For example, the 85,000-capacity Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur is said to top out at RM100,000 (S$33,000) per day.

Said Mr Julian Kam, chief executive of ProEvents, which has organised Asian tours for football giants such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea: "The Sports Hub is quite simply overpriced right now - even 20 to 30 per cent more than some of Europe's top stadiums.

"As it is, it's not cheap to bring in top European clubs as you have to cover their flights, accommodation and pay them a match fee. Fans are more discerning now so promoters can't just cover their expenses by raising ticket prices - you're left with many empty seats."

This is not the first time the Sports Hub, built under a public-private partnership scheme with the Government, is under the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

It initially had a much-publicised field problem, with its $800,000 Desso GrassMaster pitch unable to grow properly because of the stadium's domed design.

It was solved only after the Sports Hub invested more than $2 million in growth lights and a "lay and play" surface with warm weather grass.


Notable events at the National Stadium since its reopening

2014

June: First-of-its-kind World Club 10s rugby tournament (above) kicks off

August: Serie A champions Juventus, led by Italian football maestro Andrea Pirlo, thump a Singapore Selection 5-0

October: Barcelona star Neymar (above) hits all four in Brazil's 4-0 friendly win over Japan, watched by a crowd of 51,577

November: Singapore crash out in the group stage of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup

December: Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou (above) shines in a rain-hit concert

2015

March: British boyband One Direction (above) electrifies a sell-out crowd

June: Main venue for the multi-sport SEA Games (above), held here for the first time since 1993

July: English football giant Arsenal win four-team Barclays Asia Trophy

November: Legends of Liverpool and Manchester United face off in the Battle of the Reds (above)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'Is the Sports Hub pricing itself out of the game?'. Print Edition | Subscribe