Financial self-sustainability for a national sports association (NSA) in Singapore might sound like a pipe dream to many but the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) has taken steps in search of this independence.
The key to this autonomy is building the Singapore Sevens tournament into a money-spinning event similar to the Hong Kong version, which regularly contributes tens of millions to the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's coffers.
Last year's Singapore Sevens drew about 50,000 spectators over two days at the National Stadium. It cost about $6-$7 million to stage yet organisers Rugby Singapore, which is the commercial arm of SRU, managed to make a profit.
The success of that 2016 edition - returning to Singapore after a 10-year absence and the first of a four-year deal with World Rugby to host a leg of the prestigious HSBC Sevens World Series - was followed by a $1 million investment into Rugby Singapore by a European company.
The company would get 25 per cent of the event's profits for the next three years while Rugby Singapore would keep the rest, its chairman and SRU president Low Teo Ping told The Straits Times yesterday.
CUTTING THE APRON STRINGS
The long-term goal would be to wean ourselves away from government grants... That money can be given to other sports.
LOW TEO PING, Singapore Rugby Union president, feels that self-sufficiency is the way forward.
"It definitely helps us in terms of cash flow management and allows us to grow the Singapore Sevens even bigger... and then invest that money back into SRU."
Part of the SRU's new strategic plan is to have full-time professionals in the men's and women's national sevens set-up, which is the version contested at the SEA Games, Asian Games and Olympics.
Low said: "If we can generate more revenue, that's something we hope to do and have professional players like our rivals in the region."
He added: "The long-term goal would be to wean ourselves away from government grants... which is a realistic target within five years. That money can be given to other sports instead."
National agency Sport Singapore administers government funding - close to $90 million each year when grants to NSAs and all national athletes are included. The SRU receives annual funding of between $750,000 to $1 million .
Reaching the level of the iconic Hong Kong Sevens, which is the showpiece stop of the World Series, will take time, stressed Low.
The three-day, sold-out event draws 120,000 fans and generates about US$40 million (S$57 million) from international visitors.
Nevertheless, the Singapore Sevens is moving in the right direction and ticket sales for the April 15-16 tournament were encouraging, Rugby Singapore general manager Sam Chan noted.
Organisers have sold about 15,000 season tickets, half of its initial target.
Low said: "What's also encouraging is that we've sold more premium tickets at this point compared to last year.
"We will roll out targeted campaigns after Chinese New Year aimed at families and the tertiary institutions."
All $300 Platinum passes, which have reserved seating, complimentary food and beverages as well as access to the Exclusive Platinum Seating Bar nearby, have been sold while 50 per cent of the $200 Premium passes, which exclude complimentary food and beverages, have been sold. The $50 Category 2 tickets are also sold out.
Besides rolling out community engagement programmes and fringe events like the South East Asia Sevens tournament and a "Midnight 7s" women's tournament with 12 to 16 local and regional rugby clubs in the days leading up to the Singapore Sevens, Rugby Singapore will also introduce baby-sitting services (blocks of three hours and run by a professional agency) during the weekend to encourage families to attend.
Chan said: "Last year we introduced tag sevens to 25 local schools and we'll hold coaching clinics catering to schools, club coaches this year... The objective is to inspire more people to play rugby."
This year will see another 16 world-class teams, led by Olympic champions Fiji, powerhouses New Zealand and South Africa, compete at the National Stadium. There will be two Asian sides as well, Japan and wildcard team Hong Kong.
Matches will start at 11am, two hours later than the 2016 edition, to allow more fans to catch the earlier games. Each day's on-field action will end around 9pm.
Tickets in the remaining categories can be purchased online at www.singapore7s.sg