Football: Landmark FAS deal may be in the balance

A match between Singapore and Thailand during the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup at the National Stadium. The 55,000-capacity stadium is the only facility which can attract big teams but its high rental poses a problem
A match between Singapore and Thailand during the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup at the National Stadium. The 55,000-capacity stadium is the only facility which can attract big teams but its high rental poses a problem. ST FILE PHOTO

Media rights firm MP & Silva said to have concerns over lack of promised high-profile matches

The Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) $25 million, six-year deal with international sports media rights company MP & Silva, inked in February last year, was hailed as a landmark moment.

Yet, almost two years into what is the FAS' largest commercial partnership, things appear to be far from rosy.

The Sunday Times understands that MP & Silva is reassessing the deal after a lacklustre stretch which has delivered none of the high-profile friendlies promised.

The deal gives MP & Silva all commercial rights to Singapore's national and age-group teams, allowing the firm to negotiate deals with broadcasters and potential sponsors. The company, headquartered in London and Singapore, can also organise friendly matches for the national teams.

MP & Silva had targeted four to six high-profile matches a year involving international teams and clubs lining up against the Singapore national team.

Yet the only notable highlight over the past 22 months was the Causeway Challenge, which pitted the Lions against rivals Malaysia in front of about 25,000 fans at the National Stadium in October.

MP & Silva declined to comment when asked if it is happy with its partnership with the FAS, or if there are any events to look forward to next year.

The deal's annual payout is pegged to the number of events that MP & Silva can organise for Singapore's national teams.

If there are not enough events, both sides will negotiate on an appropriate sum, possibly carrying the balance over to the next year.

A change in ownership could have prompted MP & Silva to re-look its existing deals. In May, financial services company China Everbright and Internet video company Beijing Baofeng Technology acquired a 65 per cent stake to become the majority owners. A new chief executive officer, Mr Jochen Losch, was then appointed in October.

In an interview with ST this month, MP & Silva co-founder Andrea Radrizzani expressed concern over the partnership and said the project could be successful only if "a pool of partners and sponsors in Singapore could join and bring (in) big clubs".

Lack of sponsors aside, the partnership was not helped by uncertainty over the FAS leadership.

Since September 2015, the association has been amending its charter in order to hold its first-ever election of office bearers. The changes were finalised only last month, with the election due to be held by May next year. The FAS is now led by a seven-member provisional council headed by interim president Lim Kia Tong.

It is believed this uncertainty in leadership resulted in hesitancy on implementing some of MP & Silva's recommendations such as digital outreach efforts. This led to impressions that FAS is dragging its feet.

There are also challenges outside of both parties' control.

For instance, the 55,000-capacity National Stadium is the only facility which can attract big teams but its high rental poses a problem.

Talks between MP & Silva and the Singapore Sports Hub to host the Merlion Cup, a quadrangular tournament at the venue, broke down with costs a sticking point.

It is understood MP & Silva has not held talks with the Sports Hub over potential football events for next year.

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, an associate professor of marketing at the Singapore Management University, said that while the tie-up may have looked attractive at the start, MP & Silva could terminate the deal early to cut its losses. "That decision hinges on their opportunity costs, on what other potential deals they could have access to and what they see as the long-term prospects of the FAS relationship. The better the (national team) perform, the more attractive they would be for a sponsorship rights firm."

•Additional reporting by Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 25, 2016, with the headline 'Landmark FAS deal may be in the balance'. Print Edition | Subscribe