As the local football campaign gets under way this weekend with the Community Shield, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced yesterday some new initiatives for the second season of the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
Apart from a slight increase in subsidies for the local clubs, the biggest change will be the stadium sharing plan.
From this year, four stadiums - Jalan Besar (Young Lions and Hougang United), Bishan (Home United and Balestier Khalsa), Jurong East (Albirex Niigata and Warriors FC) and Our Tampines Hub (Tampines Rovers and Geylang International), will be used to host the eight local clubs. DPMM FC will continue to play their home matches in Brunei.
This has led to concerns that fans of the affected clubs will feel displaced. For example, Hougang are known for their loyal fan base and this is acknowledged by FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari, who said: "They are ever-present at Hougang Stadium and they have a certain connection with the place.
"But we have explained to them the investment... is to increase the match-day experience.
"Given the infrastructure that exists in Hougang Stadium, it is less attractive to upgrade Hougang as compared to doing it (sharing stadium) at Jalan Besar."
Gerard Christopher, the FAS' deputy director (general secretary's office), added: "While the clubs, like Hougang, play their home matches at a new stadium, it does not mean they will be uprooted in terms of community engagement. They still continue to reach out to the community there and engage with schools."
Infrastructure at the four SPL stadiums will be upgraded.
Although the costs were not disclosed, the shared stadiums will receive bigger LED scoreboards, better sound systems, bucket seats for all spectators, LED billboards and banners as well as renovated dressing rooms in club colours.
SPL IN NUMBERS
Number of footballers (excluding the Young Lions) younger than 23 last year, nearly double the 33 in 2017 before age regulations were imposed.
All SPL games will be streamed live this year, compared to 98 last season.
Average passing mark of the Yo-Yo test this year. The passing mark was raised from 18.4 to 19.1 this year. The test is a multi-stage shuttle run conducted to increase tempo to gauge players' anaerobic fitness and all players must pass before being registered. No player failed last year.
"It is a great venue, and it will give us opportunities to organise match-day activities, and promote the club on other days, because there are just so many people using the facility," Geylang's general manager Andrew Ang told The Straits Times earlier, when asked about playing their home games at Our Tampines Hub.
The FAS was keen to emphasise that the stadium sharing arrangement is not permanent.
As part of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's Sports Facilities Master Plan, residents in Punggol can also look forward to a regional sports centre, similar to Our Tampines Hub. It is expected to be ready by 2021 and a northern-based club like Hougang could relocate to the new stadium.
The local SPL clubs, which received $1.01 million each in subsidies from the FAS last season, will enjoy an increase in funding this year.
Although no figures were disclosed, Yazeen said: "There's a slight increase this year that is proportionate to the fact that clubs can sign an extra foreign player."
For the new season, clubs will be allowed to increase their squad size from 25 to 28, with the additional three players not restricted by age.
Last year, the local clubs were limited to two foreign signings, but are now allowed to sign an additional foreigner under the age of 21.
Tampines Rovers chairman Desmond Ong welcomed the changes, and said: "Any additional subsidy is greatly welcomed given the fact that the clubs run on tight budgets.
"But it remains to be seen how the clubs playing in AFC (Asian Football Confederation) competitions will perform if they abide by the SPL rules and take to the field with three local Under-23 players and one foreign Under-21 player."