It may not be all doom and gloom for S-League clubs as feared.
There had been talk that the local professional football league, which receives about $16 million from the Tote Board every year, could suffer a drastic reduction in funding, by as much as 50 per cent.
But sources have revealed that the cut is likely to be 20 per cent, with the league poised to receive some $13 million for next year.
This comes after the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) plans for a revamp of the ailing competition received provisional approval from national sports agency Sport Singapore, which controls funding to the local governing body.
The Straits Times understands that despite the overall reduction, S-League clubs will hardly feel the pinch, with subsidies for next year hovering around this year's figures.
Each S-League club receive some $800,000 in subsidies from the Tote Board, if they hit all key performance indicators.
These funds make up a significant portion of a club's average annual budget, which hovers between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.
Instead, the cost savings will stem from the FAS' plans for the new-look 2018 S-League, whose administration will come under the direct purview of the FAS instead of being run by a separate entity.
This will see a reduction in costs, for example, with the league no longer needing to replace former chief executive officer Lim Chin.
In response to queries from ST, an FAS spokesman also revealed that a reorganising of club structure will also result in savings.
"The FAS has proposed to streamline the non-technical functions of S-League clubs, such as their human resource and finance departments, under the FAS," he said.
"This allows the clubs to focus on the technical aspects of running their clubs and on developing their players while also allowing the FAS to further develop capabilities to be future-ready."
Expected cut in S-League funding from the Tote Board.
The FAS is also planning to reduce the number of foreign players in each club from four to two, which will reduce the wage burden.
Foreign players earn on average between $5,000 and $10,000 a month.
While the local fraternity was pleased with the numbers, some remained sceptical.
"Now with a team of 25 players with an average salary of $3,000, our monthly salary cost, excluding Central Provident Fund contributions, is $75,000. Even with 22 players as suggested for 2018, it is insufficient, even assuming there is no change in the quantum of subsidy," said Warriors FC's general manager Paul Poh.
He revealed that under the current system, each club receive $600,000 in cash subsidies every year ($50,000 a month) and the remaining $200,000 will be dispensed if they meet a pre-set target for crowd numbers, which was set at 1,500 for this year.
It is unclear if these targets will be the same in 2018.
STILL QUITE TOUGH
Now with a team of 25 players with an average salary of $3,000, our monthly salary cost... is $75,000. Even with 22 players as suggested for 2018, it is insufficient, even assuming there is no change in the quantum of subsidy.
PAUL POH, Warriors FC's general manager, on finances remaining tight.
Geylang International coach Noor Ali believes local clubs have "stagnated" and must step up.
"It's not about whether the budget is the same or it is cut - it is about how you spend it," said the former Singapore international.
"If the league wants to move forward, the standard of coaching and management must also improve, otherwise we won't be going anywhere."
A case in point is players' salaries.
"There must be consistency in players' salaries. We can't be paying a national player a certain amount, and then giving the same money to a non-national player. Players must earn their salaries. We cannot spoil the market by overpaying players," said Noor Ali.
The projected budget for next season has also given hope to clubs like Gombak United and Tanjong Pagar United, who are sitting out the S-League to reduce costs, pay off debts and strengthen finances.
VALUE FOR MONEY
There must be consistency in players' salaries. We can't be paying a national player a certain amount, and then giving the same money to a non-national player. Players must earn their salaries. We cannot spoil the market by overpaying players.
NOOR ALI, Geylang International coach, on the need for prudent spending.
Both clubs have officially applied to return to the S-League next year.
"If the cut in funding is only 20 per cent, we can rejoice, but I'm not sure if we've been factored into this quantum," said Tanjong Pagar chairman Edward Liu.
"And, in the event that Gombak and us are given the green light to rejoin the S-League, are we given the same amount as the rest, or will we be taking away part of the existing clubs' share?"
He has urged the FAS to reveal the plans for the 2018 season soon to give clubs ample time to make plans.
"I look forward to hearing from the FAS soon. We want to return, we've already identified our coach, and are on the lookout for players, but we will cut our coat according to our cloth," he said.
"But first we need to know if we are in the plans for the 2018 S-League season."
In response to that, the FAS spokesman said: "Discussions on the funding for the S-League clubs are still ongoing. A commitment has been put in place to allow clubs sufficient time to plan their rosters.
"More details on the plans for the 2018 S-League season will be announced in the coming weeks."