Football: ICC off to good start but more can be done

Chelsea fans relishing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch their team in action against German giants Bayern Munich at the National Stadium on July 25.
Chelsea fans relishing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch their team in action against German giants Bayern Munich at the National Stadium on July 25.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Fan-engagement activities and getting 'Big 4' EPL clubs can boost local sporting landscape

Last week, a total of 104,407 fans watched the three International Champions Cup (ICC) matches at the National Stadium. But whether the event - which will be staged in Singapore for the next three years - can improve on that figure next year will depend on the line-up of clubs invited.

On the field, the tournament delivered. From star players such as Alvaro Morata, Ivan Perisic and Thomas Muller to goals (11 in three matches) and even arguably one of the greatest own goals of all time (poor Geoffrey Kondogbia), the Kallang crowd got a surfeit of entertainment.

One thing the event promoter, Catalyst Media Group, got spot-on was the recognition that the English Premier League (EPL) is king in the Republic.

James Walton, the sports business group leader for Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia, noted: "One would have thought that the attendance for Saturday (Chelsea v Inter Milan, attendance 32,547) would be the best (as it was the weekend). But it was the Tuesday game (Chelsea v Bayern Munich) that produced the biggest crowd (48,522).

"If you look back at the Barclays Asia Trophy (in 2015), there were 20,000-30,000 Arsenal fans, and a couple of hundred of Everton fans and just a handful of Stoke supporters.

"The fan base is critical and the choice of EPL team (for the ICC) is the key to the attendance and in Singapore, the clubs that guarantee fans are Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

  • COMPARING ICC ATTENDANCES

  • ICC Singapore

    Bayern Munich v Chelsea (attendance: 48,522)

    Inter Milan v Bayern (23,338)

    Chelsea v Inter Milan (32,547)

    Ticket prices From $40 to $188

    ICC China

    AC Milan v Borussia Dortmund (19,000)

    Bayern Munich v Arsenal (55,891)

    Bayern v AC Milan (39,998)

    Lyon v Inter Milan (16,751)

    Ticket prices Information unavailable for ICC China

    ICC United States

    Paris Saint-Germain v Roma (36,289)

    Man United v Man City ( 67,401)

    Juventus v Barcelona (82,100)

    PSG v Tottenham ( 33,322)

    Real Madrid v Man United (65,109)

    Tottenham v Roma (26,192)

    Barcelona v Man United (80,162)

    PSG vs Juventus (44,444)

    Man City v Real Madrid (93,098)

    Man City v Tottenham (54,402)

    Real Madrid v Barcelona (66,014)

    Roma v Juventus ( 33,039)

    Ticket prices: US$200 (S$271) to US$3,500 for Real Madrid vs Barcelona, from US$35 to US$500 for other matches.

"Chelsea are No. 1 (in this year's ICC), they have the bigger fan base as there is a lot more exposure for the EPL in Singapore.

"Having spoken to fans here, they easily recognise names like (N'Golo) Kante and Morata but they might struggle to name three Inter Milan players. That is the result of Serie A not being covered as much here as well as the club not playing in the Champions League in recent seasons, although Juventus have a good following here."

While Chelsea undoubtedly proved that the EPL reigns supreme in Singapore, it was Bayern who scored highly for the lengths they went to in order to endear themselves to more fans here.

At an adidas event at Clifford Square last Monday, Muller, David Alaba and James Rodriguez sportingly waded into the crowd to sign autographs and pose for wefies. The media were also invited to interview the three stars.

Similarly, Die Roten dispatched their big guns to sponsors' events - star striker Robert Lewandowski appeared for auto maker Audi, speed demon Kingsley Coman for logistics company DHL, record signing Corentin Tolisso for microbrewery Paulaner Brauhaus and Mats Hummels for German telco T-Mobile.

Club legends like Giovane Elber and Miroslav Klose were also at the Padang for a fan club tournament while Hasan Salihamidzic - appointed as the club's sporting director on Monday - immersed himself in local culture by wrapping rice dumplings in Katong.

Bayern's efforts did not go unnoticed. Hougang United coach Philippe Aw, who was asked to conduct a coaching clinic last Monday for Care Singapore - a non-profit organisation that reaches out to at-risk youths - alongside a youth coach from Bayern, was impressed.

Star centre-back Hummels dropped by for a meet-and-greet with the youngsters, who were also treated to dinner at The Arena as well as given two tickets each for the Chelsea v Bayern game.

"Meeting Hummels was the highlight of the three-hour session," Aw noted. "The kids enjoyed the day and it is good to see Bayern reach out to the locals in such a way."

In contrast, apart from a sponsor's event for Ericsson, attended by Morata, Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta and Lewis Baker, Chelsea's only other public event was a Nike jersey launch at 313 Somerset, where the media were not allowed to ask questions.

A similar session for Inter also saw the press barred from any interviews although the Italians did attempt to gain a taste of Singapore life when Tommaso Berni and Federico Valietti learnt to brew and "tarik" kopi at the Amoy Street Food Centre.

A local football official was not too impressed, saying: "There was a good effort from Bayern to leave some legacy here and win new fans but there was little else from the other clubs.

"I cannot see how Singapore football benefited from it. There was no outreach and it was obvious."

Walton concurred: "Perhaps one downside (of the ICC) was fan engagement. It really wasn't there. Security was tight and you don't really see players hanging around to sign autographs. Future events need to have more opportunities like these for the fans."

The onus is now on the organisers to up the ante.

Walton noted that the ICC has the potential to play a leading role in the Singapore sporting landscape.

He explained: "The ICC has shown that it can fill the Sports Hub if properly executed. The Singapore Tourism Board and Sport Singapore did a good job with the Football Week events.

"Currently, the WTA Finals (the end-of-year tennis tournament in Singapore for the women's Tour) is in a state of flux.

"The negotiations for the Formula One night race are still ongoing. But Singapore still has one guaranteed high-quality competition (the ICC) that it can host and get fans excited."

He believes that getting one of the "Big Four" English clubs (United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) will keep the turnstiles clicking. Only the Spanish duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, who played in this year's American edition of the ICC, attracting 66,014 fans to the first El Clasico played outside Spain in 35 years in Miami, can rival them.

He concluded: "Now that the gimmick (of playing El Clasico in the US) is done, the dream scenario will be to have Real, United and Juventus for next year's ICC."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'ICC off to good start but more can be done'. Print Edition | Subscribe