"Fans are the heartbeat of Singapore football", proclaimed the then Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president, Zainudin Nordin, when he announced an expanded S.League funding scheme in 2011.
Massive demand allows sellers to charge:
a) buyers a high price for consumption
b) corporations a premium for being associated with a product.
Such consumer or corporate behaviour explains the elite football leagues' vast wealth and the and the S.League's dismal financial health. Are we in Singapore condemned to rely on one-armed bandits and state handouts? I beg to disagree. For starters, here are three measures the FAS can adopt in order to help S.League clubs generate more funding as a means towards finally becoming success stories.
1) Give sponsors stadium naming rights
To entice more sponsors to come forward, give them more mileage by allowing their name to be linked with an S.League stadium… at attractive rates. Such a pricing scheme would require Singapore's sports promotion agency, Sport Singapore (SportSG), to play ball by offering discounts.
To qualify for the discounted rate, corporations must pump in a pre-determined sum of money comprising the usual amount for being the main sponsor of an S.League club plus a premium for stadium naming rights.
If the FAS and SportSG work together to unlock this untapped source of funding, S.League clubs potentially could receive half a million dollars in additional funds, provided SportSG gives clubs two-thirds of the discounted fee (assuming it's $750,000) for stadium naming rights.
Perhaps Singaporeans will one day see stadiums such as Adidas Arena @ Woodlands and Singtel Yishun Stadium.
2) Offer smaller-budget sponsorships
Sponsorships from the traditional big corporations represent a critical source of funding. But do we need to stop here? How about smaller companies which also have funds and which cumulatively could represent a substantial amount?
Smaller companies may be unable to invest six-figure sums to become a major sponsor, but the FAS can open the gates to such companies by introducing smaller-budget sponsorships.
This can be in the form of sleeve sponsorship, which the English Premier League recently introduced, for example. Besides selling shirt-sleeve branding, S.League clubs could also consider selling advertising space on shorts and socks as well.
Assuming a sleeve sponsorship costs $75,000 annually, while $50,000 is needed for a company's name on shorts and $25,000 on socks, this could generate an additional $150,000 for an S.League club every year, enough to cover the total wage costs of three or four players.
Bearing in mind that the smallest S.League club operates on a budget of $1.2m, an additional $650,000 ($500,000 from stadium naming rights plus $150,000 from attire sponsors) provides a 54% raise. Even in a worst-case scenario that sees a club adding only half of $650,000 to its coffers, it is still a welcome boon.
3) Provide S.League sponsors with a Pan-Asian platform
Currently, Singapore is allowed to field either one S.League team in Asia's top-tier club competition (AFC Champions League) or two S.League clubs in the second-tier AFC Cup tournament.
To give more S.League sponsors a larger audience, the FAS should work with its fellow ASEAN Football Federation members to start a new Pan-Asian league with S.League clubs and their ASEAN counterparts facing South Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Australian teams that are not involved in the AFC Champions League.
To avoid clashing with the domestic leagues of participating countries, the Pan-Asian league matches should be held on the same days as AFC Champions League games.
Such a Pan-Asian competition will give East Asian and Australian clubs the opportunity to reach out to Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, or Australians living in ASEAN and enlarge their fan base.
Furthermore, the sponsors of all participating teams will enjoy the benefit of having a wider platform to market their products. And if this Pan-Asian league takes off, it could even generate revenue for its clubs by selling broadcast rights.
There are many options to consider. There are many gurus around. There have been many visions foretold.
We now have an elected FAS Council. If we want to get out of the stagnation and infighting that has stunted Singapore football to the dismay of fans who still love the beautiful game, now is the time for taking the right action to resuscitate a dying S.League. After all, fans are the "heartbeat of Singapore football", aren't they?