The Big Read: The Sports Hub nightmare – what did insiders say went wrong, and can the government handle it better?

Wembley Stadium in England is another example of a successfully run venue, said UK-based sports consultant and author Matt Rogan.

The stadium is run by the Football Association (FA) in England and run as a social enterprise, receiving public and private funding.

However, unlike in the case of SHPL, where the Singapore government sets its KPIs, the FA itself is driving the Wembley project.

“At the end of the day there is a decision maker, the FA are responsible for how to run it, and the people who work to deliver the commercial responsibilities of the stadium all report to the same chief executive,” Mr Rogan said.

“Every pound of profit they make is reinvested into growing the game of football.”

He added that local authorities in England only set the soft targets for the FA, rather than monetary targets.

Such goals could include leaving it to the FA to increase the number of girls playing football in England.

However, Mr Rogan acknowledged that football in England has a large and stable spectator base, which would mean that a lack of ticketing revenue is less of a risk factor.

Another example of a successfully run sports venue is the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, home of the National Basketball Association (NBA) team, the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as several other sports such as hockey. ice cream and boxing.

Mr. Marc Lim, a sports consultant and former journalist, said the Arena has been able to generate considerable footfall on a daily basis because it is located “right in the heart of Los Angeles”, with office space also nearby.

In Singapore’s case, leasing more non-sports office space at the Sports Hub and constructing more office buildings in the area would also help make the area livelier, he said.

“One of my bugbears about the Sports Hub and the Kallang compound is that it’s so close to town and so close to the central business district, (yet) one of the things the Sports Hub did not have was the daily attendance of his businesses there. Mr. Lim said.

However, there are also several sporting venues around the world that have failed to meet their commercial targets, such as the London Stadium which was built specifically for the 2012 Olympics.

The stadium is akin to a public-private joint venture, owned by both a private commercial entity and the UK government. Because of this arrangement, the stadium “has not reached its potential”, Mr Rogan said.

“There are multiple stakeholders involved, and it has become very political. It means they are not agile enough or fast enough to develop the stadium for the future,” he added.

The facility thus lost many business opportunities, such as serving other sporting events. For example, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, which opened in 2019, has a retractable football pitch with an artificial turf pitch below, which could then host other sports like American football.

Closer to home is Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, which was built especially for the 2008 Olympics.

Professor Simon Chadwick, sports consultant and global sports professor at Emlyon Business School in France, said the stadium was built and initially operated by the Chinese government to serve primarily “political purposes”, rather than commercial.

“It was really a showcase asset that was created to project Chinese power,” he said. “It was not created to operate as a business and meet market needs.”

He said after the Olympics the site proved too far from the city center for most tourists and locals to visit.

“There’s no particular reason to go there other than if there’s an event,” Professor Chadwick said, adding that it’s only five to six years later than a private management company took over the operations of the Bird’s Nest.

“One of the challenges the private management company has struggled with is attracting the kinds of events to the venue that would entice people to spend time traveling to see that event.”

WHERE SPORTS HUB IS AMONG THE COMPETITION

One of the reasons cited by SportSG for the acquisition of the Singapore Sports Hub is the increased competition in the region, as new sports facilities are being developed in other Asian capitals.

In Southeast Asia, the Sports Hub stands out so far from other sites, said the sports consultants interviewed.

Mr Walton said: “New stadiums are being built in countries like Cambodia and Indonesia, for example, but realistically for big international events like the World Championships in Athletics…Singapore is in a much better position than Indonesia and Cambodia, and in a better position than cities like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok when it comes to positioning on the international stage.”

In agreement, Mr Lim said the closest rival could be the Kai Tak Sports Park in Hong Kong, which is due to be completed in 2023 and will include a 50,000-seater stadium and a 10,000-seater indoor sports centre.

“Hong Kong, being quite cosmopolitan, (is able) to attract rugby sevens,” he said, referring to the annual competition which is usually held at the Sports Hub.

However, when bidding for major events such as the World Championship in Athletics and the ATP Tennis Finals, Singapore actually competes with other major cities around the world.

“When you look at the current bids for the World Championship in Athletics, Singapore is not only competing with cities in the region, but also with cities around the world such as Los Angeles, New York, London, Cape Town and Dubai,” Walton said.

“You have to be at the top of your game to meet challenges in these situations and quite frankly it is difficult to make competitive offers unless all the key stakeholders such as SportSG, Singapore Tourism Board, Economic Development Board and site operators are aligned,” he added.

CAN A GOVERNMENT RUN SPORTS CENTER IMPROVE ITS GAME?

With SportSG seeking to leverage Sports Hub for “social good” by hosting more community-focused events, additional operating costs are inevitable, business academics had told TODAY earlier.

However, there may also be other costs to bear in terms of reputation and efficiency, said sports consultants.

Mr Lim said he did not expect the Sports Hub stadium to be made as accessible to the public as other stadiums in Singapore, “where anyone can go for a run every day”.

Still, its reputation as a world-class venue may be affected by hosting more community events, with wear and tear becoming a factor. “The last thing you want is for the stadium to really be a community sports venue because we have everyone in the heart…it should always be a premium experience for the national stadium,” added M Lim, who believes SportSG will set aside specific days for Sports Hub to be used by members of the public.

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