Singapore Sports Hub: Star Attraction

Who will be using the Sports Hub and what type of major events will be held there? Elisha Chauhan spoke to the venue’s operators to find out.

Started in 2006 and costing over $1 billion to construct, the Singapore Sports Hub is the pinnacle of Asian city state’s efforts to establish itself as a focal point for the global sports industry.

In creating the venue, the nation has attracted interest from both major sport events – winning a five-year hosting rights deal for the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association)’s end-of-season Championships from 2014 to 2018 – and also other countries looking to establish themselves on the sporting map.

“The Sports Hub is the best facility in sports and entertainment in Asia,” Andrew Georgiou, CEO of Sports Hub marketing agency WSG (World Sport Group), told SportBusiness International. WSG is a member of the Singapore Sports Hub commercial body, contracted by Sport Singapore – formerly known as the Singapore Sports Council – to design, build, finance and operate the Hub on a 25-year deal.

“Singapore has always been strong in knowing that infrastructure is the cornerstone to creating the long-term benefits that sport and events can provide to a city.”

Boasting a variety of multi-purpose venues that can host almost any sports event, the Sports Hub will cherry-pick the events it hosts based on sustainability – recurring events rather than one-off exhibitions, and local events that positively contribute to the sporting culture in the nation.

Ultimately, this means the Sports Hub will not host any events if it cannot, at a minimum, break even. Sport Singapore has the final say in what events they are, and has already secured a local event, the 2014 SEA (south-east Asian) Swimming Championships, to take place at the Sports Hub from June 14-26.

“For events that have a more commercial relationship for us, like the WTA Championships, we as venue operators have an input in hosting ambitions alongside bodies like the Singapore Tourism Board,” Sports Hub managing director Mark Collins told SportBusiness International.

“Right now, we are working with the Singapore Rugby Union and assisting them to put forward potential bids for the Rugby World Cup Sevens and the Rugby World Cup. This will have to be supported by Sport Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board.

“A few competition organisers have also approached us to host their events, and ESPN contacted us about the possibility of hosting its X Games [before the global series was cancelled]. Quite often, when event organisers are looking at Asia-specific venues, they think ‘Singapore’ because it’s an attractive tourist destination – so the Sports Hub now automatically receives interest by just being in Singapore.”

Tailor-Made Events

The Sports Hub event-hosting strategy isn’t all about the world sport’s biggest events, however, with more niche pursuits such as floorball, fencing and wushu on the target list.

Holding events featuring these types of sports ensures the Sports Hub strategy is in line with that of Sport Singapore’s Vision 2030, which focuses on tailoring sports facilities and events to local people and their interests.

“We can host a significant number of events in world-class facilities that don’t necessarily have commercial appeal in terms of ticket sales and sponsorships. All we have to do as operators in a PPP (public-private partnership) for events like these is financially cover the cost of staffing the event, and the utility bill,” says Collins, who adds that the Hub needs “more than 24 hours in the day just to keep up with demand” to host events there.

“The different users [athletes, general public and sport event organisers] are all in competition with each other, so there is no time for the Hub to become a white elephant. We’ve got more demand than we have hours of operation, so we are having to manage users expectations to make sure that everybody gets a fair opportunity to use these facilities.”

Unlike many national stadiums around the world, the stadium inside the Sports Hub will also be used throughout the year, with Collins envisaging over 100 events to be hosted at the venue alone per annum. However, he admits that these events will be nowhere near the full 55,000 capacity, instead looking to average 10,000 spectators with “reasonable” ticket prices of around $20.

“For ‘commercial’ events in other 55,000-seater stadiums, you would need to sell at least 30,000 tickets to justify going ahead with an event,” he says.

“It’s not about atmosphere for us, it’s about the sport participants. We will even host school championships, because if you are 12-13 years old and you play a football game at the national stadium, it’s something that you will tell your grandchildren about. It’s more about trying to provide a legacy for the participants, and the spectators – the families of these children – will be in awe of their child playing in the venue.”

Balancing Act

The Sports Hub’s role is not just to host sporting events – it was also built to house a dozen or so national sports associations (NSAs) and a space for them to train and develop elite athletes. The NSAs have to give their permission before the Sports Hub bids for any event in case it encroaches on athlete training.

The Hub also acts as a one-stop shop for the general public, who can rent all of the sports facilities – excluding the national stadium and indoor stadium – for recreational or training use. This is in addition to the free-to-use community areas for sports such as basketball, skating and beach volleyball.

“It’s a very unique model,” Collins says. “I’m from the United States and am very familiar with the Olympic training facilities that it has, and none of the venues in north America – with the exception of only one kayaking venue in Charlotte – are open to the general public.

“Effectively we are open from 6am to 10pm, but we will open earlier if we need to – for example, some swimmers have full-time jobs so they have to train between 5am and 8am. Between 10am and 2pm it’s open to the public, then it is back into athlete training mode until 6pm, and after that it is again open to local people.

“To balance these uses, the elite athletes have first choice on booking facilities in the Sports Hub. Competitions that we bid for are second in priority, then comes general public usage, and exhibition events or experience sports days for local people are at the bottom of the hierarchy.”

Sports Hub Sponsorship

Before assigning naming rights for the facilities in the Sports Hub – excluding the national stadium and indoor stadium, which will not be sponsored – WSG carried out an extensive consultation process targeted at Singapore’s top businesses.

The venues that have already secured naming rights are the Arena and Aquatics Centre – both sponsored by Singaporean bank OCBC, which has also taken on the official tagline of founding partner of the Hub – in a 15-year deal worth around $40 million.

“We certainly briefed a lot of companies and received many expressions of interests, but eventually created a fairly short list of around 10 Singaporean companies,” says Georgiou.

“WSG did talk to multi-nationals as well, but we were very keen to have a national entity as the premier partner. OCBC is one of Singapore’s oldest and proudest banks, so it is a testament to them that they have been able to share the vision of what partnering with this project means for their business.”

The Hub plans to attract six to eight founding partnerships that will cover industries outside of OCBC’s financial sector, such as beverage, technology and automobile. With a retail mall also in the Hub, Georgiou says FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) firms will also be a target for WSG.

“Our sponsors won’t necessarily all be national companies, because there isn’t a leading Singaporean car manufacturer, for example,” he adds. “There are many national firms in other sponsorship categories though, and they will of course be our preference, because they will be able to maximise leveraging in the local marketplace. This is also promotional value they will provide through their networks and consumer-customer base in Singapore.

“Events will always be the lifeblood of a venue, and that’s for all local, regional and international events. The Sports Hub’s marketing plan is to make sure that it has the ability to attract events at all levels, and host them in a consistent and sustainable way.

“If the venue can achieve that, it will make the commercial programme even stronger and will drive value back to our sponsors. But the whole project is one commercial ecosystem, and sponsors have their part to play as much as anybody in making sure the event programming is something than can work for the long-term sustainability of the Hub.”

For venue naming rights, WSG is hoping for deals that are in the excess of 10 years, and a minimum five-year contract for founding partners. Georgiou says this is so that brands can get the benefit of their investment over a period of time.

“You need at least five years – in our opinion – to get the traction and the maximum value back of that consistency in engagement with the venue and its audiences,” he adds.


To continue reading the Singapore Sports Hub feature please click the link below:

Singapore Sports Hub: Singapore's Vision
Legacy is one of the first words mentioned when any new major sporting facility is built. Elisha Chauhan finds out what Sport Singapore’s plans are to ensure the Sports Hub will have a lasting positive effect for the city-state and its people.

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