Singapore Football: How To Improve The S-League

With a Singapore Selection participating in the Barclays Asia Trophy, this article will follow on from my previous article on how to improve the standards of Singapore football, but this time it will focus on the more humdrum, less glamorous side that is the local football scene, and how raise interest around the existing league system – which, yes, goes against the first suggestion in the first article.

Instead of focusing on how to improve the internal state of affairs of clubs (coaches, scouting system, training program, etc.), this article will look at some of the various off-the-pitch measures that could possibly rejuvenate the S-League back into life. As well as raising public interest around the league, clubs will also inevitably have to focus on gaining new revenue streams, as increased resources is absolutely vital for them to compete for better quality players – both local and foreign – in order to raise standards on-the-pitch.

Jersey Redesign

First off, most S-League clubs have the worst jersey designs, and it is no surprise that no one is willing to buy them, except for the really die-hard fans, who are themselves very few and very far between. The sight of the hideous H-Two-O logo on the back of the jerseys, where it should instead just be the players’ name, is one major area the league and clubs have to change. It is unsightly and looks completely out of place.

2015-SLEAGUE_0

who would wear most of these jerseys?

The clubs should simply stick to simple, double colour themes on their jerseys, without any fancy designs that looks either too old-fashioned or too futuristic. They can take their cue from the jerseys of Courts Young Lions or Singapore’s Malaysian Super League representatives LionsXII, where a clean cut design made the jersey look classy and one that most fans would be willing to buy.

Jerseys, and other merchandises, are where clubs can generate significant revenue from. It can also act as free promotional material for clubs, provided the jerseys are nice enough for fans to wear out – not necessarily just to football matches.

Stadium Rejuvenation

Second, the atmosphere around a stadium and its surrounding environment is just dead. There’s little retail and it is often difficult to get to a stadium from the nearest train station. Basically, there’s little to get excited about when going for a game, which is why fans would rather just stay home and catch the game on TV – should they watch any S-League at all.

Looking at the example of the best run and most well-known league in the world – the English Premier League – and you will see how even walking to the stadium on match-day is as much a ritual in itself as watching the match live in the stadium. The clubs here needs to not only take care of their own stadiums, but also the surrounding 1-2 kilometres around it. Retail needs to be added, such that the public are willing to go to areas close to the stadium during non-match-days, and this would further encourage them to attend live matches – as they know what else they can find and do pre- and post-match. The much talked about carnival atmosphere needs to be there to encourage existing fans to regularly attend matches, while enticing new fans to give league matches a go.

Jalan_Besar_Stadium-List_of_stadiums_in_Singapore-image

jalan besar stadium should be the minimum requirement for all s.league clubs, not the standard-bearer.

Similar to S-League clubs’ jersey woes, rejuvenating the stadium and the area around it by adding retail would also allow clubs to generate more revenue either through their own food and beverages stands or through rental. Clubs needs to own the stadium and its vicinity – literally and metaphorically – and in turn build a community feel and subsequent fan base with its surrounding housing estates. Ideally, the S-League stadiums should all feature a hawker centre nearby (like Jalan Besar), a handful of retail shops and a modern-looking club shop.

Privatisation of Clubs

This idea has been bandied about for quite a while now, seeing how poorly the S-League has fared in recent times. The chronic lack of sponsors, resources, quality among foreign imports just to name a few. Many have then backed the privatisation of the league and the clubs, which is actually viable.

Local companies like Singapore Airlines, SingTel, StarHub, Keppel, DBS Bank for example, could each buy over and own a club of their own, and use football as a platform for their promotional, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and community efforts. What better way to reach out to their consumers then in the latter’s own backyard, in the heartlands? These companies could then provide the resources for each club and in turn gain even further exposure for their brands.

starhub-singtel-590

telcos, how about competing in football rather than SG’s minute pay-tv market?

Competition between some of these companies would then spur each to pour more resources to ensure the competitiveness of their clubs. Rival telcos SingTel and StarHub, in this instance, would want their own club to outdo their rival’s club, and the potential for more financial support for clubs across the league can only be beneficial for the improvement of Singapore’s professional footballers, coaches and support staff.

Format Changes

Players have always been on short-term contracts, fighting each year for a renewal or face the arduous search for a new club. Without any financial security during their playing days, Singapore’s footballers have no way of focusing on improving their game. With more resources poured into the game, the league can finally have a proper transfer system and players can finally have more stable contracts. Instead of players fighting for new contracts, it should be clubs fighting amongst each other for playing talent.

The league itself doesn’t need a major revamp, probably just an adjustment to the current system. There needs to be a minimum of 14 clubs, with a standard home and away system whereby each team would then play a total of 26 games in the regular season. To add more excitement, there should be a post-season cup as well, whereby the top four, maybe six, teams would then duke it out play-off style to be the overall champions.

rhb-singapore-cup-2014-final

did anyone care about this?

Alongside the new league system would be a sort of Football Association (FA) cup, or in this case the FAS Cup, with a named sponsor to generate even more revenue and result in a larger prize pool. The current League Cup (RHB Singapore Cup) is too cumbersome, as such this proposed cup has to be more streamlined. Should the number of S-League clubs stand at the proposed 14, the FAS would then invite four vetted, top-quality foreign sides to compete for this lucrative prize money as well. These foreign sides need not be limited to clubs from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. Why not try to bring in an Australian or Japanese side? Maybe even a Middle Eastern or South American side? Even more ambitious would be to invite a mid-tier European side.

This would add to the glamour of the cup, force clubs to up their game and in turn increase the level of performance they would produce back in the humble league.

The failure of the S-League in recent times has boiled down to one thing: a lack of proper financing of clubs. A more efficient scouting system or training regime may improve the quality of football on display. Beyond that however, it is mostly, if not all, about generating interest back into the league through these aforementioned means in order to generate the required financial support back into the clubs, to give them any chance of improving Singapore’s overall football standards.

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