Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Letter to FAS Prior to 2014 S.League Season

In the months leading up to the season 2014 of the S.League. A member of the FAS corporate communication threatened not to issue media passes to the production team of JaguarsTV. Citing that "negative" comments had been made towards the league without basis. A response was written specifically to address all the issues raised by the staff of the FAS corporate communication. The FAS never replied.

With what has unfolded in the past few days. It seems that some of the points raised in the letter have indeed came true.

The letter is republished here, unedited and in its original form. There is a section heading mistake within the letter, which we have left unedited.

Response to E-mail Dated 4th March 2014

Lin Yimian

Table of Content
1.      Introduction
2.      Letter of Undertaking
2.1 Mr. Alvin Tham’s Handling of Initial Letter
3.2  Inequality of Treatment
3.1  Origin of Screenshots
3.2  Basil Yeo Operated Within the Boundaries of the Letter of Undertaking
3.3  Basis of Comment “Sponsorship must add value to sponsors”
3.4  Basis of Comment “The S.League itself is not a sustainable model”
3.5  Basis of Comment “I’m not sure why they don’t take the route of…”
3.6  Basis of Comment “peter lim will lose all his fortune owning…”
4.      Conclusion

1.      Introduction

I have been involved in Singapore football since 2002. My first involvement was as a fan, then a fitness trainer and at present time, a service provider to Tanjong Pagar United Football Club. My business partner and colleague, Basil Yeo, was introduced to football via the inaugural season of the S.League in 1996, then worked as a journalist in and from 2007 to 2011 and is currently involved in the capacity of service provider to Tanjong Pagar United. Together, we developed JaguarsTV for Tanjong Pagar United in 2013. We are extremely proud of the fact that JaguarsTV has been a hit with most supporters and officials since its creation and the host for the highlight show, Jaguar Girl, has become a minor celebrity within the Singapore football circle.

Since the beginning of 2014, we have been harassed by Mr. Alvin Tham for our comments regarding the S.League and the Football Association of Singapore. As long-term fans of the League, we felt a responsibility to ensure that the League, and Singapore football as a whole, be kept in good stead. It is with this sole purpose in mind, that we have continued to critique and make suggestions for the betterment of the League.

Admittedly, some of our previous comments may have crossed the line. However, since Mr Richard Woon and Mr Gale Gan signed the Letter of Undertaking, we have reduced our activities significantly and kept our noses within the guideline stated in the Letter of Undertaking.

However, on 4th March 2014, Mr. Alvin Tham again accused us of further wrongdoing, citing with screenshots of comments appearing on the private Facebook status of Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen, a personal friend of both Basil and myself. Therefore, we are writing this Letter of Explanation to clarify the situation.

As people who are passionate about the growth of Singapore football, we sincerely hope to continue working with Tanjong Pagar United in the S.League and help Singapore football prosper.

2.      Letter of Undertaking

2.1  Alvin Tham’s Handling of Initial Letter
Based on the original complaint regarding comments we made previously, we were notified by Gale that we would have to sign a Letter of Undertaking as provided by Mr. Alvin Tham on behalf of the FAS, to not make further alleged defamatory statements without any basis, in order to receive our media passes. We then verbally agreed with Gale that he was to acquire the letter, allow us to review it and sign it if we were agreeable with its terms and conditions.

I would like to put on record now that we did not see the letter nor agree to sign it. Mr Alvin Tham had Mr. Richard Woon, General Manager of Tanjong Pagar United, and Mr. Gale Gan, sign it on our behalf, without our knowledge. It is only until the letter was signed, that we knew the letter had already been prepared.

As we are not salaried employees of Tanjong Pagar United Football Club, is it fair if Mr. Woon, or Gale, are made to answer to the personal issues that Mr. Alvin Tham has with our statements and us?

2.2 Inequality of Treatment
I would also like to raise this last and final point; a perceived inequality of treatment.

I wonder if the recent New Paper article about Geylang International being in crisis has landed its journalist, Mr. Shamir Osman, in hot soup with the FAS as Basil’s comments has had him. The club has since publicly questioned the ethics and factual accuracy of the said journalist who wrote the article.

It must be noted that in line with Mr. Alvin Tham’s definition of responsible reporting, such an article printed on the mainstream media will do considerably more damage to the S.League brand than a bit of unnerving noise on social media platforms.

Has Mr. Shamir Osman been approached by Mr. Alvin Tham and made to submit to a similar Letter of Undertaking? Will the FASbe taking action against him? If responsible reporting is the idea Mr. Alvin Tham is advocating, why then the unequal and special treatment forced upon us?

3.      The Comments

3.1  Origin of Screenshots

As stated in Section 1 of this letter, these screenshots were of a status in a private Facebook profile. This particular status was set to “Friends-Only” and thus can only be viewed by Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen and his Facebook friends. As Mr. Alvin Tham is neither a friend of Basil or Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen on Facebook, we would thus request that Mr. Alvin Tham to reveal the source of the screenshots, and clear up the doubts being raised by us on the legibility of the screenshots.

Either way, the status update and the comments by Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen and Basil were made in a private setting, and thus have not violated the terms set in the original Letter of Undertaking.
As Mr. Alvin Tham has demanded an explanation for our comments, we shall duly oblige in the following sub-sections.

3.2  Basil Yeo Operated Within the Boundaries of the Letter of Undertaking

In the Letter of Undertaking signed by Mr. Richard Woon, General Manager of Tanjong Pagar United Football Club, it is specifically stated that:

‘Should there be a recurrence of posts that are unjustified, personal attacks without any basis on any public platform onFAS/S.League officials, S.League Club players and official, we will revoke the media pass hereby granted to your crew.’

Firstly, Basil Yeo’s comment was not made available on a public Facebook page or on a private Facebook profile made public. All of his comments were written on the Facebook profile of Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen Weng Keong, whom many may be familiar with as the owner and Managing Director of THORB, formerly the main apparel sponsor of the Jaguars.

It should be noted that the privacy setting of Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen’s profile is Private (Friends Only), as evidenced by the privacy icon of the specified Facebook status. Thus, the privilege of view is limited to only friends of Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen. This was obviously a private discussion among friends on the sustainability of the S.League, and whether sponsors saw any value added to their product/service by sponsoring the S.League.

Since we have established the privacy settings of Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen’s profile and the specified status. Mr. Alvin Tham is neither a Facebook friend of Basil nor of Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen therefore how the comments were made available to Mr. Alvin Tham is a subject of controversy and will be addressed in section 2.6.

Secondly, in none of Basil Yeo’s comments, were specific individuals named and attacked, with or without justification. Basil Yeo addressed the S.League as a whole and simply responded in agreement with Mr. Kristian Thorbjornsen’s initial comment on the marketing methods employed and sustainability of the S.League.

Lastly, each and every comment made by Basil Yeo was a personal opinion based on his observation and experience within the system, as a fan, a journalist, and in his current capacity as a service provider. The basis of each comment will be addressed in section 2.2 through 2.5.

3.3  Basis of Comment “Sponsorship must add value to sponsors”

Sponsorship methods employed in the S.League are mostly traditional, namely shirt logos and advertisement boards. In his comment that sponsorship must add value to the sponsor, he is asking firstly, whether sponsors have received added value that matches or exceeds the amount invested in sponsorship. Additionally, he is also questioning the lack of use of alternative methods and new media exposure for the club’s sponsors.

Of the 12 S.League clubs, three of them currently do not have any official websites. A notable example would be the Courts Young Lions, whose previous URL address has since been purchased and made unavailable to their initial owner (a lapse in registration and reservation of the URL address?). It should also be noted that this URL continues to appear on the official S.League website and thus could be misleading visitors to the website as we speak.

It is great to know that all 12 S.League clubs currently possess official Facebook pages. However, it should be noted that only three of the 12 clubs have sponsor logos prominently displayed on their cover photo (the first image to greet visitors to a Facebook page).

In the season ending 2013, only three clubs have taken the initiative to set up their own YouTube channel. The rest of the clubs preferred to leave it to the League itself to provide match highlights through S.LeagueTV, which has since ceased to exist (though the circumstances of which, we are unsure why).

Of the three clubs’ channels, only JaguarsTV, which is produced by Basil and myself, features the sponsors of the club prominently, with logos displayed at the end of each video, acknowledged by a spoken announcement.

The other two channels, belonging to Geylang International Football Club and Warriors Football Club, merely transplanted videos from another media provider, Voxsports, onto their YouTube page. In those videos, not only were the sponsors of the respective clubs not mentioned, Voxsports’ logo was featured throughout the videos. In addition, Voxsports’ own sponsor, Panasonic, was featured at the start of those videos. With regards to the video highlights for both clubs, there is little value added to their sponsors.

Unfortunately, the acquisition of sponsors and value addition to sponsorship are two different things altogether. Basil questioned if sponsoring the S.League is worth it from a value-based point of view but never questioned the quantity or quality of work and effort put in by the respective clubs in the search for sponsorship.

It is here that I wish to thank Mr. Lim Chin for daring to be different. It is a fact that Basil and myself may not necessarily agree with every methods and ideas used by Mr. Lim but we sincerely do applaud his intentions and courage to push boundaries for the good of the League and that has earned our admiration.

Mr. Alvin Tham quoted two brand audits that have proven that the S.League is a viable brand. If there were audits conducted, should not these audits be made available to the public so that potential sponsors can see for themselves the viability of the League?

Currently, two clubs within the League have yet to secure main sponsors for the 2014 season. If the S.League brand is as viable as you said, why are the sponsors not rushing in then? Is it due to a case of clubs being lazy in securing sponsors? Is it that the League, as a whole, fails to add enough value to attract sponsors? Who are we to blame?

On the subject of sponsorship, I wish to use the National Day Parade as an example. Despite the widespread criticism of the NDP’s purpose and expenditure by netizens, year after year it does not have problems securing sponsors, some of whom are willing to throw in more than S$300,000 in cash annually just to run the event and its year-long preparation.

We ourselves have previously sponsored our services to the NDP and it is our testimony that the sponsorship has indeed added value to our business. Aside from the standard mileage and benefits accorded as part of the deal, we felt well taken care of by our sponsorship managers and also gained new personal and professional connections that helped our business to grow.

I shall end this section with a testimonial from THORB’s Facebook page.

‘We were sponsors to TPUFC for 3 years. Coming in at a time when they just made their re-entry into the League with a makeshift team.

Not much value other then the fact that the S. League is SG's only professional League and it gets a bit of coverage in the papers. I have definitely not made any money selling jerseys, merchandise. Neither has THORB been more recognised by social soccer teams.

Our sponsorship with the Singapore Hockey Federation in 1 year has yielded more returns than the S.League has done for us in 3 years!’

3.4  Basis of Comment “The S.League itself is not a sustainable model”

Firstly, Basil was merely indicating his agreement with Mr Kristian Thorbjornsen.

Currently, the League is employing the usage of freebies to attract fans to the stadium. Do enlighten us on this if it is not true. However, are the items given out sponsored by the respective merchants, or are they purchased by the clubs? If the items are sponsored by the merchants, what would happen to the fans when the freebies dry out? Would they really stay on or will they dry out too? If the League purchased the items to reward spectators for attending matches, are we then looking at a deficit of value? Does the value of the freebies exceed the value of a match ticket? Can it be said that the League is paying fans to watch matches then? Both marketing scenarios would thus prove to be non-sustainable in the long run and thus to bring into question the sustainability of the League, is not without basis at all.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. As far as the S.League is concerned, numerous links within it have broken. Three local clubs have opted out of competing in the League, due to financial difficulties. They are namely Sembawang Rangers and Jurong FC in 2003, and Gombak United (twice!) in both 2002 and 2012. Even Tanjong Pagar United itself has sat out of the League for a period of time, also due to financial difficulties. Various other clubs have gone through transformation and have survived. These statistics are hardly a beacon of light shining in the direction of sustainability.

Sustainability is not only limited to a financial perspective. The League itself has not been able to maintain a consistent format or participating club structure, despite not having a promotion/relegation system in place. Since its inaugural season in 1996, the S.League has not had more than two consecutive seasons without a change in competition format or club structure. In terms of competition sustainability, the S.League has yet to prove itself.

Quoting from the FAS’s financial reports as available on its website, from 2008 to 2010, the operating reserve ratio for the FASwas actually negative 0.04. It has improved significantly since then, rising to a positive value of 0.16 for 2013. This however represents a total reserve available to operate the whole FAS for less than two months.

Most guidelines on operating reserve ratio for non-profit organisations would recommend at least 0.25, or three months of operating reserves. In the situation that the Singapore Sports Council decides to reduce funding made available to the FAS, or if donations dry up suddenly, the League would definitely face the effect, almost immediately. In this scenario, the League would, firstly, not be able to sustain the previous operating freedom and secondly, would thus not be able to sustain any growth. I have once again highlighted a valid concern for the sustainability of the S.League.

Another cause for financial concern would be the recent reduction of co-title sponsorship length by Great Eastern Life. Based on the original sponsorship length of three seasons from 2009 to 2011, and extended by two years from 2012 to 2014, the one-year extension is indeed harrowing. What would the League do, if it were unable to secure a new co-title sponsor for the 2015 season? That is something the League management should be pondering about by now.

3.5  Basis of Comment “I’m not sure why they don’t take the route of…”

The fact is the FAS is a charity, as registered with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s (MCCY) Charities Unit from 29th March 2011. The FAS and sponsors currently provide all funding for the S.League. The individual clubs are given grants from the S.League to operate. This comes down to almost S$1-million for each club. Each individual club DEPENDS on the generosity of the League to operate. Of all income for the FAS in the year 2012, S$20-million is labelled as coming from donations. A massive 71% of all funding granted to the FAS come from donations.

Let’s look abroad and use the English Football Association (The FA) as an example. Of their total revenue for 2012, £185-million came from sponsorships, licensing and television broadcast rights, while £22-million came from events ran by the FA, amounting to a total of 64.9% of their total income. Compare this figure to the 71% of the FAS’s funding which come from donations!

Also, most clubs in England are financially independent from the FA, and do not operate on grants given out by the FA, in contrast to the system being employed in Singapore.
This is the basis of the above statement.

3.6  Basis of Comment “peter lim will lose all his fortune owning…”

The individual clubs are registered as societies. They are thus non-profit organisations. Mr. Peter Lim, in the capacity of a businessman, would be unable to make a profit if he should so be allowed to bankroll in an S.League club. In turn, he would thus not be making an investment but instead, a donation to the club. Saying that Mr. Peter Lim would lose all his fortune may be an exaggeration but due to the current state of affairs, he would definitely not be able to get back a single cent, once he donates his money to the club.

4.      Conclusion

In the email dated 4th March 2014 sent by Mr. Alvin Tham, we were accused of defamation and painted as troublemakers, out to destroy the image of the League. Au contraire, we are only interested in the improvement of the S.League, and its image. We have invested a significant amount of time and talent into Tanjong Pagar United, and what for?

We want to see a bright future for the S.League, and Singapore football. When the S.League prospers, and Tanjong Pagar United prospers, we too, as service providers, will see a brighter future for our business and ourselves.

Our discussion of Singapore football online is a reflection of our passion for it. A relationship counselor once said that, a marriage could be saved even if the couple shows hatred for each other; however, it is no longer salvable when there is contempt. The day we stop talking and creating discussion about Singapore football, is the day our passion has died.

For THORB, with Tanjong Pagar United in the 2013 season, we have failed to add additional value to the brand. It is taking this lesson in mind, that we have planned a series of videos, together with Gale of Tanjong Pagar United, to enhance the brand image for Mitre (Tanjong Pagar United’s apparel sponsor for 2014). Instead of being blind to our own shortcomings, we should instead embrace our mistakes, learn from them, and strive to improve for the future.

We have placed forth in this document, the very basis that we have based our online comments on. We have also raised, within this document, areas of concern we have regarding the state of the League. We hope that any information we have placed in this document will help enhance the League. The monetary reimbursement provided by the club for our services is honestly, not the most attractive. Our continued participation as a service provider is driven strongly by our passion for the local game. If Mr. Alvin Tham, on behalf of the FAS, insists on revoking our media passes, we will surrender it, but why risk undoing our contributions to the marketing efforts of Tanjong Pagar United to enact positive change in the image of and add value to the S.League and its sponsors?

Whichever the case, we only have one simple request; That Mr. Alvin Tham reveals the source of the screenshot, if only to validate its use as evidence against us.

Thank you for reading. We hope only for the best for Singapore football and together with the FAS and the S.League, we hope we can work together to achieve it.