Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Raising Attendance? Really?

Lim Chin claimed in the Straits Times that average attendance for the S.League increased by 45% in 2013, and 40% this year. If the average attendance is 932 in 2012, that would meant an average attendance of 1351 in 2013, and 1892 in 2014. Do you as fans see that? The league has long stopped submitting attendance figures to the media on match-day, a bid to stop the media from scrutinizing them, as they did in 2010?

In 2010, the FAS told Today that "attendance figures provided by clubs include complimentary tickets regardless of the ticket holders at the stadium." Is that still the same case now? Are we fluffing up attendance figures? There exists a attendance key performance indicator criterion for funding bonuses to the clubs. In other words, in order to secure additional bonuses for the club, the club may be inclined to inflate attendance figures. After all, handing out complimentary ticket is easier than attracting real fans to the matches! And let's not forget the practice employed by 2 unnamed clubs, bringing National Service recruits to matches.

And how many percentage of the attendance increase is paid for? In the same 2010 article, 6 of the 12 clubs admitted that "gate receipts are paltry and form an insignificant part of their budget." Unless mindsets have changed since then, there is no motivation for the clubs to pursue quality attendance! Pursuing funding bonuses from "reaching" KPI would thus be more important than actually increasing attendance.

The Food Initiative Programme has created an interesting situation for the league. In a bid to attract support, the league started giving out, not just food, but also Cathay movie tickets and Coffee and Bean gift cards to paid ticket holders. Note that the value of the gifts being given out often exceed that of match tickets. What are the motivation of these fans? The matches or the free gifts? Are paid ticket holders being paid? At this point, allow me to relate an incident I personally witnessed. A man approached the security staff at the entrance to the stadium and asked what free gifts are they giving out today. Upon being informed that they are giving out burgers, the fan remarked "not movie tickets ah?' and walked away.

All in, attendance may have gone up. But at what cost? The current demographic of attendance at S.League matches are not exactly prime meat for sponsors! The disposable income, and motivation of match viewers are brought into question. It is certain that the majority of match viewers are complimentary ticket holders (or non-existent ones). If the average match viewers are unwilling to spend, or unable to spend, how many of them would eventually spend on brands sponsoring clubs? Attracting cheapskates to the stadium, would increase attendance for the short term, but in the long term, the financial black-hole would be detrimental for the league. Is the merger of Hougang United and Woodlands Wellington, and the sitting out of Tanjong Pagar United, partially related to this black-hole?

Let me remind everyone that football is a business, and sponsors will not be interested in helping the league fill up their financial black-hole, especially if there is no potential return on their investment.