Why SIA chose F1 instead of S-League

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By Michael Y. P. Ang

As Formula One waves goodbye to the SingTel Grid Girls and welcomes the Singapore Girl, some within Singapore’s sports fraternity may be wondering whether Singapore Airlines’ decision to take over SingTel as the title sponsor of the F1 Singapore Grand Prix is ironic or logical.

Whatever it is, the sponsorship, widely believed to be over $10 million per year, must have made F1 organisers the envy of both administrators and fans of Singapore sport.

Why do mega Singaporean corporations spend big money on an event no Singaporean competes in or on a sport which could be seen as being for the rich, and by the rich? Even without a title sponsor, the F1 race will go on. Furthermore, motor racing has no huge Singaporean following.

Football, on the other hand, is Singapore’s biggest spectator sport, while the women’s national table-tennis team is the Republic’s most successful sports team, with a World Championship triumph and an Olympic silver. So why is SIA not spreading its wings to prop up Singapore’s major sports? After all, SIA says that it backs sports development.

In an SIA statement announcing its F1 sponsorship, CEO Goh Choon Phong said: “Singapore Airlines has always supported the development of both sports and tourism.”

It is sensible business practice for SIA to promote tourism. Could it be that it is sport, combined with tourism, which SIA supports? If this is so, will SIA check in as a major sponsor of South-east Asia’s biggest sporting event next year? The SEA Games can potentially attract many ASEAN tourists to Singapore.

But given that SIA also sponsors a horse-racing event, the Singapore Airlines International Cup, which hardly drives tourism in a major way, we can assume SIA does not necessarily sponsor tourism-related sports events.

This brings us back to the question: Why won’t SIA support Singapore football or table tennis the way it does motor racing or horse racing?

Sports marketing

Corporations follow certain guiding principles in sports marketing when they decide how to spend their sponsorship dollars.

Any sports marketer would agree that there is no compelling reason for a premium global brand like SIA to associate itself with either Singapore football or table tennis. Singapore’s national teams in these two sports, or any other sport, do not possess the ability to reach a global audience which SIA seeks.

Besides, table tennis in Singapore is a single-ethnicity sport. It may appeal to the ethnic majority, but its audience size is of little significance to SIA. Although Singapore football was not a single-ethnicity sport 20 years ago, it is essentially one today. Is it right to blame SIA for not associating its brand with either sport?

If SIA abandons widely-accepted principles of sports marketing and decides to sponsor Singapore football or table tennis simply as a matter of ‘national service’, will this be regarded as responsible corporate behaviour by SIA shareholders?

No shareholders

Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim is very keen on sports, especially football. It has been widely reported that he is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase European football clubs. So one may ask: Does Peter have shareholders to answer to? If not, why has he not financed an S-League club?

The answer could lie in the seemingly poor management of Singapore football. How could a competition in Singapore’s most popular sport consistently fail to resonate with Singaporeans, despite being the only sport that enjoys multimillion-dollar funding (around $20 million) from Singapore Pools year after year?

Government favours F1 over football?

Most S-League stadium are in dire need of a revamp. The mere thought of having to sit on a concrete surface at some arenas is a turn-off, and the standard of football is insufficient to compensate for that. Furthermore, the below-par conditions of some S-League pitches are not exactly suited for competitive football.

What has the government done to improve S-League facilities since the competition began 18 years ago? Nothing of significance.

Governmental commitment to football development pales in comparison to the authorities’ embrace of F1 racing. Have you noticed how the government has bent over backwards to accommodate the staging of Singapore’s F1 race, what with road closures and the construction of F1 facilities?

If the government is half-hearted about our national sport, is it reasonable to expect a corporation, even a mega one like SIA, to wholeheartedly support Singapore sport?

For more of the writer’s articles on Singapore sport, please visit https://www.facebook.com/michael.ang.sports