Marketing increases Singapore league's viability

The Asian Football Confederation's Professional League Ad-Hoc Committee has conducted a site study of Singapore's S-League and reportedly went away highly impressed. The purpose of the visit was to assess Singapore's suitability of playing in the revamped Asian Champions League in 2009. The committee studied the stadium facilities, league and club management, media coverage and the marketing, branding and sponsorship aspects of the S-League.

At the end of the visit, AFC observers Hideki Kato and Tokuaki Suzuki gave the thumbs-up to the 12-year-old league. "I have been impressed with what I've seen so far. The S-League is very forward- looking in embracing new technology and we are also very excited by the fresh and innovative ideas that the S-League management has come up with to raise their brand profile and brand equity," Kato told the New Paper.

According to jorumnalists Lim Han Ming and Samuel Zhang, the efforts of S-League CEO Winston Lee and his marketing communications team have lifted average match attendances from 2,526 to 2,700 this year. Moving the Match of the Week to a neutral ground, such as the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday nights has also reaped dividends. The average 'live' match attendance has shot up by two-fold from 1,500 to 3,000. Television viewership is also on the rise. An average of 80,000 fans tuned in to watch the S-League matches this year - a stark increase from 37,000 last year. The commercial viability of the S-League has translated into more sponsorship dollars. Non-sports related brands such as Levi's and Nokia have joined forces and Nike's S$1 million a year sponsorship over five years also shows its confidence in the S-League. All but one S-League club have a main sponsor.

Lee said the introduction of foreign teams had raised the level of competitiveness in the S-League. The three foreign clubs this season are Japan's Albirex Niigata and newcomers Korean Super Reds and Liaoning Guangyuan of China. "The foreign teams bring a different flavour to the S-League. The teams also raise their game when they play against the foreign teams. In a way, they feel that they are representing Singapore. Admittedly, the foreign teams did not perform to expectations at the beginning of the season. But they have settled down well and are now giving the big teams a fight," he said. In a bid to improve the quality of the squads, the salary cap of players is also raised every year. Strict fitness tests are also enforced to ensure that the standard of football is not compromised. "The message we're trying to send out is this, 'You have to be fit to play football and not play football to be fit," Lee said.

In other promotions, football fans get to watch selected matches for free and the S-League also has its Ladies' Night on Fridays. Instead of receiving free drinks, the female fans are encouraged to let their hair down and play football after the 'live' game on Friday nights. Freebies such as Andersen's ice-cream, Nestle cereals and popcorn are given out on matchdays. Fans are also entertained by innovative marketing gimmicks such as the H-TWO-O Double Your Money Dare Challenge and the Hyundai Goal-in-One Challenge during the matches. Fans also stand the chance to win attractive prizes such as a 1.4 manual Hyundai Verna car, DVD Home Theatre Systems, XBox 360s and Apple iPods in the Goal-in-One Challenge. All they have to do is to stand 15 metres away and kick the ball into any of the holes in a board bearing the names of the prizes.