June 21, 2023
SINGAPORE – The National Stadium is billed as the home of the Lions, though the roars from the fans were muted when the national football team played two international friendly matches in the 55,000-capacity venue last Friday and Sunday – with less than 5,000 spectators in attendance for each game.
About three hours before kick-off against Papua New Guinea on Friday, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that tickets for both matches had been “fully snapped up” – though empty seats were visible in the ticketed section.
A total of 4,918 fans turned out for the game against Papua New Guinea, which ended 2-2, while Sunday’s 1-1 draw with the Solomon Islands had 4,952 fans.
Some supporters had turned up at the National Stadium on game day looking to buy tickets, but were left angry and disappointed after missing out. A number of them took to social media to vent their frustrations.
The FAS did not reveal that there would be a cap for the two friendlies when tickets sales commenced on June 1. It had stated that tickets, priced between $9 and $18, would be available online and onsite on match days.
Lions fan Eddy Hirono was surprised by the limited tickets available for a Lions home game.
He said: “Everywhere in the world you go, if you’re told that there’s a sports event, one of the things you consider before booking early is whether or not there is likely to be a rush for tickets.
“It is very counter-intuitive for people to hear that the game is going to be held at the National Stadium, and then be told later that there was only a limited number of tickets being sold.
“Even if this was so – perhaps they should have communicated it earlier, so that people can buy tickets earlier?”
Fellow Lions supporter Fadzli Hassan, 39, had planned to take his two young sons to watch Sunday’s match as it was the school holidays, but he could not get tickets.
He said: “It is disappointing to know so few tickets were available. It should not be so difficult to watch my own national team.”
Responding to The Straits Times’ queries, the FAS said that it “undertook a prudent approach, and the 5,000 capacity was pre-determined given the previous average attendance for such friendly international matches”.
Tickets were sold via Sistic and bulk purchases, which indicated that 5,000 tickets were adequate “both from a fans’ demand as well as from a financial standpoint”.
Noting the late demand for tickets, FAS deputy general secretary Gerard Christopher explained that the association had explored the option to open more sections, but could not do so due to the “extensive lead time required for logistical and manpower preparations”.
The FAS had agreed on a subsidised rental fee for both matches and an increase in allowed capacity would have meant incurring extra costs, ST understands.
Industry sources said that FAS would have paid about $40,000 per matchday for entry for 5,000 people, with the fee raised incrementally depending on the number of added seats. The costs would have included provision of on-site manpower, utilities and waste-disposal services.
According to its 2021-2022 annual report, it cost the FAS $326,209 to organise the FAS Tri-Nation Men’s Series – three games were played at the National Stadium from March 23 to 29. Up to 15,000 fans were allowed for both Lions games, which was a record number during the pandemic.
The FAS added: “The National Stadium is the home ground of the senior national teams, and we will endeavour to have them playing there as much as possible.
While the costs… are higher as compared to other heartland stadiums, the FAS is committed to ensuring that such costs are not transferred to fans, directly or otherwise.”
Fans who could not get tickets were also unable to watch the game live on television and online as there was no broadcast for Friday’s match.
ST understands that there were no takers for the broadcast rights offered by the FAS. Depending on the quantum and exclusiveness of the rights’ sale, production costs may be borne by the broadcasters, either in part or full and this may range between $30,000 and $50,000.
However, the FAS announced about seven hours before kick-off on Sunday that the Solomon Islands game would be broadcast on its YouTube page. Following Friday’s backlash, it decided to produce the live coverage at its own cost and the livestream drew more than 8,000 viewers.
In the last two years, all the Lions’ home games have been broadcast, with the two friendlies with PNG and Solomon Islands the only exceptions during this period.
Lions captain Hariss Harun stressed that fans should be able to watch their national football team either in person or at home. He said: “I myself have got lots of questions. Everyone has room for improvement, so I hope they will look into this matter.”
The FAS said that it will work closely with the Sports Hub’s management “to ensure that the national team matches are made as accessible as possible to our Singaporean fans… while considering the financial impact on all parties involved”.