Jackpot's the answer
Hougang chief Ng says their financial model can turn around fortunes of other S.League sides
It has given Tiong Bahru FC (TBFC) the ability to make consistent donations to the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) football development fund, and has seen S.League club Hougang United operate on their own terms, with or without sponsors.
Hougang have also been able to hand out scholarships and make donations to the late S Anthonysamy and cancer-stricken gymnastics coach Zhu Xiaoping.
Under the stewardship of Bill Ng, the jackpot operations of National Football League outfit TBFC and Hougang have seen surpluses in excess of $2 million annually.
Ng backs the model, and believes a similar operation can be replicated successfully at other S.League clubs and boost the competition.
"My success with TBFC and HGFC can be duplicated. It takes time to succeed. But if a club gets the basics right, within 4 to 5 years, you will see positive results. It can be done," said Ng, who has been appointed as the S.League's adviser for clubhouse operations.
Most S.League clubs operate on an annual budget of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, and cannot do without the $800,000 in annual subsidies from the Tote Board.
Hougang's accounts show that they can survive on their own, even without sponsors.
It appears that the aim is to get the rest of the league on par with the Cheetahs, especially with the promise of privatisation on the horizon.
"This is the best available model for the time being. The FAS introduced and instituted this revenue stream 20 years ago, and this helped provide clubs with a revenue source to run the footballing business.
"Without the jackpot operations, the entire S.League would have folded up long ago. You simply cannot depend totally on FAS subsidies," said Ng, whom some believe is thinking of running at the upcoming FAS election.
"The public has to understand that we do not have any other source of revenue at this juncture. Hence the success of jackpot operations is critical.
"This is the only artificial revenue that we can rely on at the moment. Any club with an eye towards financial self-sustainability must be prepared to look for alternative revenue streams as we may have to phase it out in the next five years.
"So we have to always start thinking ahead."
Tampines Rovers' chairman Krishna Ramachandra has already cut off jackpot operations on moral grounds.
His stance is that football should not depend on a platform where the activity has been known to wipe out life savings of retirees.
But the S.League giants are struggling financially and the club have already told their players that they are welcome to leave at the end of the season, or stay and receive massive pay-cuts.
Tampines' financial model is believed to be based on sponsors, football academies and community-based activities, but it has yet to be fully fleshed out.
Addressing the issue, FAS president Zainudin Nordin said: "People can argue about the moral position, but it would be their individual position, there is nothing illegal here. And I believe people should make their own choices."
The S.League receives about $17 million annually from the Tote Board, and it is from this funding pool that clubs receive their subsidies.
The Tote Board runs horse racing, sports betting, as well as 4D, Toto and the Singapore Sweep through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Singapore Pools.
While it appears that jackpot operations will be critical if the move to privatise the S.League materialises, Ng is not giving anything away.
"A lot depends on the privatisation rules and what it entails as a whole to the local league," said the 54-year-old, who asserts that there are rich businessmen-football fans who are willing to come in, should they be allowed to own a club and run them like a business.
"But are the authorities willing to make this paradigm shift? This is a big question. And yes, I do have plans. But till then, I prefer to keep my cards close to my chest," he added.
"At the very least, while we are always actively exploring other ways to bring in money, what I have proven to the fraternity is that with prudent management with our jackpot operations, we need not rely on the subsidy from FAS coffers."
“While it is also time for us to look for new income-making machinery, I am of the view that until and unless the existing regulatory model of club management is changed, revenues from jackpot operations will remain critical.”
— Hougang United chairman Bill Ng