Sports Hub committed to Lions
But Sawhney says stakeholders must look beyond cost-cutting for team to feature regularly at National Stadium
Sports hub set for exciting and robust 2017
V Sundramoorthy will leave for Manila on Tuesday, embarking on his first Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup from next Saturday to Dec 17 as head coach of the Singapore football team.
There are several naysayers in the local football fraternity who do not expect the Lions to survive a tough Group A featuring the likes of defending champions Thailand, the Philippines, who are the highest-ranked Asean side on the Fifa world ladder, and Indonesia.
The Lions are winless in their last six A internationals, and have scored only three goals since June, but the Singapore Sports Hub remains committed.
It has, of its own accord, blocked out projected dates of the Suzuki Cup semi-finals and final, so Hariss Harun and company can be backed by as many Singaporeans as possible, if they stump the pundits.
Sports Hub chief Manu Sawhney asserts that football - specifically the Lions - has a big part to play in endearing Singaporeans to the National Stadium, and they are willing to keep the door open for the arena to feel like the Lions' den.
Speaking to The New Paper earlier in the week, Sawhney (above) said: "Our interests are aligned. We are looking for partners… with the mindset of: how do we create greater value?
"From us as a venue, we clearly have an existing relationship (with the Football Association of Singapore) and we would be delighted to have more events being brought here."
"It's also fair to say that this is a world-class facility, and you can't compare that to Jalan Besar," he insisted, pointing to the headquarters of the FAS which holds 6,000 fans and features a synthetic pitch.
The National Stadium can seat 55,000 and the retractable roof ensures an all-weather venue.
The national team have hardly tasted regular football at the National Stadium and cost seems to be the main obstacle, with sources claiming the FAS finds the hiring fee for the facility too high.
Singapore drew 0-0 with Malaysia in the Causeway Challenge on Oct 7, with around 25,000 fans in attendance, about half of the 48,000 that saw the same teams play in a group stage contest at the 2014 Suzuki Cup.
Sawhney asked: "If 48,000 people can come two years back, what is preventing them from coming to the same stadium, with the same ticket price again, this time around?
"You need people to work together. I think there is a limit to the cost that you're trying to cut.
"Value is a greater focus. If you continue to keep cost-cutting, you will reach a point where you'll hit your bone and impact it negatively.
"On our side, we are committed to re-looking processes and how we optimise cost - needless to say with whoever we work with."
He pointed to the example of how the Hub has worked with the Singapore Rugby Union to host one of 10 legs of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at the National Stadium.
The event drew some 25,000 spectators per day over two days earlier this year, and the target is to attract an average of 30,000 when the event returns in April.
"Last year, ticket sales started two, three months in advance, this year we started the sale five months in advance," said Sawhney.
"The website looks different, more encouraging, you look at the planning… we have set ourselves a target of 30,000 people on a per-day basis.
"Do we have a blueprint? We absolutely have a blueprint… and proof that it can be done. But it takes two to tango."
He believes it can be similarly effective, even profitable, for the Lions to make the National Stadium their home.
"There are enough people who recognise that the status quo needs to change," he said.
"And I'm optimistic that in the years to come, there will be opportunities for stakeholders to work together."