Sports Hub needs to form an emotional bond with Singaporeans, says CEO
SHPL chairman believes Sports Hub is on the right track
There are impressive condominiums that guard certain flanks of the Singapore Sports Hub at Kallang and its impressive centrepiece, the domed National Stadium.
They are ideally located for corporate elites and are the unsurprising favourites with many expatriates because of their proximity to the breezy east coast and the Central Business District.
Bryn Jones, 56, chairman and acting chief executive of the Sports Hub consortium, chose instead to set up his base in a converted shophouse in Joo Chiat.
It is also near the Sports Hub, but, more importantly, the Welshman says he wanted to live as close to the ground as possible because he felt it would allow him to get a better sense of the pulse of Singapore, and Singaporeans.
Singaporeans would want that.
I was critical of the consortium and its struggle to connect with Singaporeans in a commentary and Jones addressed the point directly when we met recently.
"I agree with your point about the emotional connection with the precinct," he said, as we chatted in one of the corporate suites in the stadium.
"It's a bit like in the UK when you were a kid growing up in Stretford or somewhere like that, and your grandfather or father took you to Old Trafford…
"As a kid, you go there, it just becomes a part of your fabric.
"We are coming up to our fifth anniversary.
"In some ways, the Sports Hub is coming out of the period as a start-up and I think developing that emotional relationship - for children to have run on that track, to have been brought here by their mother and father to see an event, we are sort of in the foothills in terms of that relationship.
"In terms of your specific point, I absolutely agree with you, the point of inflection where that emotional relationship exists will be an important day for us."
Jones became the acting CEO of SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) after Oon Jin Teik abruptly announced his resignation in January.
Oon apparently disagreed with the SHPL board over the commercial and social position of the Sports Hub.
His resignation once again raised questions of the public-private partnership (PPP) inked between SHPL and the Government.
Jones, who says the board will install the new CEO by year's end, is adamant SHPL is in sync with the Government.
He said: "They are our partner at all levels.
"The Formula One race doesn't come to Singapore on its own. There is a huge investment in that. Tier 1 football, the global brands need support to bring it here.
"But also, at the other end, people who want to come to the community play days, they need encouragement and support from the Government as well.
"So, I think the Singapore Government's role is right."
SHPL was awarded the tender for the $1.33 billion 35-hectare Sports Hub in 2008.
As per the PPP deal, the Government would pay the consortium $193.7 million annually over 25 years starting from 2010, while SHPL took on the costs of constructing and operating the facility.
Among its myriad facilities, the main features of the Sports Hub are the OCBC Aquatic Centre, the OCBC Arena, the Singapore Indoor Stadium, a Water Sports Centre, the 41,000 sq m Kallang Wave Mall and the 55,000-capacity National Stadium with its state-of-the-art retractable roof and unique ability to host football, cricket, rugby and athletics events.
Musical acts like Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Jay Chou have been huge hits at the stadium, the football match between Brazil and Japan in 2014 was also a sell-out, and tennis' WTA Finals, starring the best in the women's game, was a standout event at the Indoor Stadium from 2014 to 2018.
I suggested to Jones that it was not enough.
He stressed: "Our overall aim is to keep this thing as full as possible. That is our goal.
"In the last five years, we've seen the programming at the Sports Hub develop to a strong level.
A VERY STRONG CALENDAR
"If you look at the calendar and the segmentation of the calendar, we've got rugby, football in there, and previously we had tennis, so I think we've had a very strong calendar of sport, mixed in with other activities, such as the festivals.
"It's important to understand that the remit of the Sports Hub is not only Tier 1 events.
"We need to manage the portfolio of society really, not just the elite who want to see Man United, but the community who want to come and, for example, cycle around the promenade.
"If you're here at 7.30pm… the promenade is just a sea of people who are doing zumba and boxing and things like that.
"So, I think the important thing for the Sports Hub is for it to appeal to the whole range of society."
I wondered if this was a requirement elsewhere and Jones said no.
"I genuinely think this is very unique. Most stadia around the world don't have a lot of involvement in the community.
"Take Twickenham, for example. I think the council requirement is to have only a few rugby events and a few concerts held in the stadium per year.
"It seems like an utter waste of a huge facility like that.
"We had a total of 420 event days here last year. The team here, I'm in awe of the achievement that they're putting together, and it's increasing all the time, and they range from Ed Sheeran, BTS, Juventus, down to swimming,
"I think there was the Raffles School run in the precinct this morning, I don't think there's any other venue like this in the world that actually has this."
The boss of the Sports Hub is fully committed to the cause.
"I am pretty excited actually," Jones said.
"It's a combination of challenge and excitement, I think.
"I feel flattered to be in the position I'm in.
"I know I'm a guest in somebody's country, but I genuinely view this as an iconic establishment and I shall, as much as I can, enjoy my time here in this role and work as hard I can to make a difference before somebody else comes in."