National Stadium must be noisy
Sports Hub must come up with blueprint for more football and more Singaporeans to feature at the venue
As I walked towards the National Stadium ahead of Singapore's World Cup qualifier against Japan, a family clad in the red of the Lions asked me which way to get to the gates.
This was their first time at the Singapore Sports Hub; dad, mum, daughter and son were clearly excited, each kid had the nation's flag painted on their cheek as they scrambled hastily to get their first look inside the arena.
I bet they were impressed, but I wonder when they will be back.
They could have made the same trek and become even more familiar with the Sports Hub and its magnificent centrepiece - the National Stadium (above) - for the Singapore football team's clash against the J-League's Yokohama Marinos next month, but negotiations over the cost of staging the Merlion Cup quadrangular at the facility have broken down. Organisers MP & Silva and the Sports Hub cannot agree financial terms.
This was not how it was meant to be and it is time the Sports Hub management, led by its chief executive officer Manu Sawhney, address their financial strategy over the hosting of events at the National Stadium.
As I understand it, there are no confirmed football dates at the National Stadium in 2016 and that is alarming when Singapore proudly ranks the game as its No. 1 sport.
Singapore Athletics wanted to stage the Asia Masters Athletics Championships at the National Stadium next May, but they have also been priced out.
Negotiations to stage the National Day Parade at the stadium next year roll on, with organisers wanting an extra 35 days to prepare and both parties deadlocked over the cost of leasing out the facility for the extended period.
The goal was to turn the Sports Hub into a hive of activity through the year especially on weekends, football was meant to take centrestage at the National Stadium with the Lions calling it home, but 2016 holds no such promise.
I am sure the Sports Hub and the Government know this cannot carry on.
I remember speaking to the chairman of the board of directors of the Sports Hub, Mark Woodhams, in January this year for the six-month milestone of the facility's opening, and he was eager and positive over the Public-Private-Partnership 25-year agreement signed with the Government.
But on the 2016 calendar right now, Singapore fans are only being offered the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens on April 16-17, and the three matches the Japanese Super Rugby franchise the Sunwolves will play from March to May, at the National Stadium.
I know A Mei will be there, and Madonna, but there's no football, no track and field and no cricket - and the stadium was specifically built so it can be configured to hold cricket matches.
Sawhney, who took over as CEO from Philippe Collin-Delavaud in October, has to work with his team and come up with a new battleplan to turn the National Stadium into a venue that regularly throbs sport, with football the noisiest of them all.
There is no question the Sports Hub must make money, but surely the No. 1 priority has to be to woo and charm various partners and convince them to host events there.
At the start of it all is also when one woos and charms local fans and turn them into regulars.
There were already rumbles when negotiations were underway between the Sports Hub and the Football Association of Singapore over staging of this year's four home World Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium.
While the matches did eventually take place at the Kallang facility, many fans complained about ticket prices and the cost of food and beverage within the arena.
Attendance for the Japan game was a tick over 35,000 but the matches against Afghanistan, Cambodia and Syria were pathetic - never over 10,000 for each.
The Lions defended the Suzuki Cup in November last year at the 55,000-capacity stadium, but never once attracted a sellout crowd there.
The only time it was full was when Brazil and Japan faced each other in a glamour friendly.
Someone intimately connected with the Sports Hub once told me that calling the football arena the National Stadium was a mistake, because it was meant to be a commercial facility.
I disagreed with him.
It is Singapore's National Stadium, football must be its heartbeat, various other sports events must keep it busy and the country's populace must be convinced to make regular treks and fill the seats there over the course of the year.
There is time to get this right, so let's get cracking.