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Goal for Sports Hub is to remain 'relevant' amid the COVID-19 pandemic, says new CEO

Goal for Sports Hub is to remain 'relevant' amid the COVID-19 pandemic, says new CEO

New Sports Hub CEO Lionel Yeo took up his role earlier this year. (Photo: Singapore Sports Hub)

SINGAPORE: The sight of hundreds of purple tents set up neatly across the floor of the 55,000 capacity National Stadium is a reminder of how this year has been unlike any other for Singapore Sports Hub's new CEO Lionel Yeo.

Mr Yeo, who took over the role in February this year, has witnessed how the COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed the momentum of 2019, when the Sports Hub held 225 events and saw a total of 3 million in event attendance and venue activities.

But when the pandemic hit, the Sports Hub pivoted, converting the National Stadium and the OCBC Arena to temporary accommodation to house migrant workers.

"We asked ourselves: 'What does it mean to be relevant as a national asset during a year like this?' One of the answers was - we can offer ourselves up to be temporary housing facilities for migrant workers," said Mr Yeo in an interview on Thursday (Aug 20).

The move was a "no-brainer" said Mr Yeo, and was a way that the Sports Hub could contribute to the national effort.

And as restrictions are slowly eased, the goal of the Sports Hub is to remain relevant, even in the midst of a pandemic, said Mr Yeo.

"Longer term, we are building the affinity with Singaporeans, we're building the mindshare that the Sports Hub is a place where even during COVID-19, you know you can come and get your sports fix, you can come and get a little bit of entertainment fix. That's important."

READ: Some foreign workers to be housed in ActiveSG, Sports Hub halls

COMMERCIALLY CHALLENGING YEAR

2019 saw the $1.3 billion Sports Hub play host to a number of high-profile sporting events such as the International Champions Cup (ICC) and the HSBC Singapore Sevens, while concerts headlined by acts such as U2, BTS, and Jay Chou were also big draws.

Tottenham's Toby Alderweireld and Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon lead their teams out at the ICC 2019 in Singapore. (Photo: Reuters/Feline Lim)

In contrast, this year has been a commercially "challenging" one so far, admitted Mr Yeo. Event attendances declined 85 per cent in 2020, with popular international sports events such as the ICC forced to cancel.

Footfall from January to June this year was also down about 50 per cent from 2019, added Mr Yeo.

READ: Football hub, Singapore's first velodrome proposed for Kallang makeover

"That certainly has a commercial impact on us. And mind you, the Sports Hub is not just one business, it's actually several businesses," Mr Yeo said.

"(But) at the same time, my shareholders understand that this is a global phenomenon. Nobody wanted this to happen. It's happening all around the world. And they realise that there will be, hopefully, (only) a short-term hit to the bottom line."

With facilities in the Sports Hub having reopened in line with Government directives, poeple have started to return, said Mr Yeo. Being relevant to the community will be important for the Sports Hub to remain commercially successful, he added.

A crowd at National Stadium hours before a concert in Singapore. (Photo: Jovi Ho)

"If we want to be commercially successful, it is tied to the question of relevance as well. Because if people don't come, they don't spend money," said Mr Yeo, who was appointed in November last year and is the fourth person to helm the Sports Hub since 2011.

"Which is why, as we think about Phase 2's opening up, we are keen to ... be able to deliver a lineup of programs and activities that can start to bring people back. 

"And it may not be big numbers initially, because we're not going to jump from zero to 50,000 overnight. It may not be big numbers, but we have to start somewhere, because we need to build up that confidence that we can do things in a safe and responsible way."

As such, the Sports Hub is keen to explore "new formats" for events down the road, said Mr Yeo, who did not go into further specifics.

"Our plans revolve around how would we mine domestic content, how do we make the best of what is available to us domestically. And I think we have got some good ideas which hopefully we can execute on."

Apart from major "tentpole" events, Mr Yeo also pointed out that the Sports Hub has built up "momentum" in the community event space.

"The team has been investing efforts to build up programming around community sports events. And I think that's something which has seen encouraging results," he noted.

"(During) my first month of work in February ... every evening when I left the office and my office is right at National Stadium and I come out onto 100 Plus Promenade, it's crowded, it's full of people. 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, it's really lively. Some of them are organised by us, some of them are organised grounds-up by individuals and private groups," added Mr Yeo.

"So there's a bit of an organic thing happening as well. It's not just entirely Sports Hub driven or Sports Hub organised. So I think it's really nice to see, and we would like to be able to build on that as soon as circumstances allow."

Calling the Sports Hub a "national asset", Mr Yeo said for it to be successful, there is a need for policy success, commercial success, as well as public success.

"So policy success means from a perspective of Government, we are hitting the policy objectives. Commercial success because the PPP (public-private partnership), I represent the group of private sector companies that are involved in operating the facilities, the venues. So commercial sustainability and success is important," he explained.

"Even with the first two, I think the third is as important, if not most important - and by public success I mean, how do ordinary Singaporeans feel about the project? Are we relevant? Do they feel something for the Sports Hub? Are (we) relevant to the National Sports Associations or NSAs? Are we part of their future? Are we part of their development plans?

"I think if we are not a success in the eyes of the public, then, something's also missing. So to me, we need to hit all three."

Source: CNA/mt(mi)

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