When does Singapore feel proud of their sports stars and realise the amazing economic potential of them? There now seems to be two answers:
When they are Joseph Schooling
Not when they are Ben Davis
Yet Ben Davis has done what no other Singaporean has ever done. He has been signed up to play for English Premier League club Fulham in the world’s most watched sport, football, and not a niche sport that minimal people actively follow like swimming.
The response? Try and crush his dreams at birth and rather than see the economic and emotional power of having a star player in the world’s most talked about and watched sport as Ben is being told that he needs to report to serve his National Service.
There have always been exceptions to this rule. In the past fifteen years, however, only three persons have met the criteria for sporting potential and achievement in the past fifteen years. Schooling has one.
Davis’s deferment appeal has been declined on the grounds that he "does not meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS," according to a Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) statement.
On social media, there was ridicule of a Singaporean Facebook post that congratulated France’s win at the World Cup as a victory for a football system where “every young person is encouraged and supported in developing his or her strengths”.
The French football star player, Mbappe, is 19. Footballers make their mark at this age or younger. Mbappe has brought enormous economic benefits to French football as well as himself. The same could happen if Davis becomes a star and his NS is deferred.
Premier League football is the most popular sport in Singapore, it’s the most watched passion on TV. Singaporeans love it, expats love it.
The World Cup filled restaurants and bars in Singapore. There is massive economic benefit from live sport which includes a boost in retail and F&B sales as well as encouraging people to watch their local sports star shine.
Being able to watch Ben Davis play football for Fulham every week is expected to fill bars, restaurants, sell Fulham and Singapore shirts with his name written on and encourage sponsors to be positively associated with him. Schooling has generated significant revenues by getting sponsors on board, and that’s for swimming. Imagine a football star born and bred in Singapore being successful.
Ronaldo sold 600,000 Juventus shirts on the first day of his transfer from Real Madrid. That generated $60m of the $100m transfer fee that Juventus paid.
Can you imagine how many tickets the Sports Hub would sell for a Davis led Fulham playing there? Can you imagine the financial benefits to Singapore of a transfer to Liverpool or Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid?
Amazing kudos and from a sponsorship point of view both locally, regionally and globally there would be a great opportunity to get Singaporean brands known elsewhere through Davis and generating sponsorships here to associate themselves with him.
From a career and inspiration point of view, Davis’s success at Fulham would be a revelation. Singapore could really market that hard work and practice can make a super star even in the most watched football league in the world. A great examples for the youth of Singapore.
Singapore has a measly number of unicorns yet a homegrown football star like Davis would be bigger and have more of an impact on the economy and Singaporean’s emotional happiness than any unicorn ever could. The pride that the country has in Schooling is nothing compared to what could be felt through Davis becoming a Singaporean premier league star.
Singapore spends around $150m a year for hosting 3 days of the Grand Prix although Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said that operational costs have fallen to $135m. The World Cup was watched by 4 billion people whilst the English Premier League is talked about daily and watched incessantly. Every time Davis name would be mentioned, it would have Singapore next to it. That branding is worth billions.
Facebook has just paid $200m to screen the English Premier League in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This is where the money is and where the attention is.
There is also the angle here of what does it say to budding sports or music stars who are in the prime of their creative lives at the very point they are supposed to be going to NS. Should Singaporeans be encouraged to dream of being a star or always know that even if they are on the cusp of it then there is every chance that they will be made to lose 2 developing years and miss out. In football terms, Davis will be finished and forgotten if he were to skip NS and come back to Fulham when he is 20 - they wouldn’t want him as he’d be past it.
Davis would be a fantastic role model of what can be achieved just like Schooling is, should he be allowed to realise his passion and obvious talent.
Interestingly Schooling was asked what would he advise Davis to do, attend NS or play for Fulham. He replied that “Davis should follow his dream” which is play for Fulham.
Sometimes exceptional talents need to be recognised as exceptional and treated exceptionally
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
Do you know more about this story? Contact us anonymously through this link.
Chris Reed has 25 years of senior marketing experience on both the client and agency side in the UK and now in Asia Pacific. He is the CEO and founder of Black Marketing.