Jermaine Pennant: All about fans

Before Jermaine Pennant, the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League had star players like Monsef Zerka, Kazuyuki Toda, Martin Wagner and Lee Kwan Woo, all drafted in under the Marquee Player Scheme (MPS).

The programme, which reportedly afforded each club a $20,000 wage subsidy to sign a star foreign player, featured in the 2013 and 2014 seasons before it was suspended due to "rising costs".

Tampines Rovers' signing of former Arsenal and Liverpool player Pennant, whose wages are fully paid by the club and their sponsors, has given S.League chief executive Lim Chin hope that the scheme can be revived.

Speaking on the sidelines of the announcement of Mitre's ball sponsorship of the S.League yesterday at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Lim said: "Since he (Pennant) arrived, everyone has been excited. I am very happy, we need more Pennants and, knowing that we don't have enough resources to do it on our own, we need more partners to come on board. 

"With Pennant coming on board through the club's own initiative, and showing actually what the public want, it gives us a better platform to look for other sponsors and say, 'this has been done, Singapore crowds like it, can we do it some more.'

"Hopefully more corporations will come on board to support Singapore football, maybe through the MPS. That's what we are hoping to achieve in the coming years."

In a bid to grow fan support, Lim said the S.League is putting more emphasis on helping the clubs reach out to the heartlands and each team to do more to sustain and build on the pre-season buzz.

He said: "You can never do enough to reach out to fans. The clubs have to reach out to the heartlands: go to the hawker centres, the coffee shops, MRT stations, give out flyers, have promotions, knock on doors and greet people, and have community outreach programmes, although there is a balance between what they can do and the time available.

"Social media will be even bigger (a factor) than last year, but nothing beats the physical presence in the neighbourhood to sell your club."

On its part, the league already has marketing and social media staff who help the clubs push forward and Lim said these would be "more pronounced" this year.

He has seen clubs register more young players this season and is happy to see that the LionsXII players are assimilating well with their various sides.

Lim hopes all this will translate to good football in the league this season, which is key to drawing fans out.

He said: "Good football sells and... If there's good football, there will be a natural correlation to the national team as well.

"And, ultimately, when the national team succeed, it will flow down to the league."

This article was first published on January 26, 2016.
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