Singapore’s badminton body continued its attempted revival of the flagging sport with the announcement of a new title sponsor for the Singapore Open on Thursday evening.
The nation’s largest and longest-running badminton event, formerly known as the Li-Ning Open, will be named after local publicly-listed property giant OUE Limited in a one-year, six-figure deal.
OUE is worth over S$2 billion and best known for operating the Meritus and Mandarin hotel brands in Singapore, Malaysia and the US.
This is the company’s first foray into sports sponsorship, although executive chairman Stephen Riady has served as a patron of the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) since October 2010.
“The Singapore Open is a premier international badminton event with a strong and passionate following on the sporting calendar,” said Riady in a press release issued by SBA. “Through our title sponsorship we hope to contribute to the development of badminton in Singapore and expose local players to competition at the highest level.”
He added: “I hope the OUE Singapore Open 2014 inspires a new generation of players who will excel in the sport.”
Although the arrangement is for a year only, a spokesperson for OUE said the company remains open to supporting not just future Singapore Opens, but other local sports events too.
Riady himself has previously put his money where his mouth is, donating S$1 million to the SBA in 2010 for the development of school partnership programmes.
So it comes as no surprise there will be more at stake at this year’s 27th edition of the Singapore Open, with the prize purse increased from S$200,000 to over S$380,000.
The Open, to be held from 8 to 13 April instead of its usual June slot, hopes to attract a full-capacity crowd of over 9,000 spectators to the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
It is why the SBA has made it nearly 50 per cent cheaper for the public to watch this year’s tournament, in a move believed to be triggered by a combination of general feedback and poor sales.
Early-bird premium season tickets for adults have fallen from S$250 to S$120, while normal-priced ones now cost S$150 from last year’s S$280.
“This is a good opportunity to make the sport more accessible and encourage more people to catch the OUE Singapore Open 2014,” said an OUE spokesperson.
Coming of age
The OUE Singapore Open, which serves as the fifth leg of the Badminton World Federation World Superseries, could pose a test for local talent.
Singapore badminton head coach Liu Qingdong, who took the job in January, admitted in Mandarin that having the tournament in April instead of June would mean “less time to prepare, but the foundations are there from previous coaches, whether in singles or doubles”.
Although the 44-year-old set a goal for his charges to reach at least the last 16, he also stressed that the Open would also be about them finding their feet and him understanding them better.
Liu has yet to fully formulate his plans for each shuttler and he has till March before the typically last-minute confirmations of international participants start to stream in.
According to SBA, Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia has already expressed interest in defending his 2013 crown against other stars like Thai athlete Boonsak Ponsana.
Singapore’s representatives, however, are quietly confident in their own progress to a “higher level of play”, said locally top-ranked male Derek Wong, 25.
His girlfriend Vanessa Neo, 26, kept it simple too, when asked for her personal target: “Just win whoever I meet and go as far as I can – the further the better.”