Funding for Singapore's S.League is set to be reduced by just 20 percent for the 2018 season, which will come as good news for its beleaguered clubs.
It was originally reported that the annual $$16 million allowance from the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board) would be cut in half. However, it is now believed that the country's only professional league will receive S$13 million -- a reduction of only S$3 million, according to The New Paper.
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has received provisional approval from national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) for their plans to revamp for the 21-year-old league.
Despite the 20 percent reduction, the impact will be minimal for S.League clubs, as subsidies from the Tote Board for next season are expected to be close to the current figure of around S$800,000. That is provided that they hit the key performance indicators set out by Sport SG.
These funds are essential for the survival of clubs as they make up a huge portion of each of their average annual budget, of up to S$1.5 million.
The cost savings will largely result from the plan of FAS to put the administration of the S.League under their direct purview, instead of being run by a separate entity as in previous years.
The league will no longer need to find a replacement for former chief executive Lim Chin, while non-technical sections of clubs, like human resources and finance, could be streamlined under FAS.
There are also plans in place to reduce the number of foreign players in each club from four to two, in order to lessen the wage burden. Import stars earn between S$5,000 to S$10,000 per month.
Despite those numbers, some members of the local football fraternity remained skeptical, including Warriors FC general manager Paul Poh.
"Now with a team of 25 players with an average salary of $3,000, our monthly salary cost, excluding Central Provident Fund contributions, is $75,000," he told The New Paper. "Even with 22 players, as suggested for 2018, it is insufficient, even assuming there is no change in the quantum of subsidy."
According to Poh, clubs receive S$600,000 in cash subsidies every year under the current system, with a remaining $200,000 dispensed if they meet a pre-set target for average crowd numbers. For this year, that was set at 1,500 spectators per game.
It is yet to be confirmed if those targets remain the same for 2018.
The projected budget for the upcoming season has given renewed optimism to clubs like Gombak United and Tanjong Pagar United, who are sitting out of the S.League, due to finance constraints.
The two sides have officially applied to return to the league next year.
"If the cut in funding is only 20 percent, we can rejoice, but I'm not sure if we've been factored into this quantum," Tanjong Pagar chairman Edward Liu said.
"And, in the event that Gombak and us are given the green light to rejoin the S.League, are we given the same amount as the rest, or will we be taking away part of the existing clubs' share?"
While Liu revealed that the Jaguars have already identified their new coach and are already looking out for potential players, it remains to be seen if they are included in FAS plans for next season.
An FAS spokesman said: "Discussions on the funding for the S.League clubs are still ongoing. A commitment has been put in place to allow clubs sufficient time to plan their rosters.
"More details on the plans for the 2018 S.League season will be announced in the coming weeks."
The start of the 2018 S.League season will be delayed until late March, due to the various proposed changes.
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT