Coronavirus: Futsal facilities in Singapore hit hard during pandemic

People play at one of the pitches at The Cage on Sept 3, 2020.
People play at one of the pitches at The Cage on Sept 3, 2020.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Weeknights at The Cage used to be overflowing with adrenaline and goals as futsal players flocked to Kallang to get their football fix. These days however, Rajesh Mulani is often greeted with silence as he stares at the six empty pitches.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the facility would usually be fully booked with up to 20 different groups there during the 7pm-11pm peak period.

Co-owner Mulani now sees an average of three groups each night and said his business has been badly affected despite help from the Government's Jobs Support Scheme, which co-pays salaries to help firms retain workers.

He estimated The Cage, which has pitches in Kallang, Turf City and MacPherson, is operating at 20 per cent utilisation while revenue has fallen by 80 per cent.

His running cost across all three venues, excluding rent which is being negotiated with the Singapore Land Authority, is between $70,000 and $80,000.

"The deal-breaker is the 'group of five' limitation because we're set up as a team sports venue and football is our main thing but football can't happen," the 50-year-old said.

Sports and physical activities had resumed in Phase 2 of Singapore's reopening in June but for team sports like futsal, groups are capped at five people with no inter-mixing between groups allowed.

For individual sports like badminton, bowling or snooker, these limits are less disruptive for players compared to those keen for a game of futsal, which is usually a five-a-side match.

Charlene Chai, marketing director of snooker hall King's Pool, said sales have dropped by 40 per cent with a maximum of 50 people allowed in its hall.

She said: "The demand is there because there are fewer tables provided."

The situation is far more dire for The Cage and its competitors.

 
 

Stadio Futsal Singapore, which has 10 courts across five venues and is co-owned by former Lions coach V. Sundramoorthy and current Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic, now receives one or two bookings a week and revenue has fallen by 90 per cent.

"Now the biggest challenge for us is to pay rent and if things become worse, we may have to make a business decision and close some outlets," said Kraljevic, who declined to reveal the company's fixed monthly cost.

Kovan Sports Centre, which has eight futsal courts, has seen a similar drop in attendance, even with discounts of up to 50 per cent.

Kovan office manager Dolly Ng said: "We do not foresee any improvement in our business if the current quota of five people per court is not lifted.

"The younger kids are not coming because their parents are concerned about their kids getting infected. Adults are not coming because it makes no sense to play futsal in groups of five."

While national agency Sport Singapore has gradually been easing safe management measures - its latest advisory on Aug 27 said more open spaces were made available for large outdoor exercise classes with a cap of 50 students subject to venue capacity and safe distancing rules - it remains unclear when the groups of five limit will be altered.

Terrence Wong, director of Golazo Futsal Singapore, lamented how discounts and promotions are not enough to bring back the crowds.

Its usual hourly rates of $90 were lowered to $50 and then to $10 - for a limited period last month - but bookings for their four courts still dropped by 80 per cent.

To reduce cost, Wong, 38, is applying for subsidies from government agencies and for deferment of rent payment, which is a four-figure sum, and utilities.

The Covid-19 crisis and drop in footfall has forced The Cage and its owners to explore other ways to bring in revenue. It launched a football fitness programme for amateurs last month.

Classes, which include a combination of football drills and high-intensity interval training, last an hour and run thrice every Monday to Thursday night. They cost $15 per person and are conducted by former Balestier defender Sofiyan Abdul Hamid.

Almost all 10 classes every week are full, said Mulani.

"We've come to terms that we do need to innovate, that we do need to find different uses for our fields," he said, adding that The Cage is also looking to host other fitness classes and activities at their premises.

Lawyer Ruthra Ram, 36, admitted while this does not beat playing a proper football game, it is "the best option we've got".

"If the five of us just kicked the ball around for one hour, there's little that can be done and we'll be tired after 15 minutes," he said.

"But here, there's a structure and every drill is different so instead of giving up after 15 minutes, you push on till the next drill. This keeps your mind active and it makes things interesting."

Additional reporting by Nicole Chia