As local football fans continue to throng the Jalan Besar Stadium in support of V. Sundramoorthy and his LionsXII team in the Malaysian Super League (MSL), one man is working hard to make sure Singapore's own S-League does not become a poor cousin to its Malaysian counterpart.
Meet Lim Chin, the man charged with the unenviable job of reviving a league that has seen attendance in recent seasons drop to a dismal few hundreds in some matches.
But while Lim may be the CEO, he may also well be the IT manager. When Yahoo! Singapore visited his office at the Jalan Besar Stadium for this interview, the former Artillery Chief of the Singapore Armed Forces was busy ensuring the S-League's new website was running smoothly.
Later during the chat, it emerged that Lim also has a third role — that of the S-League's marketing executive who is tasked with attracting money and sponsorship to the league.
And this is the area Lim is channeling most of his energy to at the moment.
"We are fortunate to have good rapport with the Tote board as well as Singapore Pools," he said of the move to secure funding from the gaming company for a five-year period. "We also have the Great Eastern/Yeo's S-League, RHB sponsoring the Singapore Cup, and Starhub just came onboard to sponsor the League Cup."
The sponsorship deal with the telecommunications company was inked last month, and is "quite substantial" according to Lim, who declined to reveal more details citing confidentiality reasons.
Still, despite the latest deal, Lim, who was chairman of the Singapore Armed Forces Football Club from 2002 to 2006, is clearly still not satisfied. "We still have a long way to go. Companies here should give the S-League a chance. Club sponsorships is also very important," he said.
Freebies aplenty at the S-League
But Lim, who took on his current role two months ago, admits the S-League and its 13 clubs must also "give mileage to the sponsors".
Which is why he has lined up a series of measures to inject a dosage of fun and vibrancy to the league.
First on his to-do list is promotional activities at VivoCity starting this Sunday (11 March), where clubs will take turns to promote the league and give away match tickets to shoppers in the mall over the next six weekends.
He is also planning to take advantage of the healthy attendance at the LionsXII's home matches by giving away 2,000 copies of the Roar S-League supplement done by The New Paper over the next five matches.
"The supplement comes with a free ticket which the fans can use to watch any S-League game," Lim revealed.
If that is not enough, Lim is intending to roll out lucky draws during half-times at S-League matches "in the next two to three weeks" where fans stand to win various electrical appliances, including a 32-inch TV at every match.
"I also hope to have a team of S-League cheerleaders to drum up the atmosphere at the games from mid-April," the affable Lim added.
'Crowds attract crowds mentality'
Lim said the goal behind these measures is to raise average attendance at the S-League from the current 1,300 to 2,000 fans.
"Basically it all boils down to getting Singaporeans to want to come to the stadiums to watch the S-League games. From watching football on TV, some of them have migrated to going for LionsXII games. Now we want them to come for the S-League matches, too," Lim said.
For all the off-pitch marketing gimmicks, Lim is aware that what eventually makes or breaks the S-League is the quality of the football dished out on the pitch.
And he is confident that the S-League is more than a match for the MSL in terms of quality of football. "It [the S-League] is a good product. It is just as exciting and entertaining as the MSL.
"I have been to every S-League game except for when I was in Brunei and the quality is good. I've seen good technique, football played at a good tempo, 30m scorchers, there are many good examples," he enthused.
He also shared his views on the much-touted Premier League Soccer in West Bengal, India, which has reportedly attracted brand-name players such as former Argentine international Hernan Crespo and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler.
Lim, while noting that the league's scheduled kick-off on 24 March has been postponed due to the non-availability of suitable venues, said S-League clubs are unlikely to be able to sign these household names soon. Fowler also recently announced his decision to pull out from the league.
"These players, with the salaries they demand, is out of our ball-park," he said frankly.
Beep test here to stay
But he argued that between big-name but over-aged players who might last only half a game and fit, young players in the prime of their footballing careers, he will gladly choose the latter.
Which is why Lim said the much-criticised Beep Test, which the league used as a barometer to gauge the fitness of the players, is here to stay.
The Beep Test measures a player's fitness level by the number of 20-metre laps they can run. Players are required to reach the line at the end of the court before each "beep" goes off, while the time between each "beep" gradually increases along with the number of laps.
While Lim is sympathetic towards players like Qiu who might find it hard to pass the test because of prior injuries sustained, he said "fitness is key and has a direct correlation to the quality of play" on the pitch.
But he promised to strive to "keep a balance" between keeping the test and being open to the idea of allowing players who cannot pass the test due to injury and age issues to ply their trade in the S-League.
'We are putting together a team'
Yet for all his enthusiasm, Lim is aware that he cannot be a one-man show.
He confirmed to Yahoo! Singapore that he is looking to put together a management team for the S-League. This includes getting a replacement for his former deputy Johan Gouttefangeas, who resigned less than a month after his appointment in January after The New Paper reported his failed businesses in France.
But Lim also stressed that he is more than happy to get his hands dirty. "I'm comfortable running around, doing menial tasks. It is important to go down to the ground to put my hand on the problems. That way, I can understand the issues better."
While he is already doing all these, Lim said he can do better. "There are many areas I can improve on. I will only have succeeded in my job when I bring fans to the stadium."
Asked what his immediate target is, Lim smiled and said firmly: "Anything above 1,500 fans will be an improvement for now."