What S'pore paid to be only regional stop for Taylor Swift 'nowhere as high as speculated': Minister

Anjali Raguraman
The Straits Times
March 1, 2024

A team that headed to Los Angeles more than a year ago to woo Taylor Swift to Singapore was led by no less than a minister.

Rarely do such negotiations begin with such a heavyweight on board, but Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said it was an important project, part of a move to revitalise the Singapore Sports Hub and bring it “back alive”.

Ahead of the American pop star’s six Eras Tour concerts at the National Stadium beginning on March 2, Mr Tong said in an interview: “The Sports Hub was an important project for me personally and for my ministry...

“We wanted to make sure we left no stone unturned, both in terms of ensuring we kept ourselves updated on what the best venues around the world could offer, but also what content we could bring in.”

The team comprised officials from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), as well as representatives from Sport Singapore and Kallang Alive Sport Management (KASM), which had taken over the running of the Sports Hub in December 2022.

On its exploratory trip in early 2023, the team met a number of different operators, promoters and agents for both music concerts and sports events in Los Angeles.

“One such meeting was with Swift’s agent, and very quickly we saw an opportunity because she had not yet announced international tour dates, so we put forward a proposition to come to Singapore... (and figured out) what can we do to make it work for you, dates and venue-wise and so on,” Mr Tong disclosed in the interview on March 1.

Things fell into place quickly.

“I came back from that trip, gave the team some instructions on how we wanted to manage this, and the team took it on, and here we are... We signed (an agreement) with them around May 2023, and by June we made the announcement,” he said.

More than 300,000 tickets have been sold for the six shows, which will draw fans from all around South-east Asia, with Singapore being Swift’s only stop in the region.

The Straits Times reported economists estimating that it could boost Singapore’s economy by up to $500 million in tourism receipts.

But it has also sparked unhappiness among some lawmakers in neighbouring countries, with word going about that Singapore had struck an exclusivity deal with the mega pop star not to perform anywhere else in South-east Asia.

On Feb 20, the Singapore Tourism Board and MCCY confirmed that a grant had been provided to help bring the tour here, but stopped short of disclosing the amount.

@straitstimes Singapore reportedly offered subsidies of up to $4 million per concert in exchange for Taylor Swift agreeing to perform here exclusively and not elsewhere in South-east Asia. In response to queries, the authorities said STB gave a grant for the upcoming concerts. #sgnews #theerastour #taylorswift #erastour #theerastoursg ♬ original sound - The Straits Times

Mr Tong, who said he would be hosting guests from abroad at her concert, did not want to be drawn into the specific accusations that have been made about Singapore’s deal.

He noted: “People talk about grants and exclusivity, but the reality is each of those concert promoters is very savvy – they know where they want to play, how many nights they want to play for, and they make their own calculations.

“What we can offer them is a first-class team on the ground, a top-tier venue, and a space in which they will be able to operate free from interruption and a good environment overall,” he said, adding that how much Singapore paid to be the only regional stop is “nowhere as high as what’s being speculated online”.

In another coup, the National Stadium joins the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, as the venue with the most number of shows on the tour so far.

“When we had a meeting with her team, I asked if it was possible to have her in Singapore at the end of any particular segment of the tour, with the thinking if the shows had high demand, we could exercise the right to extend (the run),” said Mr Tong, noting that the initial deal was for a three-night concert run.

“When we released the tickets and they were so popular, we decided to speak to the promoters, and that’s when we got the second three nights.”

Actively going out to court big stars, events and opportunities is part of the Sports Hub’s new “hustle”, said Mr Tong, as the Republic looks to plant a flag as a cultural hub. “Sports Hub’s primary motivation is to hustle for good deals for Singapore,” he said.

“We look at the market and see what Singaporeans want, but beyond that we also want to see the impact it can make.

“We want to turn Singapore into a space where people can enjoy a cultural hub, whether it’s in arts or culture or sports.”

The exploratory trip was also part of a larger strategy to put the Sports Hub on the map with mega arenas in the United States.

“Together we wanted to see what was possible out there and what the options were, not just in terms of programming and content, but also in terms of hardware, and how... they turn top-class venues like SoFi Stadium or Crypto.com Arena (in California) into something that was easily transferable from sports to music to functions overnight,” Mr Tong added.

“We want to turn our Sports Hub into a comparable venue.”

The Government, which took back the Sports Hub from the private consortium that had run it since 2014, has also given KASM the freedom to run the gamut from high-end, top-tier marquee shows to non-ticketed, non-profit events for schools, charities and the community.

Mr Tong said the Sports Hub was previously a passive venue operator, renting out space – including the 55,000-capacity National Stadium – as and when it was available.

Under the new management, there is control over the availability of the venue, especially for events that require a lot of forward planning like major sports events and concerts.

“We now can go out there with confidence, which gives KASM a freer hand to negotiate such deals... We are effectively working with the promoter on almost every aspect, whether it’s ticketing, advertisements or promotional material, to make the experience seamless and also enjoyable,” he added.

The Straits Times

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