Sports facility operators see surge in bookings as groups of eight allowed in phase 3

SINGAPORE – For the past three weeks, Mr Rajesh Mulani, 50, has been inundated with enquiries for futsal courts.

The co-owner of The Cage, which has pitches at Kallang and Turf City, has become accustomed to the sight of six empty pitches in front of him at his Kallang premises. But he, and other private operators, have seen a surge in booking in recent weeks following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement that Singapore will move into phase three.

Group-size limits have increased from five to eight from Monday (Dec 28) and while safe management rules dictate there must be no mingling between groups, the easing of restrictions has been a reprieve for team sports like futsal and floorball.

Mr Mulani said: “While the sweet spot would have been 10, at least a semblance of a game can happen with eight people.

“From around 30 per cent utilisation compared to pre-Covid-19, we are at about 60 per cent this past week, but we have to bear in mind it was a peculiar week with school holidays and adults clearing leave at the end of the year to coincide with the New Year holiday.

“People will also take time to reform their groups and social dynamics because we are not allowed to have more than eight people lingering around as substitutes.

“So, while we don’t expect this surge to continue every week, we do hope to see some growth from phase two.”

Business like his – Mr Mulani estimated his running cost, excluding rent, is between $70,000 and $80,000 – were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sports facilities were closed during the circuit breaker (April 7 to June 1) and phase one (June 2-18) and even when they were allowed to restart operations in phase two, the rule-of-five made sports like futsal and floorball impractical.

A few doors down Jalan Benaan Kapal, Red Quarters is also experiencing an uptick in bookings for its two floorball courts.

Sensing an opportunity with pent-up demand here to play sports, the owners – a group of five floorball enthusiasts – took over the facility in October.

Co-owner Geraldine Tan said: “We want to serve the floorball community by providing a place that’s safe and fun. During phase two, we split our courts into two for groups to play three-versus-two in each area, with no mingling between groups allowed.

“Ever since we entered phase three, the booking rates have been very encouraging and we are seeing an increase of about 50 per cent.

“With groups of eight allowed now, teams usually play four-a-side with no goalkeepers. Of course, it would be better if we can have groups of 10 or 12 to get as close as possible to the regular six-a-side games, but we understand it is a gradual process towards normalcy.”

Stadio Futsal Singapore, which has 10 courts across five venues and is co-owned by former Singapore national football coach V. Sundram Moorthy and Singapore Premier League’s Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic, saw its revenue dive by 90 per cent before phase three.

The operator will however, will continue to offer the current promotional rates of $60 to $70 an hour.

Mr Kraljevic said this was to ensure foot traffic with a longer term view. He noted: “Bookings are slowly building up again… by up to 50 to 60 per cent this past week. The situation is a big improvement, but we also understand it is still not the same as before.

“In the past, people come in groups of 15 and each pays less than $10 an hour to play during the peak period. If we were to charge the normal rates with groups of eight now, people may find it too expensive to play, so we decided to keep the pricing down for now, and hope things will fully open up.”

The Covid-19 crisis has also forced the likes of Mr Mulani to explore other ways to bring in revenue. The Cage launched a football fitness programme for amateurs in August and is exploring using some of its larger 11-a-side pitches at Turf City for cricket.

National agency Sport Singapore has also slowly eased its restrictions. Its latest advisory has increased the limit for persons allowed at all sports and recreational facilities – the capacity for venues is gross floor area divided by eight square metres per person instead of 10sqm or 50 persons, whichever is lower.

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