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Singapore Sports Hub on how it rethink its venues with tech to cope with Covid-19 restrictions

The challenges of 2020 has pushed the Sports Hub to experiment with innovative event formats and technology.

Sporting and large-scale live events like music concerts came to halt with lockdown measures in place because of Covid-19 in 2020. Damian Bush, the managing director at Singapore Sports Hub explains to The Drum how the sports and entertainment facility coped with the loss of revenue from live events.

Sports matches, business conference and stadium gigs all came to a hard stop in 2020, leaving the venues that hosted them turning to tech in order to cope.

While Singapore Sports Hub is primarily used for major international and regional events for commercial purposes, it also serves the key role of promoting sports culture and community outreach in Singapore.

The Sports Hub, built in 2014 to replace the old National Stadium, is made up of the new 55,000-seat National Stadium with a retractable dome roof, an aquatic centre, a multi-sport indoor arena, and a water sports facility – and includes the existing 12,000-seat Singapore Indoor Stadium.

In the past, it hosted sporting events like the BNP Paribas WTA Finals, International Champions Cup and concerts held by the likes of Madonna, Coldplay and Jay Chou. But, as Sports Hub managing director Damian Bush explains, it had to adapt in a challenging year.

“When the pandemic hit and large scale live events were halted, we stepped up our focus on organising programmes that brought the local community together. This allowed us to not only maintain relevance but also foster stronger community engagement during troubled times,” he says.

“Another key role that the Hub played in 2020 was that of a pillar of support to the Singapore government by assisting in the national efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 among migrant workers. Under ‘Project Dorm’, the Hub quickly transformed venues like the OCBC Arena and the National Stadium into safe and comfortable living quarters that housed and supported over 3,000 workers for four and a half months.”

So, while the arena was far from empty, the business pressures of 2020 pushed the Sports Hub to experiment with innovative event formats and technology. It introducted blended programmes that carried both online and offline elements, remaining accessible to those comfortable with outdoor activities, as well as those who preferred to socially distance in their homes.

For example, its Zoomba event in November saw both online and offline participants come together for Singapore’s longest Zumba Relay – a seven-hour danceathon.

Sports Hub also hosted ‘AirBadminton’, transforming the traditionally indoor game into an outdoor sport with the application of a remodelled shuttlecock that utilised increased durability, stability and wind resistance.

He says AirBadminton has enabled more badminton rackets to be raised, and made the game more accessible to more Singaporeans.

“Technology has also changed how experiences can be augmented. Last year’s Run as One Singapore event, for example, incorporated the use of technology to accommodate safety measures,” explains Bush.

“Participants were led through the race via a mobile application with an audio guide to accompany them throughout. This reduced the need for large physical manpower strength by replacing the race marshals that were traditionally placed along the running course to guide participants.

He continues: “More of such blended events are already in the pipeline with our next one planned for this month, in fact, which will integrate fitness with charity, enabling participants to both feel good and do good.”

With infection numbers dropping in Singapore, the government is lifting further restrictions; social gatherings of up to eight people are now allowed indoors and in the public, up from five. Capacity limits in public places like malls, attractions and places of worship have also been eased.

Bush is looking forward to once again hold more live events while adhering to the necessary safety measures. He points to Project Dorm as Sports Hub’s potential to zone and accommodate a sizable number of people without compromising on safe distancing.

The Sports Hub is now capable of hosting individual zones that act as self-sufficient bubbles, with their own gate for entrance and exit, and bathroom facilities, that will work together to effectively separate different groups of event attendees.

This new zoning capability was applied to the One Championship event held last October – Singapore’s first live event since the pandemic. The zoning was complemented by strict screening measures that required event attendees to undergo compulsory antigen rapid tests on the day of the event and then produce a valid negative test certificate before entry.

“The successful execution of these safety protocols has built confidence in our ability to hold more live events, particularly in the later half of the year with events like the previously postponed HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens scheduled to be held between 29 and 30 October,” says Bush.

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