Wonderful timing. Just as the elections come by, the issue of the 2010 Youth Olympics is popping up again, but not because of any irate netizen’s efforts.
The issue was resurfaced by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports itself, when they released the organising committee’s official report, titled Blazing the trail. Today newspaper highlighted one of its claims:
The amount of exposure Singapore has received through the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) may now be supported by figures from the Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee’s official 107-page report.
The report, released last month, showed that media coverage analysis of the event in August listed 61,381 mentions of the YOG. The Games was said to have had a “266,379,343 reach” and an estimated US$45 million (S$56.7 million) in editorial marketing value.
— Today newspaper, 7 April 2011, YOG had a S$56.7m marketing value: Report
When MediaCorp asked for a distinct breakdown between local coverage and international coverage, a Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) spokesperson said they did “not have a breakdown of the data by geographical areas and hence are unable to provide the distinction”.
What on earth is this beast called “editorial marketing value”? I can tell you what it is not: it is not what they actually spent on marketing. The beast seems to be the notional value of broadcasts and mentions made in various media (including online) about the Youth Olympics. Firstly, how they computed dollar-value is unknown; the event was mentioned several times in Yawning Bread and even I cannot come up with a value for each mention. Secondly, just about all the thousands of online mentions were negative. How were these valued?
As if to prove that the number-crunchers were really in a world of their own, they provided a reach of “266,379,343”– yes, accurate to the last person. Not a round number which estimates tend to be, but an exact number.
Draw what conclusions you may.
The chief issue last year was overspending. When bidding for the Youth Olympics, the government estimated it would cost S$104 million. However, by the time the games came around, it had ballooned nearly four-fold to an estimated S$387 million. See my earlier article Papering over Youth Olympics budget mistakes.
After criticisms had rumbled for a few months prior — over road inconvenience, schoolchildren mandated to attend events, volunteers treated shabbily — they exploded when these rough costings were revealed. This especially after the same minister had resisted calls to increase the paltry amount we provide as Public Assistance to the destitute.
I’m sure people can understand it takes a few months to put together the full expense numbers for big events. Perhaps the official report might have them? But when asked by Today newspaper why the official report contained no mention of amounts spent, a ministry spokesperson told the newspaper the report “is a commemorative book to capture the YOG journey and hence Games expenditure is not included”. You have to admire the chutzpah in such a bald answer.
Yet, this “commemorative book” has 26 pages of statistics. It tells us that there were 10,657 official images published by the Youth Olympic Photo Service, that 130,638 kilograms of equipment and resources came in by airfreight, that 4,419 SIM cards were issued, and 12,498 sandwich meals were distributed at competition venues.
But it could not tell us (would not?) how much money was spent.
The critical tone of Today’s story (by reporter Leong Wee Kiat) could not easily be ignored. So, Koh Peng Keng, Director (Sports) from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports wrote back. Among the points he made in his letter published in Today on 10 April 2011, were that the games “generated S$60 million in additional tourism receipts for Singapore”. Since we possibly spent around S$400 million to host it, this means we got back 15 cents on every dollar spent.
He also said, “To put things in perspective, the [Youth Olympic Games] was one third the size of the Summer Olympics, but our expenditure was less than 10 per cent of the most recent Games.”
I think the one-third ratio came from the number of participants we hosted relative to a full-sized Olympics. But to suggest that we got a bargain was spin that was faster than centrifuges used to refine uranium. We didn’t even get one percent of the publicity of a typical Summer Olympics, let alone ten percent.
For the benefit of some readers, let me recapitulate: through the storm of criticism, Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, defended the wisdom of bringing the Youth Olympics to Singapore by saying Singapore would benefit enormously in return from the worldwide publicity that came with the event. He also went as far as to suggest that such publicity would attract foreign investors.
First of all, plenty of Singaporeans abroad reported that there was no publicity to speak of; foreign media carried next to nothing about the Youth Olympics. Secondly, it was not just a case of going out on a limb to claim that investors’ interest would be generated from this non-publicity, it was a figurative leap off the branch into cloud cuckoo land.
If this “commemorative book” is anything to go by, the ministry is still there.