Why ask what was spent when glory came from 12,498 sandwiches served?

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”.

— ibid.

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.

17 Responses to “Why ask what was spent when glory came from 12,498 sandwiches served?”

  1. 1 georgia tong 13 April 2011 at 00:29

    YOG is incident is a typical example of how the MIW behave. They will spin tall tale to cover rather than acknowledge their mistake.

  2. 2 Criticalist 13 April 2011 at 00:45

    I believe the “61381 mentions” refer to the number of ‘likes’ on the facebook’s YOG page (which is now at 103812). I’m not sure about the 266million value but would hazard a guess that it is the cumulative number of visits to the various internet presences of the YOG eg their websites, youtube channels etc. I do not think they are able to distinguish unique from repeat visits though.

    IOC previously pointed out that the YOG would have an estimated international media value of S$86million, which seems to be a drop from the $56.7 “marketing value”, assuming both refer to the same thing.

    • 3 ST 13 April 2011 at 07:19

      I do not think “editorial mentions” refer to the number of ‘likes’ on the facebook’s YOG page.

      In PR, a monetary value is often assigned to editorial coverage as a means to measure how successful a campaign or marketing effort was. Most agencies have their own formula but the traditional method is to calculate the value of the article based on what it would have cost had it been an advertisement. This is largely a newspaper and print method. Not sure how this works for online media since editorial and ad spaces are more defined or in the case of social media.

  3. 4 jolene 13 April 2011 at 03:59

    I don’t think the exceeded budget is the problem. The problem lies with the decision to host the YOG in the first place. It was a bad decision to commit to hosting such a new event for the publicity it would bring to Singapore, without even knowing how much media attention it would generate.

    Was it that hard to predict that the world would not be that interested in seeing high school students play sports?

    • 5 Becca D'Bus 13 April 2011 at 12:46

      Sorry, but I have to disagree here.
      I do not personally fault the risk taking. I want leadership that will take calculated chances on new ideas. I want leadership that will take risk, if you will, it’s part of how innovation happens.
      The inability to manage a budget – that shows a lack of skill.
      The blatant refusal to be transparent and accountable shows that I can’t trust them.

      This is much much more damaging.

  4. 6 hahaha 13 April 2011 at 09:21

    well, this is exactly the whole argument why we need more robust debates in Parliament. A bunch of Yes men wouldn’t cut it, and paying them more millions would mean not to go against your boss, isnt it?

  5. 7 dubH 13 April 2011 at 09:55

    Brilliant write-up as usual. It amazes me still how the government likes to slice and dice statistics to *show* that they are correct- just like the recent poverty and education opportunity correlations.

  6. 8 pakcik 13 April 2011 at 10:21

    The only way I heard about the Youth Olympics here in the US is vie Yawnbread.

  7. 9 anon 13 April 2011 at 12:24

    Would Vivian Bala be the 3rd PAP man having a publicized cry when the GE results are in. If he is so good, take on an opposition in an SMC leh.

  8. 10 Thomas 13 April 2011 at 14:49

    A total waste of time, when the money would have been better spent on sporting facilities around the country, many of which are overcrowded and falling apart.

    • 11 tk 14 April 2011 at 14:46

      and on that point thomas – why on earth is singapore spending money on an olympic sized ice-skating rink, when they don’t even have more ‘straitforward’ infrastructure such as community based concrete cycling velodromes, let alone an indoor “gold-standard” one which would be much more likely to host large international meets, than a tropical ice skating rink.

      how many ‘serious’ road cyclists are there in SG? judging by the turnout for the ocbc 40 50 and 60km events in the last 3 years, several thousand. ‘serious’ ice skaters? 100?

      heaps of cyclists would love to have a spin around a world class velodrome, with existing cycling clubs jumping at the chance to be able to race each other in a safe and air conditioned environment. sure they’d need to buy dedicated track bikes, but if there’s one major advantage cyclists here have over their SEA rivals, it’s no lack of money.

      purely on a gold medals/$$$ invested basis, cycling would seem to have far more going for it than ice skating.
      and don’t give me the ‘locals don’t have the physique for it’ excuse. bollocks.

      • 12 twasher 15 April 2011 at 09:02

        I agree on this — I wonder if it’s anything to do with the stereotype of fixed gear bike riders tending to be hipsters/hippies. But I suspect it’s just general poor planning.

  9. 13 Anonymous 14 April 2011 at 12:55

    Blown the Budget for YOG??? Of course, someone needs to be responsible. And that person is… (U know who sits at MCYS as its chief) In other countries such as Japan, the person will auto step down and resign for such a big screw up. But VERY SADLY, THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN S’PORE. I dun understand how come people can be so Thick-Skinned.

  10. 14 Tanky 14 April 2011 at 18:54

    In the Administrative service, YOG is one of those “look damn good as an idea and show great potential with promise of logically excellent long term impacts that are hard to proof otherwise” projects that Admin officers will love to grab. Any mention of world number one, world first, inaugural, centre stage, will sell the project and money is really not a matter. “The positive impacts on tourism and investors confidence are tremendous” will be sufficient to stop any debate on the budget mid-sentence. On the other hand, try get the government to help the poor and you will get the reverse — “it is impossible to measure how big a hole we will dig ourselves into if we go down the welfare route”.

  11. 15 prettyplace 16 April 2011 at 12:57

    Let’s be honest with ourselves.
    I think most Singaporeans were against the YOG idea because they were against the MIW.

    I supported the games, the idea of bring such a big event coming to Singapore was in itself grand. Never ever, have I heard a host nation making money from such events, except recently in China, the Olympics. They have the nationlist fervour, which I have seen for myself, amazing. The last I saw that in Singapore was in 1993 Malaysia Cup.

    The entire idea was to rejuvenate a sleepy nation, to bring families together to enjoy the limelight. However, things took a wrong turn as angst had already built up and searched for an outlet and along came Vivian.

    I find it strange that organisers are so focused on justifying cost when what they should be talking about are the intangibles.
    Stop any school student who participated to ask and you’ll get a positive reply. The excitement enjoyed the entertainment value can be seen in those eyes.

    Will it continue, have the sports associations made deals to train our sports students to reach the top? I hope they answer those questions.

    The whole hoo-haa about the cost has drained everyone but I sincerely hope, not that of our young comepetitors, coming from a family which held national records, just for the younger to snatch from the older brother, then be broken by a close friend and still kept unbroken for the last 25years. All this with the bearest of support. It shows that we are not progressing in terms of sports.

    I think its obvious for all to see from the importance we place on money & sense that we are losing and might have lost a generation of sports people, who can entertain and bring about a sense of belonging.

    Sports is an industry filled with failures and gradual achievements. Lets not de-rail this event, just to win a battle and lose the war.

  12. 16 Anon 16 April 2011 at 20:05

    The YOG was a political project as far as I can see.
    May be the final budget was the correct one but bec need to be politically correct and we were in the midst of a recession, so it was cut to one third the size. There were lots of temporary infrastructure that was built that was originally costed as far as I knew. Just my guesses.

  13. 17 AnT 17 April 2011 at 23:39

    I think the glory they mean is when they attend international cocktail parties, there is at least something for them, the spouse and children to boast about

    ..all at the expense of the suffrage who has to bear the loss, inconvenience and above all a howling international shame.

    I think these scholars / decision markers ar the helm of these organizations need to have their ‘PHDamages’ checked.

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