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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
If you measure a sport's popularity by the number of national federations that belong to the international governing body, basketball is surprisingly tops in the world. The Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur (FIBA) boasts 213 members to 209 for FIFA, soccer's far more famous counterpart. Of course, we'd never argue that there are more people playing basketball than soccer, but it does show that both sports have fans around the world. So it should be no surprise that Southeast Asia has a basketball association of its own, known as the Asean Basketball League (ABL).
Formed in 2009, the league has just started its fourth season with six teams in 2013, two less than contested the previous campaign. Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, and Singapore host teams that will play a 20-game slate over four months. The team in Singapore known as the Slingers, a nickname that evokes both basketball and the world-famous concoction, the Singapore Sling.
The venue is the Singapore Indoor Stadium, one of several facilities that will make up the Singapore Sports Hub, scheduled for completion in 2014. The indoor stadium was first opened in 1988 and has held countless concerts and sporting events since then, including the Clash of Continents in 2012.
The stadium is quite beautiful and well worth visiting; unfortunately the quality of basketball leaves much to be desired.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Just inside the main entrance are a few concession stands with very little to offer. A few snacks and drinks are available, but nothing filling or reasonably priced. As an example; hot dogs were listed at $8, while small sandwiches were selling for $5. There were a few cheaper options but nothing seemed appealing, and I did not see many patrons trying anything.
Alcohol, on the other hand, was widely available, but rather overpriced with two bottles of beer going for $25. Bottles of Jack Daniels and Coke were also the same price. These high prices forced most fans to softer beverages, including bottles of Coke at $4 or mineral water at $3.
There are five eateries located underneath the stadium on the riverside, including Brewerkz, a microbrewery that doubles as a sports bar. My advice would be to eat afterwards at one of these places as they provide a nice view of the river and downtown. Alternatively, you can venture over to the nearby mall known as Leisure Park Kallang, which has several decent restaurants. You might want to try bringing in some snacks from the 7/11 located there as well. There was a sign indicating that outside food and drink was not allowed, but there was nobody checking bags.
Although my visit coincided with the season opener for the Slingers, less than 2,000 fans showed up, leaving approximately 11,000 empty seats. This didn't bode well for the game, but things got worse once the action started. Whenever the Slingers were on defense, the MC said "Let's D up!" and tried to get a "D-Fence" chant going while playing monotonous recorded clapping. He also let us know whenever there was a rebound although on several occasions, he called a defensive rebound a turnover. One of the funnier things was when the MC told the teams to "return to the court" after a timeout. Thought that was the referee's job.
There were some cheerleaders (Slingerls!) who used slingshots (get it?) to send t-shirts into the crowd during timeouts. Quarter breaks and halftime saw a couple of typical games such as the one featuring kids trying to shoot while wearing oversized basketball uniforms.
Even though there is a small crowd, the team tries hard to get things going but it is simply too difficult to establish a regular rhythm with so few fans and such poor basketball being played.
The stadium is part of the Singapore Sports Hub, a collection of five sporting venues surrounded by retail and residential space that promises to be a great destination when it opens in 2014. At the moment, the Indoor Stadium is the only facility operating, and the rest of the area is dominated by construction with little else to see. The previously mentioned Leisure Park Kallang is the highlight, with cinemas, a skating rink, and a bowling alley all providing entertainment options for the whole family.
If you are looking for something a bit more mature, you will need to take the MRT a few stops to downtown where there are plenty of eating and drinking options along Boat, Clarke, or Robertson Quays.
For the most part, the fans seemed to know their basketball, cheering and booing at the right time, though they could have been more aggressive towards the refs when a particularly egregious call was made. But that is Singapore, where people are polite and generally easygoing even when things might not go their way. With a population of over 5 million though, they should be able to double or triple the crowd here and make it a much more exciting place to be.
Singapore Indoor Stadium is just a couple of minutes from the Stadium station on the MRT's Circle Line. This central location is helped by a recent renovation that makes the stadium easy to navigate with a wide concourse, balconies on each of the four sides, and a good seating plan with plenty of leg room in each row. Sightlines to the basketball court are unblocked and you can move from seat to seat without being accosted by an usher, allowing you to find the spot that suits you best. For the first half, I sat in the east balcony and had the entire area to myself as everybody else prefers to stay down closer to the action.
There are a couple of minor negatives. First, the path to the stadium can get very waterlogged if it has been raining; this need to be fixed. Most of Singapore has great drainage and I suspect once this area is fully operational, this problem will clear up. The other problem is that the best seats are separated from the sections above by a small gate which seemed to be difficult to operate and served no purpose other than to flummox fans who were returning to their seats after halftime.
Tickets are cheap, with the most expensive going for $18 and the cheapest for just $8, plus a dollar for a service fee. Even then, the quality of the basketball is so bad that you are essentially throwing your money away. In the game I witnessed, the first quarter saw a combined shooting percentage of 17.5%. This was not due to smothering defense, but rather brutal shooting. Although the teams managed to improve the rest of the way, neither club broke 33% in a very low-scoring affair.
The scoreboard is also in terrible shape and difficult to read, even the larger numbers. The player statistics were simply illegible, which for basketball is unforgivable. The annoying atmosphere and largely empty stadium don't make things any more enjoyable. Only the most diehard stadium journeyers will consider this a worthwhile experience.
At the main entrance, there are banners saying "Welcome" in many different languages.
The venue also has a Jack Daniels Sky Bar but it was not in use during the game.
The ABL is trying to increase awareness of the game in their local markets, so the number of imports is limited to 4 per team, which renders the quality of the game much lower than you should have reason to expect. The Singapore Indoor Stadium is a great venue for concerts and tennis, but if you like basketball, you probably will want to stay away lest your enjoyment of the game be permanently harmed.
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