SINGAPORE — While the Government has given grants for sports and arts events here, Taylor Swift’s Eras tour in Singapore could be the first time an exclusive deal has been struck for an artiste to make the Republic her only Southeast Asian stop, entertainment industry insiders told TODAY.

Industry insiders who spoke to TODAY on condition of anonymity, citing business sensitivity, said that they had never seen an exclusivity deal for an entertainment event, though some were not surprised that Swift, of all acts, could have managed it.

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And such a deal would have made good business for Singapore, said business experts and economists, given the impact that a Swift concert has on an economy — or what has been coined “Swiftonomics”.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin claimed recently that Singapore had offered Swift US$2 million (S$2.7 million) to US$3 million per show in exchange for exclusivity in Southeast Asia.

Responding to queries from the media, the authorities said on Tuesday (Feb 20) that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) had supported the event through a grant, but did not confirm or deny Mr Srettha’s claim.

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While such a deal would “irritate” Singapore’s neighbours, geopolitical watchers do not believe that it would have implications on the country’s foreign relations.

Swift’s six shows here, which run from March 2 to 9, are all sold out. Singapore is one of the American singer’s two stops in Asia, the other being Japan.

Swift likely ‘only one’ in entertainment scene to command exclusivity: Insiders

One former events executive said that the Government has never been shy in giving grants for sports and arts shows.

“In fact, every promoter and event organiser in the world knows that the Singapore Government is very generous if the key performance indicators meet the Government’s objectives,” he said.

“Everything they have done is normal except for this exclusivity (clause) for Singapore only... I’ve never heard about this for a commercial property.”

In deciding whether or not to give a grant, the authorities would consider factors such as whether an act has a travelling fan base and a strong track record for audience turnout.

Another insider familiar with the grant approval process said that STB does an economic impact study to ensure that the event will likely draw larger returns than the grant quantum, and that this must have also been done for the Swift deal.

Another industry insider, who worked at a firm that partnered the Sports Hub under the public-private partnership (PPP) model before the government takeover, said that while an exclusivity deal was unheard of, she is not surprised that a landmark deal had been carved out for Swift.

“Under the PPP model, we never tried for exclusivity; we knew STB wouldn’t do it,” said the insider, who was privy to the Sports Hub’s agreements with concert and event promoters.

She said that while most acts would likely not justify an exclusivity clause in the millions, Swift, being an act that has altered the economic fates of cities, is in a class of her own in terms of returns on investment.

“We also knew there was no act that huge that would warrant that kind of money. Taylor is really the only one.”

It would have been impossible to pull off such bold deals under the old PPP model.

“We didn’t have the budget to tell promoters, ‘You can only bring this person to my country’. The competition was local — we were competing against other venues within Singapore,” she said.

Another industry insider, who specialises in the coordination of large-scale entertainment events, said that he would not be surprised if an exclusivity clause came attached with STB’s grant.

“What is the point of STB funding if Taylor Swift is playing in another city (in the region) two days later?” he said.

“We have to block out others, therefore our show is the exclusive show in this part of the region. And fans will make an effort to fly in here, book our hotels, eat our food, book our private-hire services and pay for the tickets.

“If STB is going to spend the millions to fund the show, obviously they must get something back.”

Taking advantage of Swiftonomics

Business experts said that the grant given by STB, whether with an exclusivity clause or not, can be viewed as an investment.

Bloomberg reported that Swift’s concerts in Australia could generate A$1.2 billion (S$1.06 billion) in economic value to the city of Melbourne alone.

And according to the Japan Times, the economic impact of Swift’s four shows in Tokyo earlier this month is estimated to be around 34 billion yen (S$304 million).

Indeed, as seen in the countries she has been to before, Singapore will likely benefit in terms of increased tourist spending on hospitality, retail, food and beverage, and transport, said Professor Lawrence Loh, director of the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore.

“There’s a spillover effect on other sectors of the economy as well. When fans come here, they will visit attractions, they will go shopping; there will be a multiplier effect from sectors not directly related to the concert itself,” he said.

Experts believe that Singapore has been closely watching the “Swiftonomics” effect in other countries and wants a share of it as well.

However, having Swift come to Singapore exclusively in the region is also important for Singapore’s reputation and branding, said Prof Loh.

“She’s an even greater phenomenon than Ed Sheeran and even Coldplay, so in terms of branding, it signals that Singapore is an exciting place to live, work and play,” he said.

Economist Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences added that such grants should not be seen as any different from other business grants or tax relief that the Government disburses.

“Governments make deals like this all the time that are in principle no different from those struck by the Economic Development Board to grant tax benefits, credits, concessions and so on for foreign investors,” he said.

“This is a common and expected activity of investment and tourism promotion agencies in cities globally.”

Will there be any geopolitical consequences?

Geopolitical experts said that the chance of this incident straining regional ties is extremely low.

Thai Premier Srettha was reported in The Guardian as saying that the Singapore Government had been “clever” in telling Swift’s concert promoters not to hold any other shows in Southeast Asia.

“Singapore’s bilateral relations with Thailand are strong and deep and will survive a passing fit of annoyance,” retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan told TODAY.

“So the Thai PM is a little irritated, but there was nothing to have stopped him from securing an exclusive deal with Swift if he had thought of it first.

“Was STB going to forgo getting Swift to Singapore just because a competitor is slow? That’s not how business works.”

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst with business consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore, believes that the exclusivity deal that the Republic was said to have eked out might not be unique.

“In other sectors (other than entertainment), other governments may also be fleshing out such agreements,” he said.

“This is just one particular case, there may already be exclusive agreements that have been hedged elsewhere, we just don’t know about it.” — TODAY