Watching on television and inside the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, there was no doubt that badminton fans continued to flock to the Malaysia Open, which ended yesterday – even though the national shuttlers failed to shine.
Tickets quickly sold out, and the noise was deafening inside the Axiata Arena, even on the final two days when there were no representatives from the host nation.
However, unlike in 2022 and last year, there was not much fun and excitement outside the stadium.
Apart from the men’s doubles pairings of Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik and Ong Yew Sin-Yeo Ee Yi, who reached the quarterfinals, all others fell on the opening three days of competition, including Lee Zii Jia, who suffered his third consecutive early exit from his ‘home’ tournament.
There was more bad news for the national team as Ng Tze Yong suffered a muscle tear on his back and will miss a month of action.
In 2022, the Malaysia Open returned after a two-year absence, and title sponsor Petronas pulled out all the stops to entice badminton and non-sporting fans to Bukit Jalil. There were live bands at night, ensuring some fans stayed back to enjoy the entertainment and spend more money.
The 2022 Malaysia Open coincided with the Malaysia Festival, which helped draw in more people.
Sports consultant and Twentytwo13 columnist Nur Jasni Mohamed noted that the 2022 Malaysia Open generated at least RM20 million in transactions.
“That was because Petronas also did plenty of activation to excite the fans,” said Nur Jasni.
“Sponsors must do their part to promote tournaments as it is their money.
“From what I observed on social media, Petronas did a good job to hype up this year’s Malaysia Open.”
Last year, with no ‘supporting cast’, there was still a buzz around the tournament. The covered dining area, with a giant screen showing the matches, was usually packed from the afternoon until the last matches late at night. That changed this year, as food truck operators and shops hocking merchandise complained about low foot traffic.
“Business is not good. Lower than expected,” said a vendor selling churros, who identified himself as Sham.
“Part of the reason could be that hardly any Malaysian players were left in the draw,” he said on Friday.
One food truck doing brisk business was Mat Rock Ayam Goreng Kunyit.
One of its workers, Mohd Khairul, said his bosses however, might not agree.
“Business was not bad, but less than last year,” he said.
“Maybe the boss ‘tak puas hati’ (will not be overly pleased) with the takings. The problem is that the area is not so ‘meriah’ (lively), as it is just the food trucks, the big tent, and some games hosted by Petronas.”
He added that most of the crowd stayed inside Axiata Arena, as there was no reason to hang out outside the stadium.
“If there had been activities, perhaps non-badminton fans would also visit Axiata Arena, as had happened previously,” he added.
When told about the food vendors’ grouses, Nur Jasni said: “Food truck vendors are always a hit and miss, unless it is curated.”
According to Nur Jasni, Petronas fulfilled its marketing obligations, but he called on other sponsors to step up their game.
He cited the ongoing AFC Asian Cup, and last December’s Junior Hockey World Cup as examples of sponsors not capitalising on the events.
“TNB had a brilliant chance to capitalise (on the Junior World Cup) but failed, as there was hardly any crowd. Worst, many did not even know the tournament was on,” he said.
“As for football, FAM’s (Football Association of Malaysia) sponsors have little to no activation to promote the event in Qatar.
“It was a missed opportunity to capitalise on this rare occurrence and generate excitement among football fans.”
For the first time in 42 years, Harimau Malaya qualified for the Asian Cup on merit.
As for the Malaysia Open, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) can consider the tournament a success – off the court.
The crowds were still high, the television, print, and online coverage was exceptional, and fans dissected national players’ performances on social media and over meals.
The only thing missing was seeing a Malaysian winner – which had not happened since 2018, when Datuk Lee Chong Wei won the last of his 12 Malaysia Open titles.
The poor performance is worrying as it affected the national and professional players, who are still trying to qualify for the Paris Olympics later this year.
If the results do not improve, and without anything else to entice them to the venue, some fans may decide it is not worth their time to support the shuttlers, particularly with the bad traffic jams and exorbitant parking fees.