Revamp disappoints small clubs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am


Small clubs are racking up millions of dollars in losses and have yet to gain any benefits from the much-vaunted Project Phoenix revamp project, club officials claimed yesterday.

With the curtain coming down on the season after next week's FA Cup final, Citizen, one of the two teams representing Hong Kong at the regional AFC Cup, are facing a loss of HK$8 million. 'Running a soccer club is not an easy thing as every team is losing money,' said Citizen chairman Pui Kwan-kay, who is also the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association.

'That's why we all supported the government's Project Phoenix when it was introduced, hoping it could help change the situation, but it seems the project is heading nowhere and the clubs have not benefited at all. It's very disappointing.'

Pui said the project had spent a lot of money on human resources in an attempt to strengthen the structure of the association, but little had been done to help individual clubs. Since the project's launch this season, the HKFA has hired a number of senior staff, including a chief executive, Hong Kong team manager, technical director, academy coach, financial director and marketing director.

'We are not one of the big clubs like South China, Kitchee or TSW Pegasus who can attract many commercial sponsors,' Pui said. 'We are running mostly on our own and invest in soccer only because we love the sport. This happens to other small clubs as many of their owners or financiers are soccer fanatics. We have kept investing in the sport but there is little return.'

He said he hoped policies or measures could be introduced urgently to help small clubs lessen the financial burden. If this did not happen soon, financial backers of clubs might withdraw their support.

Philip Lee Fai-lap, Biu Chun Rangers executive director, agreed, saying Rangers faced a deficit of HK$6 million this season.

'There has been a lot of talking, but who has benefited?' Lee said. 'Project Phoenix has not helped us secure a single commercial advertising board on the pitch to increase our income. We are in desperate need of financial assistance, but the situation has not changed.'

Lee, who also helps run Hong Kong Sapling, said it was difficult for small clubs to attract fans. 'There were only 76 people who paid to watch the match between Sapling and Citizen on Tuesday night and the income was only HK$2,420,' he said. 'But ground-hiring charges, floodlights, the TV diamond screen [at the ground] and manpower charges cost HK$40,000 for that match. That gives you an idea of how difficult it is.'

District club Tai Po, who suffered a loss of HK$6 million this season, said they were in the same boat.

'There has been a change of the constitution and restructuring of the HKFA. That's all we know about Project Phoenix,' said club secretary Chan Ping.

'We are lucky to get an additional subvention of HK$300,000 from the government as a district club, but we understand other small clubs are finding running operations very difficult.

'There is supposed to be a Hong Kong Premier League next season with 12 teams under the project, but we know it is not going to happen now as 10 teams will remain in the First Division in the new season.

'Project Phoenix projects a bright picture for soccer but it is not working out.'

Brian Leung Hung-tak, HKFA chairman, said the clubs had to be patient. 'It's a big project involving changes in many aspects and cannot succeed overnight,' he said. 'This is only the first year and a lot of hard work is waiting for us.

'We need the co-operation of all stakeholders to make it succeed. Also, the clubs have to find their own way of survival, as they are running a business. We can only provide them with the best assistance we can.'