Hong Kong targets second ATP event
An ambitious bid to bring a second ATP Tour tennis event to the SAR to replace the Marlboro Championships is being considered by the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons' Association (HKTPA).
The HKTPA is looking at buying the rights to the ATP Tour's Beijing Open - held in October - and moving the tournament to Hong Kong, Sports Post can reveal.
The Beijing Open's current owner, Hong Kong-based firm Sports Corporation, is believed to be keen on selling the tournament - and the HKTPA has been quick to express its interest.
HKTPA official Brian Catton said if 'three key issues' could be settled with the ATP Tour, the association would be 'very interested' in purchasing the Beijing tournament, believed to be on the market for around US$1.2 million.
Catton said he had had 'numerous' discussions with the ATP Tour's chief executive officer Mark Miles regarding the issue.
Catton said the ATP Tour harboured uncertainties over whether Hong Kong could sustain two tennis events every year, and had also said the tournament should be an indoor event.
'Basically, there are three main points that have to be decided on,' Catton said.
'The ATP have said that they want to keep the October tournament indoors, as part of their indoor swing. We understand that, but our view is that players have been quite willing to play in the Marlboro Championships in the past and then go on to indoor events . . . we don't really see any reason why that won't continue,' he said.
Catton said the HKTPA had discussed making an undertaking to move the event to an indoor venue after an initial period at Victoria Park's outdoor arena.
The provisional Urban Council is planning to build an indoor facility at Victoria Park by 2000.
'It might be that some agreement could be reached where the tournament is held at Victoria Park for the first three years and then moved to an indoor venue in the fourth year . . . it's something we would like to explore.' 'The second point is that they have asked whether Hong Kong can sustain two events every year. Again our view is that there is a clear demand for top tennis events in Hong Kong . . . we have had two strong events here for nearly a decade,' he said.
The third sticking point related to the on-going Asian financial crisis and whether the HKTPA would be able to find a backer for the event.
'That is an issue that the marketplace will decide, ultimately,' Catton said.
'With the tobacco sponsorship legislation coming into effect, the facts are that there are few sponsors available who are willing to put up the sort of money required for an event like this,' he added.
This year's Marlboro Championships exhibition event was cancelled when sponsor Philip Morris withdrew its support.
Catton said the HKTPA had long been interested in making their October tournament part of the ATP Tour, and said the association's enthusiasm for the Tour remained undiminished.
'We enjoyed a high level of success with our own special tournament. At the same time, we recognise that the ATP Tour is here to stay.
'The Tour has kept getting stronger from year to year and obviously there are benefits for tournaments being part of it,' Catton said.
'If we can overcome the obstacles outlined to us, then I would say that the patrons' association would be very interested in making an offer for the Beijing tournament. The ATP Tour is basically supportive in principle but we will not be in a position to make an offer until we resolve some of these issues.' A spokesman for Sports Corporation could not be contacted for comment.