Sponsors in the air over Sevens row
THE Hongkong Sevens' two major sponsors, Cathay Pacific and HongkongBank, have yet to sign on for next year's tournament amid a furious row between organisers and the stadium managers, Wembley International.
The organisers, the Hongkong Rugby Football Union Sevens committee, are desperately trying to prevent Wembley from taking over all aspects of organising the event; from controlling the corporate boxes, to the type of beer being sold during the two days in March, to getting a taste of the estimated $5 million profit the event generates.
Union chairman Stuart Leckie said recent talks with the financially-troubled London company have been unsatisfactory, and with title sponsorship normally finalised by the end of June, time is at a premium for the 19th edition of the Sevens in 1994.
''I'm not going to lie through my teeth and say everything is okay because it's not,'' said Leckie.
''Cathay and the Bank have not committed themselves yet. It is not a fait accompli that they will. As of now we have nothing in writing.
''Each year, they have had their boxes on either side of the Union's, which is only fair with the support they have given to the event and the air fares and hotel expenses they meet.'' If Wembley get their way, neither sponsor, nor any of the 90-odd companies who regularly hire boxes at the Sevens, are guaranteed a box at the 1994 Sevens, which are scheduled for March 26 and 27.
Wembley International managing director Robin Oram was not available for comment last night. Their chairman, Sir Brian Wolfson, is expected in Hongkong on Tuesday and Leckie hopes a breakthrough can be made during his visit.
The two sponsors have had a successful partnership during the last 14 years since HongkongBank took over from Rothmans in 1980.
Cathay's Alastair Blount and HongkongBank's Michael Broadbent, both members of the Sevens organising committee, are currently out of the territory and were unavailable for comment.
Wembley International, who are reported to be running at a loss, won the rights to manage the stadium earlier this year and have already set up office in the territory.
Leckie said Wembley have been suggesting various ideas to various parties but have yet to make any concrete proposals.
''There's been a lot of talk but we want to see something in writing. They have not done that and it is very unsatisfactory to date,'' said Leckie.
''I don't see how Wembley can add to the value of the tournament. They want to get so involved and they think only of the percentages and dollars they can get out of it. That sits uneasily with the committee members and the sub-committees.
''The Sevens represents the Union, Cathay and the Bank, the 30 or 40,000 fans, our sponsors . . . people who have the best interests of the tournament at heart.
''We know Wembley do not want to go public whereas we are open and have nothing to hide.
''I get people calling me up and asking me what's happening, and I tell them that, at the moment, I cannot assure them of anything.'' Leckie said the key area in the dispute is the hiring of corporate boxes.
When the new stadium is completed in March, there will be about 50 permanent boxes in the middle tier.
Wembley want to hire out those boxes on two to three-year contracts, taking in an estimated 20 events they are scheduling.
The Union fear that most of the companies who hire out the boxes will not have any contacts with rugby, leaving firms who have been loyal supporters of the Sevens out in the cold.
Leckie said there has been a verbal proposal from Wembley for the Union to build their own temporary boxes, although not stating how many, and also sub-let from companies who have permanent boxes.
Wembley will take a percentage in both cases.
He said that Wembley have promised, without any documentation, to plough the profits back into local sports.
Leckie feels it is impossible for Wembley to organise the event without the Union's input, but he is confident that the 1994 Hongkong Sevens will take place.