Historic clash will exceed all expectations: O'Neill
Unions set for big pay day - but next stop may be US
The historic ANZ Hong Kong 2008 Bledisloe Cup match tomorrow will 'exceed expectations' and make money for all three unions, Australian boss John O'Neill said yesterday.
It is estimated that the first offshore meeting in the 105-year history of the Bledisloe Cup between the All Blacks and the Wallabies will generate revenue of between HK$60 million and HK$70 million.
This will be mainly split between the Australian and New Zealand rugby unions with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) receiving a sizeable sanction fee.
'Critics will say this game is being played for the money. Yes, it is, but the real test is 'will we be back?'. I say watch this space,' said O'Neill yesterday. 'This is the first step, but the best is yet to come.' The ARU chief executive, who said games of this nature would help promote rugby in non-traditional venues, also confirmed a fourth Bledisloe Cup tie could become an annual fixture in the future. But Hong Kong might not be involved next year.
O'Neill said: 'We have got a formal proposal from Denver in the United States to host the Bledisloe Cup next year. We are also talking to the Japanese about the possibility of holding the game in 2010 in Tokyo.'
It is understood the NZRU is pushing for the Bledisloe Cup to be played in Denver next year.
All this would not have been possible without the initiative and enterprise of the HKRFU which has organised a second signature event - next to the Hong Kong Sevens - and one which O'Neill has already declared as an outstanding success.
'We can tick all the boxes. The sponsors are happy, the broadcasters are happy, this is a great venue, we have a full house, the profile of this game is huge, not only here but overseas as well. Apart from the unions, I believe the Hong Kong government will also benefit with more than 6,000 visitors from overseas coming in especially to watch this game.
'If you ask me, 'have we achieved all what we wanted to?', I would have no hesitation in saying 'yes',' O'Neill said. 'And all this would not have been possible without our Hong Kong partners.'
The HKRFU hierarchy - president Brian Stevenson, chairman Trevor Gregory and executive director Allan Payne - were singled out by O'Neill as the main cogs behind the event.
'We have had tremendous support from them, especially Allan [Payne] who has been patient, despite the relationship being testy at times,' said O'Neill. 'We [ARU] have been coming to the Hong Kong Sevens for many years, but we didn't get to know the HKRFU very well until now. We have built bridges for the future.'
While O'Neill refused to reveal what the total revenue was - from gate receipts, hospitality, TV rights and sponsorship - he said the Hong Kong game was on par, if not more, to what would have been earned if this fourth match had been staged in Sydney or Brisbane.
'If we put all the revenue sources together, this game in Hong Kong would be superior to the net gate receipts we would have got from, say, Brisbane and Sydney. The only difference here is that we have to divide the pie,' O'Neill said.
Although a few corporates had returned their tickets and boxes, the game has largely been unaffected by the credit crunch and global financial mayhem.
'Everyone is tightening their belts but this game has brought some smiles back on the faces of the fans as well as the corporate world,' Payne said.