Reduce hiring fee or venue will suffer: FA

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 May, 2009, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Football Association has urged the government to slash ground-hiring charges, otherwise the soon-to-be-renovated Mong Kok Stadium will become a 'white elephant'.

FA deputy general secretary Lam Shing-kui said clubs would be forced to go to cheaper stadiums if the government continued to charge 20 per cent of gross receipts.

'The renovated Mong Kok ground will still be the major venue for local soccer when it re-opens in 2011,' Lam said. 'But unfortunately we have been paying more and more for hiring the Mong Kok ground over the past couple of years because of a 20 per cent gross receipts charging rule and we are afraid the amount may go higher with more spectators likely to enjoy the improved facilities.

'Most clubs are still running a deficit budget and an increase of revenue generated through the turnstiles would help lessen the financial pressure. The government must do something on the ground-hiring charges to help the sport,' Lam added.

'If our clubs cannot afford it, there is no point in renovating it, and the new venue will be a white elephant.'

The Mong Kok ground charges a minimum of HK$2,200 per match day, or 20 per cent of gross receipts, whichever is higher.

'On paper, HK$2,200 per day is a reasonable amount, but we are seldom charged that amount because of the 20 per cent gross receipts rule, which is always higher than the minimum charge,' Lam said.

He said the HKFA paid the Leisure and Cultural and Services Department HK$2.3 million from 2002 to 2008, a figure much higher than the HK$2,200 per match-day charge.

The highest attendance at Mong Kok this season was 4,228 on November 16. Gross receipts were HK$135,960 and the hiring charge was HK$27,192. In the extreme case, only 152 fans on October 21 totalled gate receipts of HK2,140. There are also service charges, such as ticketing and ground security which add up to HK$15,000 per match.

'The 20 per cent rule is unreasonable because if we work harder to pull the fans into the stadium, the government will benefit more,' Lam said. 'We have talked to the department many times about reducing the 20 per cent rate, but they said it was decided by the Treasury and they cannot do anything.

'This is just an excuse as I am sure the government can find a solution.'

The same rule applies to Hong Kong Stadium, which is charged at a minimum HK$150,000 per match day or 20 per cent of gross receipts.

The HKFA has since paid more than HK$70 million since the Hong Kong Stadium re-opened in 1994 after a HK$1.1 billion facelift.

A proposed visit by English Premier League side Liverpool fell through this month with one of the reasons being the 20 per cent gross receipt hiring charge.

The Legislative Council's finance committee approved a budget of HK$275 million last month for the renovation project, which includes reconstruction of spectator stands with a capacity of 6,500 individual seats, provision of lightweight covers with lighting for the stands on the north and south sides and provisioning of the kiosk, offices, storerooms, players' changing rooms, toilets and other ancillary facilities.

The project will start in July and take two years to complete.

Easy money

Percentage the government has been taking from gate receipts for matches at Mong Kok Stadium: 20