Sevens tickets go up to HK$1,500
Hong Kong Rugby Sevens fans will have to fork out HK$1,500 for a ticket to next year's event - an increase of HK$250 or 20 per cent.
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union defended the increase, saying tickets are its only source of revenue and all money is ploughed back into the community.
Described as 'extortionate' by one fan, it is the second ticket increase in three years - in 2009 an adult ticket cost HK$1,080 and was raised 15 per cent to HK$1,250 in 2010. However, the cost of a children's ticket for the 2012 tournament has been reduced 50 per cent to HK$150.
The HKRFU said the money was needed to pay for increasing costs to build and maintain artificial pitches. The rise will generate additional revenue of almost HK$9 million from the March 23-25 tournament, which sees HSBC returning as title sponsor alongside Cathay Pacific.
'We are really struggling for pitches as we face a year-on-year growth of 10 to 15 per cent. The sevens is our only major source of revenue and all the money we make is ploughed back into the community,' HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory said.
'We want to maintain the family atmosphere at the tournament and, overall, I believe the costs for a family will remain the same.'
Tickets will go on public sale in January.
With the HKRFU, the richest sporting body in town next to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, having reserves of more than HK$200 million in the bank, the latest price rise was seen as a money-making exercise.
Denis Burns, who works in the food and beverage industry and has played for Aberdeen, called the ticket price extortionate and said it would be 'cheaper to buy a ticket for one day off a tout'.
'We are talking about one of the richest unions in the world,' said Burns, who has lived in Hong Kong for 14 years. 'The union should be thinking about the local community and not filling its coffers. After all, it's the local fans who have made this tournament the international event it is today.'
Jo Jones has been to 10 sevens tournaments and thought organisers were cashing in on corporate businesses, which factor the expense into their budgets to entertain clients.
'They can afford to pay out this kind of money, but individuals can't,' said Jones, who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years and works in business development for a local law firm. 'So most people will buy a weekend ticket but only use one and sell the others. Then it turns out to be a reasonably affordable event. One day out is usually enough if you've been to the Sevens many times.'
Brian McCormack, who has lived in the city for the past four years and works in the banking industry, said he would be relying on a corporate ticket through his company. 'The only people really benefiting from all this will be the union, the hotels and the bars in Wan Chai. That's always been the way,' he said.
Olivier Pierson, who has been an ardent fan since 2005 when tickets cost only HK$750, said: 'Only people stupid enough to pay so much money will go. And yes, I will be one of them, because I can afford it.'
Gregory said it was only prudent economics for the union to maintain a healthy reserve while at the same time making available facilities for the growing rugby community.
'Yes, we have healthy reserves but we can use up all that money in one year just spending for pitches,' Gregory said. 'That money has been set aside for an Armageddon scenario like we faced during Sars [in 2003].
'We spent HK$65 million on providing pitches at King's Park and Sandy Bay. Already these pitches are two to three years old and we have to continually renovate them and that costs money. In addition, we need newer facilities too due to the increasing numbers playing,' Gregory said.
'Our facilities in Sandy Bay and Pok Fu Lam are bursting at the seams and we need more grounds. Our new venue at Tin Shui Wai has cost us hugely.'
With nearly 75 per cent of tickets at the 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium being sold in the city, Gregory said fans were investing in the future of the game.
'At the end of the day, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union is a non-profit organisation. Whatever revenue we earn goes back to the game.'
HSBC, which returns to the fold with Cathay Pacific in a four-year deal believed to be worth between HK$70 million and HK$80 million, said it was not involved in the price discussions.
'It was not our decision,' said HSBC group head of sponsorship Giles Morgan, who believed the ticket price was 'not overly expensive compared to international events'.
Morgan said the bank would be announcing grass-roots initiatives in the coming months as its priority was to take the game to the broader community.