Touts threaten to spoil the party
There are so many things that remind me how old I am - like my knees, my back and my hairline. But these days perhaps nothing makes me feel my age quite like the Sevens. Yeah, I'm so damn old I remember when you could buy tickets to this thing. Twenty years ago it didn't even sell out and a few years later buying tickets morphed into an event. People would camp out overnight and party up a storm so they could buy tickets for the right to party up a storm a month later, thereby making it one of the few events with a pre-party that almost matched the main party.
Ah, them was the days, kids. Geezers like me used to get hungover just thinking about the Sevens and while the romance over Hong Kong's premier sporting and social event is not entirely gone, the preponderance of ticket touts and lager louts has definitely altered the communal vibe. Make the trek to the stadium from Causeway Bay these days and the route is littered with characters looking to buy or sell tickets at ridiculously inflated prices. Some of them have Aussie accents, some a cockney lilt, while others are speaking in a brogue I am unsure of. But one thing I am sure of is they don't sound like they came from Mong Kok or Chai Wan.
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory told us this week they were looking to take steps to blacklist local rugby club members who resell their cherished tickets on the black market, often for four or five times their value. 'The union is very concerned about the unauthorised resale of tickets both in Hong Kong and abroad,' he said. That's good to know. I mean considering only 10 per cent of tickets - 4,000 out of 40,000 seats - are available to the general public, they should be cracking down on things. The union makes no apologies about allocating the overwhelming majority of tickets to the swelling clubs across Hong Kong and its stakeholders, nor should they. This is a rugby festival first and foremost and it belongs to them. The Sevens is not a Hong Kong community festival because, if it was, the community would have access to more than 10 per cent of the tickets.
While it's a communal party that spills out into most cracks and crevices around town, the event has become more and more exclusive. The union has done such a good job selling the game they are a victim of their own success. And while I think it's a great disservice to the community that more tickets are not available, at least I have an understanding of where the union is coming from.
What I can't square up with though is the people from rugby clubs who are allocated tickets and then turn around and sell them online or through a broker for five times as much. Gregory says they are going to be vigilant in tracking these people, but how about naming names? Public shame is in order because what they are doing is morally repugnant. There is integrity in rugby, and there should be in the distribution of tickets as well.
Perhaps the most unique and appealing feature of the Sevens is the event has managed to remain good spirited despite its incredible growth. The notion that 40,000 people, many of whom are beyond suitably lubricated, can cram into a stadium over a three-day period for a rollicking and jingoistic sports gathering with a minimal amount of trouble or disturbances is almost unheard of these days. It still never ceases to amaze me how well most people behave in spite of the inherent and festive insanity. Who knows how long that peaceful vibe can last with the event now seemingly entrenched as a premium destination on the international sporting calendar.
According to a survey commissioned last year during the Sevens, the event attracted 21,391 overseas visitors. So it's official, there are more foreigners than Hong Kong residents at the Sevens and that gap will probably continue to grow. Talk of a new, larger stadium to accommodate more spectators is just that: talk. Even if a 50,000-seat stadium were built, do you think the additional 10,000 tickets would be readily made available to the public? I doubt it.
The demand for Lady Gaga tickets went through the roof a few weeks back. So she kept adding one more show and now she is doing four - at 14,000 per gig. But it's not like the tickets were gobbled up by the general public. It was the sophisticated touts who got most of them and are now spinning them for a handsome profit. It's not much different than what is happening with Sevens tickets. I guess we should be flattered that Hong Kong has a sporting event with international cachet. But there is little doubt it's bursting at the seams and you don't have to be an old-timer to yearn for a simpler time, when Hong Kong people got into a Hong Kong event.