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Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 5:22am

HKRFU needs to rethink its Sevens ticketing policy

As the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union asks for public money for a new stadium, it will provide fewer Sevens tickets for the public next year

In a move sure to generate a furious reaction from local rugby fans, Hong Kong Sevens organisers have said it is "inevitable" that even fewer tickets will go on sale to the public next year
SCMP, March 24

I shall have to choose my words carefully here. My son, who is currently studying in Australia, is a long-time local rugby club member and a devoted supporter of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.

But when this year's Hong Kong Sevens saw only 4,000 public sales tickets made available locally for a 40,000 seat stadium, and when HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory then says "it's just a fact of life" that the figure will be even lower next year, two words come immediately to mind:

What gall!

Here are the facts. In 1994 we presented the union with a brand new stadium for the Sevens. It was so purpose-designed for the Sevens alone that it did not even include a running track to make it usable for local athletic events.

The boosters of this project sold it to the government on the basis that it could still be used for other purposes, including concerts, but didn't bother themselves with even the little research needed to show that noise by-laws would apply as the stadium would be in a residential district.

So now once a year this stadium is packed out and, while occasionally there is a good turnout for another sporting event, for the rest of the year the large bulk of the seats in those stands would do us better service as solar collectors.

OK, a mistake in projections of market demand. It happens. But what makes Mr Gregory's remarks galling is that the union is now lobbying the government hard for the construction of a bigger and much costlier stadium at Kai Tak, once again to be paid for entirely by general public funds.

We're good enough for you when you want money, are we, Mr Gregory, but when it comes to spreading the benefits, we are not. Is that the way it works?

Now, I am not the first person to have said this to HKRFU directors and I know their standard response. They say that, in fact, most of the tickets do go to local residents as the bulk of the allocation is made to local rugby clubs, which the union sees as its first responsibility.

It is certainly true that the HKRFU has done a fine job of promoting local rugby at a grass-roots level so that what was once an expatriate sport now has a much wider appeal across the entire community.

It has been able to do so in part because, while accepting an overall loss on the stadium, we have been happy to let the HKRFU make big profits from it every year on the Sevens, with the result that its balance sheet now shows net assets of about HK$250 million.

But we shall not be picky about it. They've done a good job and certainly showed up the soccer world.

However, if the objective is to spread enthusiasm for rugby across the wider community, how is this objective served by allocating the bulk of the Sevens tickets to people who are already enthusiasts and don't need to be sold on rugby?

If the objective is to reward the local clubs for their enthusiasm, are we to take it that these clubs are not quite such enthusiasts for rugby as they are for Sevens tickets? Surely, standing in line with other members of the public is not so repulsive as to turn them off the sport.

And if the objective is to help local clubs raise money, wouldn't it be better done by selling Sevens tickets at their full public value and then distributing the money to the clubs afterwards?

In fact, the presence every year of so many touts selling tickets (including ones allocated to clubs) at more than twice their face value indicates strongly that the HKRFU under-prices the Sevens. Jack those ticket prices up, Mr Gregory, and you'll have even more money for the local clubs.

But you're pushing it, Sir, to tell the public it will get even fewer tickets next year while asking that same public for more money for a new stadium.

jake.vanderkamp@scmp.com

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This article is now closed to comments

jayetman
Excellent points! I've always been puzzled by the insistence of selling only 3 day tickets... split them into 1-day tickets and you can have 3 times as many satisfied customers. You might even fill the stadium on the friday night that way!
It's also interesting that every year the rugby union makes it more difficult for the general public to get hold of tickets, supposedly to stop the touts... as if the touts only get their tickets from the miserly 4000 allocated that way. Instead, many people with automatic allocations through their various club memberships snap up more tickets than they can use and on-sell some for a nice mark-up.
impala
Also, for comparison, see the capacity of the other Rugby Sevens Series venues. London overshoots the others by far, but there Twickenham is of course 'the home of rugby,' so I don't think we want to compare HK Stadium with that. Other than that, only Dubai and South Africa have a larger capacity than Hong Kong, but not even by as much as you may think, and neither of those places is even remotely as space constraint as Hong Kong!

Tokyo, Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground - 27,188 
Dubai, The Sevens, 50,000
Glasgow, Scotstoun Stadium, 15,000 
Australia, Skilled Park, Gold Coast - 27,400 
South Africa, Port Elizabeth Bay Stadium - 48,459 
New Zealand, Westpac Stadium - 36,000
England, Twickenham, London - 82,000 
USA, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas - 36,800
Hong Kong, Hong Kong Stadium - 40,000
scmpcuty
As always, Jake, you sure can tell them like it is! These blokes are just going to make rugby a more exclusive sport. I live right near the stadium, and I can tell you first hand that they DO NOT need another stadium. This stadium only comes alive during this one rugby sevens event and hardly is made use of the rest of the year. It is now growing in popularity whereas before, it was just an expat thing. So you want to cut us off and go get yourself a bigger better playhouse now that you are reaping some good money, huh? We made you and you will never get far if you leave the public out like that. Altho you can leave those $#€#~¥€ behind at tvb !
SpeakFreely
Agree should give more tickets to local. I was joking we have 600,000+ millionaires in Hk but harder to get a ruby ticket than being a millionaire here. I also think Hk stadium by all standard is too small for a so called international city. Most big cities has stadium Capacity around 80 to 100k.
John Adams
Well said Jake !
I got my usual good seat in XX stand by queuing very early both days and asked how my neighbors got their tickets. There were neighbors from every country under the sun - from Northern Russia to the Southern Bongo Bongo Isles who got their tickets in every possible way : CX staff lucky draw ( 800 tickets on sale that way), corporate sponsors ( so many vampire squid giveaways !), local/ regional/ international rugby clubs ..... and every possible walk of HK life (including a huge group of about 50 local young Chinese people who somehow got into the Stadium BEFORE the gates opened for us general public queuers on Sunday and grabbed all the best seats in XX stand: full marks for enterprise and local involvement among the younger HK generation, but zero marks for cheating re queuing on the day. Where was the Ref Sunday morning 07.00 AM when the gates opened? ) .
Wanchai black market rate was $2,500 for Saturday and $1,500 for Sunday. Peanuts for international visitors on top of their travel and hotel costs. But a LOT for us locals whose taxes helped paid for the stadium.
And to add insult to injury the awful new North Stand vampire squid box - monstrosities, thus obliterating the North Stand open area and North big screen.
I somehow wish for the good old days and crummy stands.
At least then I could stroll in Sunday PM and buy a ticket at the gate.
rmacpher
Thanks for telling it like it really is, Jake!
Allocation of tickets should more fairly reflect demand from all competing interests. If the HKRFU is not prepared to balance its own interests with those of the taxpaying public who financed the construction and ongoing operation of the stadium, then they should be asked to pay a genuine market rate for use of the facility. Why should the HKRFU get rich off my back as a taxpayer! A substantial increase in the number of tickets made available to the general public rather than the further reduction proposed by Mr Gregory should be demanded.
impala
Well said.

It is already insane in the first place that we are considering to build another stadium using public money once again and with really little other purpose than to host a 3-day a year sport event. And that in this land-stripped city where we are moving water works into caverns, and are considering more and more land reclamation. Sure, there is demand for more seats at the Sevens. But really, even if we would build a 100,000 seat stadium, there will still be more demand for seats at the Sevens.

And on a side note, if (part of) of the purpose is to promote the interest in rugby, then let's begin by having the Sevens broadcast in a decent fashion by local free-to-air TV. The minimal coverage by TVB, which also then interrupted the final with 5 minutes left on the clock, only so we could enjoy the News at 7:30, is surely not helping.
 
 
 
 
 

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