I’m old enough to remember when the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens was, well, about Rugby Sevens. There was a bit of 10s thrown in, but that was just the warm-up for the real thing. Only the diehards bothered to show up before Saturday afternoon and most not till Sunday. It was as much about Apres-Sevens as anything, and expatriate ladies spent the day at the hairdressers getting themselves dolled up, prior to the night time social events. It brought out the worst in expatriates, and lead to all kinds of politically incorrect things. Maids were sent down at first light to queue for tickets and on the day, maids or children were dispatched with cushions to bag places in the stand.
Then when the older family members, hung over from the previous night’s excesses in the Go Down or Joe Bananas (which was a buzzing disco in the early 1990s, very different to the current soul-less bar) finally surfaced, they could stagger down and find their seats. Beer girls tottered up and down the steps with green plastic jugs of warm beer, most of which got spilled over the spectators who either did not notice or were too drunk to care. Streaking was still the norm and one year a real live cockerel – a French “Coq Sportif” was released onto the pitch. Wouldn’t happen now. This was the old stadium, which had bags more atmosphere than the current venue.
Corporate Hospitality Fest
Sure there were corporates in their boxes back then, but it was less about money and more about booze and sweaty fun. All changed now. It was the financial secretary who said on Monday that the Sevens really captured the spirit of Hong Kong. Not anyone connected with sport or tourism. Main sponsors HSBC and Cathay Pacific have been milking the PR machine, with lines like it’s a great chance for Hong Kong to show itself internationally and in a true party atmosphere, as a “city in celebration.” HSBC feels so proud to be involved that they can “almost take a bank holiday from ourselves.” I wonder which marketing wizard dreamed up that cheesy line.
And the weekend of fun has mushroomed into a week of tournaments: not just bigger better Sevens and 10s, but also the Kowloon Rugby Fest, Hong Kong International Rugby Youth Tournament, the Women’s Sevens, lunches, dinners, breakfast, activities…there is no escape. What the sponsors make from it is a moot point. At HK$1.2 million for an executive suite, before payings for food, booze, fit out and Brazilian samba girls kick up the cost even more. Last year HSBC’s was the most empty of all of the boxes. But then their corporate clients tend to do the rounds, flitting from corporate box to box, enjoying bounteous hospitality.
So what sort of brand image does HSBC get out of the Sevens? “HSBC wants to reflect itself as an international business but also part of the Hong Kong fabric-it allows us to show our human side,’ their spokesman told RTHK. Its’ not just banking and financial services all the time, this is when we can get together with our customers and staff and show we are part of the fabric of Hong Kong, he added. You might think this is not a great time for airlines and banks to be splashing out on “lifestyle experiences” for their clients and staff, but there you go.
Marketing people only deal in intangibles, after all. In the mean time the Sevens gets ever more popular – with the measly 4,000 tickets that were left after the world’s rugby clubs and tour operators had been allocated the lion’s share over subscribed to the tune of 50,000. Not much of a local event sponsored by the “World’s Local Bank” then. The HK $250 million that all these international rugby fans bring with them and spend in our hotels, restaurants and on fun gets pumped into the economy, which is all good, and fairly tangible. But honestly, apart from the local rugby lot, this doesn’t generate hard cash for the sponsors. It’s just an image thing and a sporting carnival.