Formula E debut in Hong Kong, draws spectators, praise and criticism over ticket prices, limited views
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying calls inaugural event ‘a dream’ while area shops report mixed impact on their businesses
Crowds gathered near and beyond the tracks for the second and final day of racing at Hong Kong’s inaugural Formula E event, which elicited praise from the city’s leader despite many calling for more affordable seating should the event be expanded next year.
Watch: Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi celebrating his win in Hong Kong
— FIA Formula E (@FIAformulaE) October 9, 2016
A few dozen fans queued up for the remaining 200 tickets on Sunday morning while scores of others took a free glimpse of the race from unblocked vantage points near the 1.8km harbourfront track in Central. Twenty drivers from 10 teams competed in what was the only Formula E race in Asia this season.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said on Saturday the government would hold talks with race organisers to discuss next year’s event and consider expanding it if people liked it.
Hong Kong Automobile Association chief Lawrence Yu Kam-kee earlier said organisers hoped to turn the event into an annual affair.
Hong Kong signed a three-year deal to be one of two venues for Formula E racing in greater China, but the city became the only location nationwide after Beijing decided not to continue after staging the races the last two years.
Watch: Hong Kong’s first Formula E race brings excitement to the city
Many local spectators said pre-order grandstand tickets, priced at HK$2,380, were too expensive.
Australian Dave Chapman, a Formula One fan living in Hong Kong, said the atmosphere paled in comparison to Formula One events in Singapore but said he would consider coming again next year if the event was expanded.
“The cost of the ticket is ridiculous,” he said. “But I’m still glad I came. If they did it again I would consider coming.”
Tobi Tam, a marketing executive from Hong Kong, agreed the ticket price was “too expensive” but said it was “exciting” to see the racetrack against the backdrop of the city’s skyline.
“Over the last two years, the government has worked tirelessly to realise this dream,” he said. “I have been looking forward to this electric event. I wish the racers a roaring success.”
Organisers said about 22,000 grandstand and eVillage tickets, which cost HK$300 each, had been sold in advance. By mid-day Sunday, however, some 100 eVillage tickets still remained unsold.
CF Yam, an engineer from Hong Kong, said he was not particularly a motor sport fan but wanted to see the action even though he could not afford a grandstand ticket.
“I just thought I would take a look,” he said. “A lot of people do not know about the event. I thought the top-priced tickets were a bit expensive. They’re out of reach for me.”
Yam said he thought the event should be expanded to make it cheaper for everyone.
“Maybe we need more seats so that the price would be lower and more people would be able to enjoy it for less,” he said.
Nearby, at the Apple store in IFC mall, a rotating crowd of about 60 people watched the event through the store’s floor-to-ceiling windows facing the racetrack. Some said they felt priced out of the event.
Edmund Chan, a clerk from the city, said he just wanted to get some photographs.
“All of the other places are blocked,” he said. “That doesn’t make me feel good. They should have a proper public viewing place to watch it for less than HK$200.
Shop managers for businesses in the mall and around nearby City Hall declined to comment on the event’s effect on sales.
But Afra Chan, manager of clothing shop Brooks Brothers in IFC, said business had dropped over the weekend.
“It has been causing problems for people who want to park outside IFC,” she said. “Just a minute ago we had a customer who said she had to find a different way because it was all blocked. [The event] just hasn’t really worked for my business.”
At Mont Blanc watches, also located in the mall, manager Flora Chong said she had seen an increase in footfall on her floor because her shop was next to the Apple store viewing platform. However, sales had not gone up as a result.
Watch: estimated Hong Kong comparison
“On this floor, there has been an increase in people, more people around, but we just notice them outside and there has been no big difference here,” she said.
A waitress at Deli and Wine restaurant at City Hall said business had benefited from the race.
“For a Sunday without any performance at City Hall in the afternoon, today was better than usual,” she said. “But our restaurant is usually busier on weekdays and people need to queue up for a table for lunch.”
Retail and wholesale sector lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai said the Formula E event was a good cause even if the shopping malls in Central did not directly benefit from it.
“For festive events like these, tourists might not just go to the places nearby to shop,” he told the Post. “They might stay for one or two more days … and visit shopping centres such as Yau Ma Tei or Causeway Bay, or theme parks such as Ocean Park or Disneyland.”
Shiu recalled that, when the now-popular Rugby Sevens was first held in the city, it was “just a relatively small” event.
“The retail sector hopes Formula E can be held in Hong Kong regularly,” he said. “The organisers should also think of doing more to promote it, letting more people watch it on TV or take part in its carnival.”