Japan are on the verge of signing a title sponsor for next year's Pacific Rim Championship. This will hopefully bail the event out of the red, it was revealed at an executive committee meeting here yesterday.
Negotiating on behalf of the Pac Rim, the Japanese are close to tying up a comprehensive sponsorship deal which will be a major boost to the fortunes of the fledgling tournament.
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's (HKRFU) representative, Dave Roberts, said an announcement to this effect was likely to be made by the Japanese before the end of next month.
'They have had discussions with parties in Japan and are confident of making an announcement before the end of July,' said Roberts, the HKRFU's commercial manager.
'It will be a big boost to the tournament, as a title sponsor will take a lot of financial pressure off all the four unions who, at the moment, are subsidising the event.' The efforts of the Japanese Rugby Football Union were welcomed by the Pac Rim executive yesterday. Since the inception of this four-nation tournament last year, no sponsors have been forthcoming.
The event went over budget last year and is expected to follow suit this time. The unions from Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and the United States have agreed to share the costs and any profits - which have not materialised so far mainly due to the lack of a sponsor.
'Last year, we did not make any money. This year, it will be the same. Meanwhile, our total budget this year is in excess of US$400,000,' said Roberts.
This means that Hong Kong's share of the costs is roughly $1 million - which the HKRFU feels is worth every cent as it gives the territory's elite a regular schedule to play top-level rugby every year.
According to Roberts, yesterday's meeting reaffirmed confidence in the format of this year's tournament, although changes could be brought in for next year.
The issue of points being awarded for a side scoring four tries in a similar fashion to the Super 12 - as raised by Hong Kong coach George Simpkin immediately after the Canada game - was brought up at the meeting.
'No decision was taken, but we will review the points system again. What must be remembered, however, is that this is an international tournament and not a provincial one. But if there is a rationale and support for points-for-tries, it can be reviewed,' said Roberts.
He said the prospect of expanding to include the three Pacific Island nations was also looked at.
'Western Samoa, Fiji and Tonga have all expressed an interest in joining the Pac Rim. We have to explore further this possibility . . . everything will hinge on the costs, as such a tournament will be significantly higher,' Roberts said.
When the original eight-team Pan Pacific tournament was mooted a couple of years ago - including the above-mentioned countries and Argentina - it was estimated the budget would be in excess of US$2 million per year.
'We would need a major sponsor to come to the table if we are looking at that. At the moment we are all happy with the current format, but we will continue to explore ways to expand the event,' said Roberts.
The present tournament does not have any significant television sponsorship and relies solely on gate receipts for its income - with Japan drawing the biggest crowds, followed by Canada, Hong Kong and the USA.
Other matters taken up at the meeting were the eligibility issue for next year's event, the prospect of the winner of this tournament meeting the winners of the Pacific Island series, and the scheduling for next year's event.
'All these matters will be finalised at our next meeting in September in Tokyo,' said Roberts.