Cathay Pacific and HSBC joined forces again yesterday to take the Hong Kong Sevens into a new era - in a deal believed to be worth between HK$70 million and HK$80 million.
The worst-kept secret was finally out in the open when the iconic institutions signed a four-year deal to co-sponsor the premier sevens tournament in the world. Both parties subscribed to the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' maxim, seeing their role as growing the game at home and abroad.
HSBC wrested co-sponsor control from Swiss giant Credit Suisse, whose position become untenable when HSBC took over the International Rugby Board's Sevens World Series, of which Hong Kong is the jewel in the crown.
Cathay and HSBC were partners in the Hong Kong Sevens from 1980 up to the first of two World Cup Sevens held in Hong Kong in 1997, when the global banking giant did not renew its contract because of the Asian financial crisis and uncertainty after the handover.
Asked how much the deal was worth, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory brought the house down when he said: 'If I told you I would have to kill you now.'
But a person close to the union estimated it to be worth about HK$9 million to HK$10 million a year for each partner.
Gregory hailed the deal. 'We are very pleased as it will enable us to continue our efforts to grow and expand the Sevens.
'As Hong Kong's largest annual sporting event, we take great pride in aligning ourselves with Hong Kong's leading brands,' Gregory said.
'HSBC and Cathay Pacific are synonymous with Hong Kong and like the Sevens do much to represent Hong Kong around the world. Both sponsors touch local communities every day and they will enhance our message in spreading the spirit of the game.'
Gregory cited the 'two or three' new pitches they build every year with the funds generated from the Sevens, with their latest project set for Tin Shui Wai.
This year's tournament brought the biggest crowds - 115,000 through the gates, said Gregory - and a global television reach of more than 255 million homes in 140 countries. Next year's tournament will be held on March 23-25.
The continued involvement of Cathay Pacific strengthens a 30-year association with the Sevens - a unique longevity in international sports sponsorship.
Cathay chief executive John Slosar said it was 'a special day for us, made even more special by being back in partnership with HSBC'.
'It's great to see two of Hong Kong's world-beating brands once again linked to this world-beating sports spectacle,' he said.
'As Hong Kong's airline, we have a great interest in building and promoting world-class events. And there is no more compelling sport anywhere in the world than Sevens week. Backed by the power of Hong Kong's two biggest international brands, I believe we'll see the Sevens soar to new heights.'
HSBC has made a huge investment in rugby, ignited by sevens' inclusion in the Olympic family where it will make its debut in Rio in 2016. Along with the World Sevens Series, the bank has renewed its commitment to the Asian Five Nations and has backed the fledgling Asian Sevens Series.
'The Sevens will be the flagship of our rugby sponsorship portfolio in Asia,' group chief executive Stuart Gulliver said. 'It will complement our other rugby sponsorships around the world, which now include the World Sevens Series and the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013, [when there is] the prospect of a match here in Hong Kong against the Barbarians.
'In Asia, we are proud to support the Asian Five Nations and newly formed Asian Sevens Series along with our coaching tours of 11 countries. We want to reach new fans and encourage the whole community to embrace the game now that it is an Olympic sport.'
Giles Morgan, HSBC's head of sponsorship, said the bank identified rugby - and golf - as a good commercial fit with its customers.
'Rugby and golf are the two new Olympic sports which means they have a duty of care to reach out to new communities around the world and for HSBC that's ... a wonderful association for us to have.
'I genuinely believe rugby union and rugby sevens ... have great potential to reach out to new audiences, new fans and new communities, particularly in Hong Kong. The Olympic status gives us that opportunity. We have the branch networks in the community, giving us great potential. That is what we are working on, now the deal has been done.'
The new sponsorship deal is believed to be worth this much, in Hong Kong dollars