Hong Kong Football Association officials are putting their own money on the line, guaranteeing that next month's popular Lunar New Year Cup will not lose money.
After a three-year break during which individual clubs ran the tournament, the HKFA has decided to return as the official organiser, albeit with a weakened cast. Thai champions Muangthong United, mainland side Shanghai East Asia, and Busan I Park of South Korea are the invited teams, along with a Hong Kong League XI for the two-day tournament.
"We understand these teams are not household names in Hong Kong, but at least we will not lose any money. Four of our senior officials have agreed to underwrite the tournament," a source close to the organisers said.
The four officials underwriting the tournament are HKFA chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak, vice-chairmen Steven Lo Kit-sing and Pui Kwan-kay, and board director Ken Ng Kin.
They are also tasked with soliciting sponsors and selling ground advertising at Hong Kong Stadium.
Shanghai East Asia will play in the Chinese Super League this year after finishing top of the First Division last season, while Busan finished seventh in the K-League this season.
"The three overseas teams will not be paid an appearance fee. We only have to pay for their flights and accommodation," the source said. "The cost will be over HK$1 million but we are confident it can be offset by income from ticket sales and advertising. If not, the four officials have agreed to make up the difference."
The Lunar New Year Cup is one of the longest-running tournaments in Hong Kong, dating back to the 1950s. It was once a major source of income for the HKFA, which received HK$3 million annually from sponsor Carlsberg. The brewer withdrew its support in 2007, ending a partnership that lasted more than 10 years.
In 2008, the HKFA staged the tournament on its own, and ended up losing HK$4 million. With quality overseas teams hard to attract and few sponsors, the association gave up the tournament in 2010, handing it over to local club Kitchee.