Hong Kong Open looks to Mega Events Fund
Organisers ask for HK$16m from Mega Events Fund- 'if we are to get Rory back' - but MEF now wants more say in tournament
Hong Kong Open organisers yesterday asked the government for HK$16 million in funding, with an eye on netting world number one Rory McIlroy.
The Hong Kong Golf Association (HKGA) and the European Tour met with officials from the Tourism Commission's Mega Events Fund (MEF) to voice a multimillion-dollar plea - give us the money so that we can get the world's hottest golfing professional, McIlroy, to return to Hong Kong Golf Club.
"We asked for double what we got last year as we will need a lot more money if we are to get Rory back," said HKGA chief executive Iain Valentine.
"Time is of the essence and they [the MEF] said they would try to give us a decision as soon as they could."
Vincent Fung Hao-yin, the assistant commissioner for tourism, who is also the secretary of the fund's assessment committee, said a decision would be made by the end of this month, but refused to go into specifics.
"We have processed many cases today, having listened to presentations from various applicants," Fung said.
"We will consider which are eligible and will submit our recommendations to the controlling officer for final approval. After that, we will announce the results of all cases in one go. We hope we can announce the results by the end of the month."
Fung said the MEF was pleased with the profile and visibility of the Hong Kong Open last year, with all targets met. It is understood that the MEF now wants to be more involved, and have more say, with the tournament.
Last year's HK$8 million grant to golf was the biggest disbursement by the MEF, which was set up in 2009 to help aid arts, culture and sporting bodies by organising big events to help raise the profile of the city and attract visitors. The scheme was extended for a further five years beginning in April with a top-up of HK$150 million added to an unspent HK$50 million from the initial capital.
After months of frustration trying to pin down a title sponsor, the oldest professional sporting event in town has gathered momentum this week with Swiss bankers UBS finally confirming that they would come back. This announcement on the eve of the crucial meeting with the MEF has raised hopes that enough money will be raised to pay McIlroy's appearance fee.
The MEF funding was spent on "promotional activities" by organisers last year, a euphemism for paying the world's top players appearance money. McIlroy, who has been a regular at the Hong Kong Open since 2007, finally won it last year. Having risen to world number one, he now demands a huge fee just to turn up at tournaments, estimated to be in the region of US$2 million.
The HK$16 million requested from the MEF this year could well go to pay only the Northern Irishman, a two-time Major winner including last month's US PGA Championship, one of three tournaments he has won in his last four starts.
"Even this might not be enough to guarantee he turns up if he sticks to his asking rate," Valentine said. "But we are confident that he will come back and honour his commitments as defending champion. He has always had a soft spot for Hong Kong."
Last year, the HKGA did not have to dip into the HK$8 million from the MEF to pay for McIlroy as he was already tied up in a separate deal with sponsors UBS. At the end of the 2009 event, the bankers signed McIlroy up for two more years at a cost of US$300,000. That deal expired last December and he celebrated it with a two-shot victory.
"Last year, we didn't have to pay for him. That has changed now and that is why we have doubled our request. I hope the MEF can make a decision soon," Valentine added.
McIlroy is committed to playing in other tournaments in the region including the BMW Masters in Shanghai and the Barclays Singapore Open, both before the Hong Kong event.