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Hong Kong Open needs to find new sponsors or it won't exist, says tour boss

European Tour boss says event must find new sponsors to survive, as HSBC declines to back it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2012, 2:46am

European Tour boss George O'Grady warned the Hong Kong Open faces an uncertain future unless sponsors come to the party, as local institution HSBC said it was not interested in backing the tournament.

Chief executive O'Grady said the European Tour could not "write cheques to sponsor Hong Kong", although it is the underwriter for next week's tournament at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

The open was without a title sponsor until UBS agreed to return for one edition. Prize money is down to US$2 million from US$2.75 million and organisers needed a HK$16 million handout from the government's Mega Events Fund, most of which is believed to have gone to convincing Rory McIlroy to defend his title.

Because of the financial crisis in Europe, the tour has lost a number of events. O'Grady didn't say Hong Kong could be next, but made it clear finding financial backing was vital.

"We might look rich, but we're not. We can't just write cheques to sponsor Hong Kong," he said. "Sponsors can choose whether they want to keep Hong Kong going.

"It's always been a favourite stop for our international players. Rory McIlroy is playing again this year, he loves Hong Kong. It's one of the great international cities of the world and we would like to keep it, but it is a factor of economics again.

"We want and intend to keep Hong Kong going in association with the Hong Kong Golf Association and UBS, if we can."

The lack of business support for Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event has seen it lose its prominent place in the European Tour's calendar as the penultimate event in the Race To Dubai.

O'Grady said it would likely have a date around the start of the season next year, having been replaced by the new US$7 million Turkish Open in a deal he admitted was just too good to turn down. "The tour is the promoter of Hong Kong, so we're taking the financial risk for that event," said O'Grady. "When we were in the middle of the summer, without a title sponsor or sufficient support, we couldn't keep it in such a key date and just write the cheque ourselves. In the end UBS came back in and we had support from the MEF and whatever investment we make this year is manageable, it wasn't before.

"Faced with the substantial offer we had from Turkey … that was a sound, solid, three-year commitment in a growing area. There doesn't seem to be much of a recession in Istanbul. Admittedly, there doesn't seem to be much of a recession in Hong Kong either, but getting the right sponsor is tough."

HSBC would seem a natural fit, but Giles Morgan, the bank's global head of sponsorship and events, made it clear that was not part of its plans. The bank is focused on the 'S' in its name in terms of golf, having extended its title sponsorship of the WGC-HSBC Champions for three years on Sunday and announcing it would be moving back to Shanghai.

HSBC already sponsors the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens and the Hong Kong Open is simply not high-profile enough for its strategy.

"Sponsorship is a business investment and we don't need to sponsor everything in golf, we need to sponsor flagship events," said Morgan. "We already sponsor the rugby sevens which is Hong Kong's most iconic event and we don't need to do both.

"Looking around the world, we have major events in Brazil, America, the [British] Open, Abu Dhabi, which are pretty significant flagship events that are covering our key regions."

There is little question the Hong Kong Open will be devalued by no longer occupying the "winner-takes-all" position in the Race To Dubai, but O'Grady insisted: "It's not so far devalued as in June and July when it didn't have any money at all, that would have been a lot more devaluation in my book."

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