• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 6:08am
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 4:45pm

Bigger stadium still needed even though Lions game did not sell out

Last night’s Lions match may not have been a sell-out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a bigger stadium is not needed


Alvin Sallay, a Sunday columnist with the paper for more than 10 years, has been reporting on the Hong Kong sports scene for the last 25 years. Through his columns he has covered four Olympic Games and one soccer World Cup. A long-time Asian expert, he has also been to seven consecutive Asian Games.

The sight of empty seats at Hong Kong Stadium last night might present a compelling case for some people in government to argue against accommodating 55,000 seats when the new stadium is built at Kai Tak. The plan is for the new sports complex to feature a main stadium with 50,000 seats. The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union wants more but does it have a leg to stand on following the failure to sell out So Kon Po for the historic encounter between the British & Irish Lions and the Barbarians?

Trevor Gregory, the HKRFU chairman, refuses to see that as a reason for a smaller stadium at Kai Tak. He has several reasons why the showpiece wasn't witnessed by a capacity 40,000 crowd. And most of these reasons were beyond the control of the governing body.

When the game was first mooted, Lions officials forecast that 10,000 fans would travel with the squad on the way to Australia. This was nearly three years ago when economic conditions were bad and they remain so today. Stagnant fiscal conditions in Britain have clearly played a role in British fans setting a course straight for Down Under rather than including "Asia's World City" as a stopover.

The absence of the red army plus the fact that Hong Kong does not have a larger local fan base for rugby combined to create the situation where the stadium was only three-quarters full. According to Gregory, the price of tickets, the cheapest HK$750 and the most expensive HK$1,290, had nothing to do with the empty seats as most of the premium seats were sold.

"You cannot say because this game was not sold out, there is no need for a bigger stadium in Hong Kong. As far as we are concerned, we can easily sell out a 55,000-seater stadium for the Hong Kong Sevens, and that is what is most important to us," Gregory says.

An extra 15,000 seats at the Sevens would translate into more than HK$20 million in revenue for the HKRFU, the lifeblood of the game locally. And it is not only rugby which will benefit. More seats at the Sevens will also have a direct impact on the economy as it will allow for more overseas visitors.

"The difference between the Sevens and one-off games like this is that people plan in advance for the Sevens and there is a wide expectation. The Lions game was unique and the first time we put it on. Maybe if we repeat it every four years, then it can follow in the vein of the Sevens.

"What is important is that we have a new stadium with 55,000 seats and then we can fill it with suitable events. There is no point building a new stadium and increasing the capacity modestly. A 55,000-seater stadium will be just right," says Gregory.

Soccer has shown it can follow in the footsteps of the Sevens. This summer's exhibition game between Manchester United and Kitchee was sold out in three hours. Tickets for the Barclays Asia Trophy featuring English Premier League sides Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and local champions South China went on sale on Friday and were in hot demand. A 55,000-seater stadium would certainly not be out of place in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile a reader, Jonathan Turner suggested the HKRFU consider offering the unsold tickets at the ground to children under-16 at half price. "There are thousands of kids who play every weekend, but no arrangements were made for them to watch this match without paying the full whack. This has put a lot of parents off taking their children to the match (whether rugby-playing or not). A family of four would have to lay out HK$3,000 even for the cheapest seats," Turner said.

The HKRFU seriously considered this proposal before deciding it would be unfair on those parents who had already bought tickets for their children at full face value. They have a point but I also suspect the real reason was they didn't want to set a precedent of offering discounted tickets at the last minute just to fill the stadium. That would have been a poor move for the long term.

One final word: Four years ago when the Lions visited South Africa, they began their campaign at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg which has a capacity of 42,000. Only 12,000 fans turned up, and this too in a rugby-mad country.

So hats off to the Hong Kong fans who came in their numbers last night.


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I used to live in HK and was always blown away by how great an event the 7s were. Now I live in the UK, where there are many, many football and rugby matches to watch. The difference between what I experience going to watch a premier league rugby side like Saracens, and going to the HK stadium last Saturday, was like chalk and cheese. Firstly, the ticket prices were high, as was my seat. I could barely make out the players! Then, no beer allowed in the stand? (A rule broken by the numerous fans who were either too smart for the 'security' or just ignored them.) Whilst the prawn sandwich brigade sat on their air-conditioned corporate boxes and drank chardonnay, the true rugby fans who travelled from as far afield as the UK were forced to sweat it out in expensive seats with only over-priced water or fizzy drinks to to fend off dehydration. And at half time the queues for beer were huge. Did they not realise what the demand would be? Still, no worries, at least we didn't miss any of the half-time entertainment, (what a joke!). Perhaps next time, (I doubt there will be a next time), they should replay the Chinese National Anthem and give us a chance to learn the words.
It was, I regret to say, an all-round 2nd rate experience. The HK stadium should visit some other venues to learn how true professionals put on events. Having forked out so much money to come to HK to watch the match I left disappointed and upset with the amateurish approach of this 'world class' venue.


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