Left Field: Argentina ticket offers little value
It is ridiculous to pay HK$1,800 to watch Messi and Co, when the HKFA should be looking at other ways to profit from the game
There is no debate over Argentina being a drawcard when they turn up at Hong Kong Stadium in October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Hong Kong Football Association. But will you cough up HK$1,800 to watch Lionel Messi and company in action? I find it absolutely ridiculous that this is the price for a premium ticket.
Okay, if it was the Hong Kong Sevens, then the paying public would get a good deal. At least the city's premier event is over three days and is good value for money, being a non-stop party on and off the pitch.
But HK$1,800 for 90 minutes of watching Argentina against Hong Kong, who by any stretch of the imagination are hardly in the same calibre as Germany, who defeated a misfiring Messi and his team in the World Cup final last month?
Argentina will be playing arch-rivals Brazil in Beijing the week before the Hong Kong encounter. Now if the boys from Brazil were to play here, too, then it would be worth the cost.
The HK$1,800 price tag is the most expensive for a game of football in Hong Kong. Why so much? It's simply because the HKFA has to find HK$30 million to cover the costs. More than HK$20 million will go into the pockets of the Argentine Football Association as an appearance fee.
In his heyday Tiger Woods used to command such figures. At least organisers were guaranteed his presence for a week and could rake some of their costs back and earn the goodwill of their business partners.
You might still ask what's the difference between paying so much for Tiger and for Argentina? The key difference is Tiger's presence was generally paid for by corporate sponsors. As far as Argentina is concerned, it will be the HKFA which will have to bear the financial burden.
True, four of its directors, chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak, Timothy Fok Tsun-ting (president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee), Ken Ng Kin and Pui Kwan-kay, have agreed to make up any shortfall.
With only 38,000 seats available at Hong Kong Stadium - buffer areas will eat up 2,000 seats - organisers will have to set a median ticket price of HK$1,000 guaranteeing revenue of HK$38 million for a full house. After paying off the government's Shylockian blood money (the 20 per cent gate-receipt fee for hire of the stadium) this would leave the HKFA breaking even - just.
From the outset, Leung has expressed concerns over how to break even instead of thinking of making a profit. This match should be looked at as a way to make the cash-strapped HKFA some money. We talk about a professional game in Hong Kong - a new professional league kicks off in the new season - but in practice it is the same old thing.
Project Phoenix was supposed to inject dynamism into the local soccer scene. We have spent millions of dollars and revamped the HKFA. Its administration boasts many new faces and there is hope in the air. But if the thinking is still straitjacketed, with conservative ideas still to the fore, then there is little chance for the renaissance to flourish.
They must try to get a corporate sponsor. Perhaps they should approach the Argentine community in Hong Kong and involve companies who have businesses in the South American country by selling them corporate boxes - a la the Hong Kong Sevens where the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union sets up private boxes of about 30 seats in premier areas.
These can be sold for a premium price to companies who can entertain clients and guests. If for instance there are 20 such boxes, and each is sold for HK$500,000, this would rake in HK$10 million - one-third of the cost is already covered. And furthermore it would only take up 600 seats.
If the rest of the tickets are sold at a cost of HK$1,000, it will bring in another HK$35 million at least. Add it all up and the HKFA would make HK$45 million leaving aside a tidy profit. They have to think out of the box.
This match will be an ideal vehicle to prove to the government the new HKFA intends to create opportunities and take advantage of them. At present, it is still undecided if the government will continue supporting Project Phoenix with increased financial grants. If the HKFA can show it is willing to be proactive and make some money, it will help their cause and show proof that, commercially, they can be a viable force.