Media ignore Hong Kong sport, so fan sites post own match reports
Mainstream press indifference to local sporting events has given rise to a number of specialist websites devoted to giving them coverage
On a Saturday last month, university students Owen Yip Tsz-hin and Chris Lau Kwun-shing were busy shooting photos and video of the soccer match between Kitchee and Pegasus FC at Mong Kok Stadium. Two minutes before the final whistle, Kitchee scored the winning goal to advance to the semi-final of the Canbo Senior Shield.
Yip and Lau provided Hong Kong with the only live updates of the game. Faced with an empty press box, the pair of citizen journalists had a field day intercepting players on their way to the changing rooms and getting their views about the match.
Earlier this year they set up Hong Kong Football Times, a Facebook-based magazine, to help rouse interest in local soccer events, says Lau, who is studying law and business administration at the University of Hong Kong.
"The mainstream press in Hong Kong seldom reports on local soccer games, devoting most of their attention to the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga. When we started the Facebook page in June, the inaugural report was on the World Cup qualifier in which Hong Kong beat Bhutan."
Although the Hong Kong Football Association rejected their application for a media pass, it has not deterred the pair from turning up at the pitch to report on matches.
"We report on all the games involving the nine teams in the Hong Kong Premier League. We take pictures of their training and video interview the players."
Football Times, which has now garnered 1,800 followers, is the newest among a handful of specialist sports channels that have sprung up in recent years to fill a vacuum resulting from the mainstream media's indifference to local events.
Most are soccer-related: Hong Kong Football Press focuses its attention on local matches while Road To Stadium reports on the fans who turn out in force to cheer on their teams.
Stadium was set up in 2013 by four soccer-loving friends, including Ng Cheuk-hang, now a third year journalism student at Shue Yan University.
It began as a 10-page print magazine, which was distributed every few months to people in the stands whenever there were competitions involving Hong Kong Premier League teams, he says. But last year the lower costs of online publishing prompted them to switch to Facebook, where they have some 4,600 followers.
"We wrote about the different culture of cheering teams from around the world, and interviewed overseas fans when they came to Hong Kong to support their national teams."
For example, they interviewed Malaysian fans who came to Hong Kong to root for Johor Darul Ta'zim when the team played against Kitchee in the Asian Football Confederation Cup match in March. The magazine also included translations of foreign articles about clashes between soccer fans.
"We are football fans ourselves, so we wanted to make a publication for fans to read," Ng says.
"Besides cheering teams, we also report on local games, but only those that are not covered by others. This year, our theme is the Women's League, which made up of non-professional players. Last year, we covered the youth games."
Their operating costs are covered solely by sales of football fan T-shirts, he adds.
Frustration with mainstream coverage of local sports also drove former sports writers Faye Chui Wai-wah and Carrie Tsui Ka-yee to set up their own specialist website, Sportsroad, in 2013.
Chui, who was working for Wen Wei Po in 2009, recalls cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze's surprise when she sought her out. Lee would go on to win a bronze medal in the women's keirin race at the 2012 Olympics, but at the time, "she asked me why wanted an interview as no one was interested in her".
"In Hong Kong, the press only pays attention to local athletes after they become well-known, ignoring the hard work they put in before their international wins. The lead items in newspaper sports sections are always games from the English Premier League or the NBA," Chui adds. "I spent hours every day covering sports news but always ended up writing just 100 words due to limited space."
It was a tough first year for the two founders of Sportsroad: Chui was stretched to her limit covering local events and tournaments abroad, while Tsui ran the site.
"We didn't have any salary in the first 10 months. I covered all the big, four-yearly events, including the National Games of China, the Asian Games, and the Olympics. I had to pay for the trip out of my own pocket," Chui says.
"But our fan base expanded a lot after I covered the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, last year. As more people knew about us, we started getting sponsorship from sports product companies and public relations agencies."
As a result, Sportsroad, which now attracts more than 400,000 page views each month, is able to support four full-time staff. Their perseverance has won support from local athletes such as veteran cyclist Wong Kam-po, who contributes a blog to the site.
"With our own website, we have more opportunities to do long interviews with sportsmen [including Yapp Hung-fai, the talented goalkeeper for Hong Kong Premier League club Eastern], unlike in the past when we just attended press conferences and had short chats with them," Chui says.
Sportsroad has since grown into a repository for quick updates, feature stories, information on the latest sports products and expert columns on training and nutrition.
Another specialist media group enjoying similar cachet in Hong Kong's professional sports community is Sportsoho. Launched in 2008 as a monthly magazine of the same name, the operation has since grown into an interactive, multimedia platform incorporating videos of local sports events, an online radio station and a phone app.
"There were quite a few sports magazines in the past, but they all folded. You cannot survive with just a print publication," says Sportsoho co-founder and managing director Ricky Chan Kun-ying.
They derive additional income from organising exhibitions such as the annual Sports Expo in Kowloon Bay and running events (Sportsoho manages some 60 races each year). It helps that many of its 41 full-time staffers are sports enthusiasts, who participate in triathlons and events such as Trailwalker.
"All the revenue from our side ventures goes towards supporting the magazine, which runs feature stories and glossy pictures. If not for this, the magazine would have folded a long time ago," Chan says.
But the most popular part of its website is the photo and video section for local competitions: "Guided by a script, our video team [films] the competitions and adds music and, makes the footage look like movie trailers. Participants in, say, a run can get the pictures for free and watch video highlights of the event."
Instead of reporting on sports like local newspapers, their radio station, Sportunes, focuses on interviews with athletes and coaches, and recommends sports events for the weekend, Chan adds. "Besides top athletes, we also talk to the unsung heroes who are ignored by mainstream media. They share with us their training regimen and techniques."
Over the past year, the specialist sports sites have been fired up by chief executive Leung Chun-ying's controversial comment that sectors such as sports do not contribute much to the economy.
The founders are more determined than ever to make promoting sports culture in Hong Kong a key part of their mission, with Sportsroad and Sportsoho both running articles investigating the failings of sports development in the city.
Chan is critical of the Hong Kong Sports Institute policy of only providing full subsidies to those who win continuously in international tournaments.
"If they lose, their subsidy will be cut. As athletes also need to make a living, such a system discourages them from training full time."
Noting how much support sports journalists received from Taiwan authorities on her visit to the island to cover a cycling event two years ago, Chui adds: "Without major support from the government and business sector, it's difficult for local athletes to shine."
But for all the enthusiasm and hard work of these specialised media outfits, Chinese University journalism professor Clement So York-kee says it is difficult for local athletes to attract as much public attention as overseas teams because they are not in the same league.
"The standard of sports like soccer and basketball is not high in Hong Kong. Those who are passionate about local sports are in the minority," So says.
"But the internet provides a low-cost platform for sports journalists to run the specialist channels to satisfy the needs of this group."