Hong Kong gripped by 2018 World Cup fever as start of tournament brings fans flooding into city’s bars and restaurants

From entertainment areas to shopping centres, businesses are expecting a bump in profits from month-long Fifa extravaganza in Russia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 9:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 12:02am

Hong Kong was gripped by World Cup fever on Thursday as fans poured into restaurants, pubs and shopping centres for the start of the 2018 tournament in Russia.

Businesses in entertainment areas such as Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai, and Tsim Sha Tsui, along with the city’s major shopping malls have prepared for the month-long festival of soccer, displaying the national flags of the 32 countries taking part, and LED screens as tall as double-decker buses erected for the occasion.

With the Fifa tournament generating hundreds of millions of dollars globally, everyone from bar owners to property developers have spent time and money hoping to attract a slice of that enormous pie.

Developer Sino Group spent HK$30 million (US$3.8 million) setting up its seven shopping malls, while rival Sun Hung Kai Properties pumped HK$9.8 million into its round-the-clock shopping centre, APM, in Kwun Tong.

APM, and Sino Land’s Olympian City mall, have installed a 460-inch and 450-inch LED monitors respectively, for live matches.

“In the past, the World Cup was held in countries in Europe or South America, and there is a big time difference,” said Andrea Leung Tsui-shan, Sino Land deputy general manager of retail marketing.

“Now it’s held in Russia and the time zone is closer to Hong Kong. The events will bring more visitors to the malls, and restaurants will benefit the most.”

2018 Fifa World Cup fixtures in Hong Kong time

With Moscow five hours behind Hong Kong, this year’s matches kick off between 6pm and 3am, meaning less disruption during office business hours than was the case four years ago.

In Causeway Bay, Philip Wong, manager of Zerve Bar & Billiards, said bookings for Thursday night’s opener had jumped 50 per cent compared with a normal week, and he expected a 20 per cent growth in business in the coming month on match days.

“[Watching it in a bar] is very different from watching it at home,” Wong said. “In the last World Cup, we often had supporters from different teams challenging each other. The losing team would have to drink a lot of beers and pay the bill.

“I once saw four people who ended up drinking some 20 bottles of beer.”

Wong conceded the required minimum spending would be slightly higher than usual, but he added that there would be special menus on offer.

He said the bar could easily attract 300 to 400 customers a day, based on previous years.

Sports fan Henry Leung, who welcomed a newborn son last Saturday, said on social media that “sleepless nights” were back, not because of the baby, but because of the World Cup, which they would watch together.

Georgie Boost, a 33-year-old teacher, said she had dragged a group of her friends who are non-football fans to the Globe bar in Central to watch the World Cup opening ceremony and the beginning of the first game, with Russia against Saudi Arabia.

Boost, who is half-German and a supporter of the country’s team, said she researched online for venues to watch the games.

“I will watch the most contentious games where there’s atmosphere.”

She said she had been used to watching football games late and getting up early, so the schedule this time was not a problem.

“It’s only one month,” she added.

David Marques, a 32-year-old teacher, was at the same bar to watch the first game with his friend.

A Brazil fan, Marques said he would stay up until 3am to watch the games if necessary.

“You will see my eye bags growing longer and longer,” he said and laughed.

Marques said he would watch about one or two games a week, in different bars.

Manuel Costa, 31, a Brazilian crane dealer on a business trip, was at Cali Mex Bar and Grill in Lan Kwai Fong with his colleague, Anthony Toweel, 27, from South Africa.

Costa said he would go to bars to watch the games every night while in Hong Kong until Monday, because “it’s more fun”.

“I’ll stay up until I get drunk.”

In marked contrast to the heightened anticipation in Hong Kong, there was a more muted approach to the start of the tournament on the mainland, which has largely failed to capture the imagination of Chinese fans.

Alternative Fifa World Cup 2018 predictions – what will happen off the pitch in Russia?

Unlike four years ago, when there was plenty of interest in the tournament in Brazil, which was largely fuelled by online betting, a crackdown on web-based and social media lotteries has lowered the connection fans have to the World Cup.

In 2014, online lottery sales reached an unprecedented 85 billion yuan (US$13.2 billion) – more than twice the amount spent the previous year. This betting boom was largely down to the World Cup.

However, Beijing clamped down on the lotteries the following year, and earlier this month the Ministry of Finance reminded the public it would pay close attention to illegal online lotteries and gambling during the tournament in Russia.

Additional reporting by Shirley Zhao