Rex Tso and T20 Blitz both hugely popular Hong Kong sports events, so why the contrast in support and coverage?

Innovative cricket tournament had a massive global audience yet went largely unreported as the Wonder Kid dominated local media – but the more top contests in the city the better

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 1:58pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 March, 2017, 7:20pm

There were two hugely popular sporting contests last weekend in Hong Kong, a relatively rare occurrence in a city where top-drawer events remain thin on the ground.

While Rex Tso Sing-yu’s latest boxing match dominated the media, you wonder how many people in the city even knew the Hong Kong T20 Blitz cricket tournament was even on.

Tso’s latest win, against Japan’s Hirofumi Mukai, was the 21st of his unbeaten career. Eight thousand people packed the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai for a brutal contest that saw Tso battered, bloodied, but unbowed after ending Mukai’s resistance in the eighth round.

The following day, the Blitz, an innovative new competition organised by Cricket Hong Kong, was no less explosive and entertaining, though rather less painful for participants.

At a sold-out Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, Kowloon Cantons won the trophy; a host of big names from world cricket were in action in the competition, but one of Hong Kong’s own, Babar Hayat, starred in the final, blasting 76 from 40 balls.

Somewhat oddly – or not, given the general cluelessness about sport in this town – neither event was televised locally. Ex-TVB boss Stephen Chan Chi-wan claimed on his radio show that his former employer wanted to air a previous Tso fight, but demanded a fee from promoters DEF for the privilege, a generous offer which was surprisingly turned down.

Kowloon Cantons seal second T20 Blitz title with imperious win over City Kaitak

DEF were more than happy to sell the broadcast for a rumoured HK$1 million to mobile phone maker Huawei for a Facebook Live stream, which had some 1.8 million views. (TVB denied Chan’s claim; if true it would not reflect well on either the broadcaster’s digital savvy or its appreciation of the local appetite for sport).

Cricket Hong Kong, despite its small size, is well ahead of many of the city’s other sporting governing bodies for innovation and forward-thinking (although that may sound like faint praise when you look at some of its counterparts). The T20 Blitz was streamed live on YouTube and Facebook over the competition’s five days and did massive numbers, with Cricket HK reporting seven million views and a reach of 50 million.

Hong Kong fighter Rex Tso extends winning streak to 21 after knocking out Japan’s Hirofumi Mukai

Judging by comments on the YouTube livestream and analytics of SCMP.com’s coverage, the Blitz had a huge worldwide audience, particularly among – but certainly not limited to – the cricket-mad Indian subcontinent, unsurprisingly.

Tso, on the other hand, is little known outside Hong Kong, even among boxing aficionados, though that hasn’t prevented a range of big firms queuing up to associate themselves with his success.

As well as Huawei, this week on his Facebook page he posted a promotional message plugging a Cartier bracelet, and he featured in a video promoting Uber on their local social media.

The T20 Blitz, by contrast, rather struggled to attract blue-chip names – though KPMG, Peroni and Red Bull were involved, little-known mobile phone manufacturer DTC was the headline sponsor.

And while Tso’s fight was massive news in local Chinese media, the Blitz passed with nary a mention. Though there were reports on the event in the Times of India and major cricket websites worldwide, the SCMP was seemingly the only local media outlet interested.

Similarly, chief executive candidate John Tsang Chun-wah made sure he got a photo opportunity with Tso at the boxer’s gym in the build-up to the fight, while other local worthies such as James Tien Pei-chun and famed lover of the sweet science Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee attended the bout.

But no politicians were interested in being seen at the cricket, with commissioner for sports Yeung Tak-keung apparently otherwise engaged after being invited to present the trophy on the final day.

Is it too cynical to wonder if the make-up of the respective crowds – mostly Chinese for the boxing, mostly South Asian for the cricket – might have had something to do with that? To be fair to the government, organisers admitted they were probably a little late in sending invites to politicians, and are hopeful the huge success of the event will attract more interest and support next year.

Let’s hope so. Rex is a genuine hometown hero while cricket, despite sterling efforts of Cricket HK, remains something of a mystery to many in the local community. While we’re not trying to pit one event over the other – as a sports reporter, the more successful and popular sporting contests in Hong Kong the better – it would be nice to see next year’s Blitz enjoy a portion of the local support for the Wonder Kid.