With the recent conclusion of the very first Premier League season in Hong Kong, it is perhaps debatable as to whether or not it can be labelled as a success. There have undoubtedly been positives as well as negatives, yet there is still one issue in particular that looms large over the local football scene. Offside.hk correspondent Jeff Hardbattle has been hitting the streets to bring you the first in a six part story, asking fans of the sport one simple question – “Why don’t you go to the game?”
It wasn’t always like this. With competitive matches in the region dating back to the early 1910’s, Hong Kong has had longer than almost all of its Asian counterparts to build a solid fanbase for both its national and domestic teams. To varying degrees, this was largely accomplished until the early 1990’s, with international games well-attended and average crowds in the old First Division regularly hovering around 10,000. As late as 1996, a Grand Final match between South China and Instant-Dict pulled in over 30,000 fans. Flashback further to 1982, where fans of South China and Caroline Hill FC caused the biggest riots in the then British-controlled territory since the leftist riots of 1967.
So what exactly has gone wrong? Walk anywhere in the streets, and you will be greeted by hordes of English Premier League and La Liga club jersey-wearing folk of all ages who pack out bars and clubs showing the latest live contest. Interest in the sport clearly has not dwindled, so why are attendances so low in a land of 7.2 million football-loving fanatics? (To put this into context, Denmark has a population of 5.6 million and has an average attendance of around 8,000 in the Danish Superliga).
Looking at the statistics of the last 5 years, it is perhaps easy to see why much of the city’s once deep-rooted fan culture has been long forgotten. The two years prior to the establishment of the Hong Kong Premier League (HKPL) saw average attendances for the season drop below 1,000 with one or two matches not even seeing 100 people coming through the gates. Sadly, the creation of a fully professional league has not significantly helped in this regard, with the average seeing only a slight improvement to 1,048. Though there have been some encouraging signs (most notably, the Senior Shield Final saw 6,133 fans turn up), it is for the most part strikingly apparent that without the aid of high profile opposition, Hong Kongers are simply not interested in watching local football.
To see any improvements, of course, these things do take time. After the implementation of ‘Project Phoenix’ (an initiative aimed at rejuvenating football in Hong Kong through, amongst other things, the creation of a Premier League), the HKFA has now set out a five year strategic plan to further improve matters. One of their aims is to increase crowds to 3,000 by 2020, yet their initial target of reaching 1,250 by the end of this year in the Premier League, has already not been met.
In order to gain a better understanding of what is keeping the crowds away, offside.hk has been out on the streets to try and gain some clarity on the issue. The HKFA has been surveying fans at games, asking them for suggested improvements. However, as these people are indeed already that – fans of local football, surely it would be much more beneficial to all involved to ask those who DON’T attend matches why they choose not to. We asked 117 football fans (63 Hong Kongers, and 54 expats) two simple questions, the first – “Have you ever been to a local football match?” 9 of those surveyed stated that they regularly or fairly regularly attend, and were not questioned further. The remaining 108 people either very rarely attend or have never been. These people were then asked one final question – “Why don’t you go to the game?” Over the coming weeks, correspondent Jeff Hardbattle will look at the top 5 replies to this question, and how they can be addressed to bring “the golden age” back to football in Hong Kong.
*Please note that offside.hk does not claim this to be a scientific survey, and was carried out as a journalistic investigation.
Photo: offside.hk (Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground)