The Hong Kong Premier League’s prize pool will increase to $1.8 million next season as part of plans to strengthen the long-term stability of the league.
After many years of discussion over the operation of the Premier League as an independent entity separate from the HKFA, the idea appears to be closer to coming to fruition than ever.
Representatives from six of the eight current Premier League clubs attended a meeting on Wednesday to discuss how best to establish an independent commission which will seek to improve the long-term development and stability of the league. At the meeting, clubs agreed to a pilot period of three years where the prize pool will be increased to $1.8 million per year, up from the current $1.2 million pool.
The prize pool had remained unchanged since the league was established in 2014, whereby the champions of the league take home the largest prize of $480,000, while the team placing ninth take home the smallest prize of $24,000. Under the new plan, the prizes for each position in the table will increase by 50 percent.
Southern chairman Chan Man-chun stated after the meeting that, “As a result of Project Phoenix, the HKFA have devoted most of their time and energy on raising the professionalization and popularity of the sport, but the development of football as an industry has been neglected. As professional clubs, we came up with an idea about how to do so and we’ve decided to take the first step.”
As part of the project, clubs would assume all responsibility in for the management, operation and promotion of the league, including seeking new business opportunities to grow the league. Starting with the 2022-23 season, clubs will be responsible for all matchday expenses but the independent commission will be responsibility for bearing most of the costs. Chan said that clubs will only be on the hook for $5,000 per match – down from roughly $30,000 per match in recent years – in addition to fees associated with hiring match officials and ball boys.
The Southern chairman later clarified that the clubs would not establish the independent commission as a limited company this season, but would look to do so depending on the results of the three-year pilot. The Premier League would continue to be under the purview of the HKFA but “in concept, we are adding a department to the HKFA that will focus on marketing the Premier League,” he said.
Calls for an independent entity to operate the league have existed since 2015, but the clubs decided that it was “not feasible” in the short term, according to HKFA General Secretary Vincent Yuen. He had also stated as recently as 2020 that if the league to be operated independent from the HKFA, it would require “a source of money from somewhere because…the league would cost several millions of dollars a year to run.”
The financial hurdle appears to have been resolved as Kitchee and Lee Man have agreed to stump up $3 million annually, between the two clubs, for the next three years as part of the pilot. Crucially, the clubs have decided to collectively share ticket revenue, with any profit being equally distributed amongst the clubs at the end of the season, excluding the club which finishes bottom.
Chan stated that the desire of the clubs is that after the initial three-year period, the commission can be self-sufficient. He added that the seed money provided by Kitchee and Lee Man would go towards creating a $400,000 prize pool for the FA Cup, though he hoped to fund the prize using sponsorship revenues.
Neither the Hong Kong U23 team nor Eastern sent a representative to the meeting, although the latter are believed to be supportive of the plans. An independent commission would require the approval of all clubs before it can be established.
When asked why the big clubs would voluntarily agree to reduce their turnover, Kitchee president Ken Ng replied that it was simply the right move for the good of the local game. “I want, firstly, to stabilize the league,” he said. “If the richer clubs can show a gesture of goodwill towards the poorer clubs and support them, then the poor clubs will be able to survive, and the league as a whole can grow.
“There are two things that we hope to achieve in today’s agreement and they must be balanced. One is that I hope the big clubs can help the small clubs. The other is that if we are able to attract more sponsors, then there will be more prize money available in the future for finishing in higher positions. If we can increase the competitiveness of the league, then I don’t mind sharing ticket revenue.”
Ng stated that the long-term ambition of the league is to bring in more sponsorship revenues so that Hong Kong clubs could be more successful in Asian competitions.
Lee Man chairman Norman Lee agreed with Ng, and said that a sign of the league’s ill-health was the number of clubs which have been forced to self-relegate due to lack of funds. He hoped that the establishment of an independent commission would helped to stem the tide for the smaller clubs and attract more clubs to promote.
“I don’t want any club to not participate in the Premier League because of money,” he stated emphatically. “I hope that more clubs will join the Premier League and we can develop the league in a healthy and sustainable way. I also hope that the HKFA’s board of the directors will support our proposal today.”