Venue availability to blame for schedule release delay claims HKFA CEO

Lee Man

The 2023-24 season will begin with Sapling Cup matches on 19 August and league matches starting in September. HKFA CEO Joe Tam hopes for the full schedule to be released next week.

The Football Association of Hong Kong, China has “never dealt with such a big challenge” in assembling its schedule for the top flight season, claims CEO Joe Tam. The fixture has yet to be released to the public as clubs, players and fans are eagerly awaiting word about the start of the new season.

“In the past two days, we’ve been in constant dialogue with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, but the number of available dates (for stadium rental) is insufficient,” he said. “The arrangements for this season are quite complicated because we have two teams (Lee Man and Rangers) who have to compete in the Champions League (in mid-August) and the Hong Kong team will also travel to the Middle East for Asian Cup preparations.

“Also, there are some stadiums that will be closed for repairs – for example, Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground is unavailable after November. So, this is a big challenge that we’ve never encountered.”

Tam added that in addition to repairs, he was informed by the LCSD that certain venues have been booked ahead of time by other organizations.

The Premier League will feature 11 clubs this season for the first time since 2016-17. An increase, as well as the fact that there is an odd number of teams, are complicating aspects to consider.

It is believed, too, that Hong Kong coach Jörn Andersen has requested for the season be paused in December so that he may take the team to the Middle East for training camp ahead of the Asian Cup.

Tam did say, however, that the Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup would return at the end of the year, but Hong Kong would send a B team due to the overlap with the Asian Cup. He was less committal about the return of the Lunar New Year Cup, saying only that “some ideas have been discussed, but there are no concrete plans.”

The CEO, along with representatives from 10 other Premier League clubs, were present for a press conference of the Hong Kong Premier League Committee, which was established last year as a joint venture of the clubs. The goals of the Committee are the manage the revenue streams for the league, attract commercial partners, promote the league and distribute any profits back to the clubs.

Club representative Chan Man-chun (Credit: inmediahk)

One of the schemes that the clubs agreed to last season was to equally share ticket revenue in order to help out the teams with smaller means. Club representative Chan Man-chun, the former chairman of Southern, announced that after deducting for expenses, the league made a net profit of $590,000 in tickets sold. Kitchee and Eastern contributed the highest amount of ticket revenue towards the collective pot, whilst Lee Man and HKFC were revenue neutral in terms of money contributed and taken out.

The remaining six clubs received between $10,000 to $230,000 from the equalization scheme.

However, ticket revenue was not the only source of revenue for the committee. The Jockey Club’s sponsorship of the Sapling Cup was worth $1.2 million, which raised the total prize money for the four competitions to $2.82 million. The league also received advertising sponsorship for the Labour Department worth over $200,000.

Chan stated the league made a profit of $2.97 million from all sources last season and distributed between $380,000 to $710,000 to each club. Four clubs – Rangers, Lee Man, Southern and HK U23 – received more than $600,000.

After 151 matches were played last season, the total number will rise to 183 with the arrival of newly promoted North District. Chan stated that the league will incur greater expenses next season due to the increased match numbers and the introduction of VAR. There is a risk, he warned, that the league could lose money if clubs cannot find a way to increase attendance and attract sponsorship for the Senior Shield and FA Cup.

Chan cited the biggest expenditures came from evening matches at Mong Kok Stadium and Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground where there additional fees for lights. He said that he hoped the HKFA could reserve these occasions for more “appealing” matches in order to justify the costs.

A proposed solution to cut costs is to reschedule Sapling Cup matches that are dead rubbers as double headers with other Sapling Cup matches on the same day.

“When the Sapling Cup enters the second round robin, there will invariably be matches of no consequence to the table,” Chan said. “Maybe those matches can be bundled together and played at the same stadium, but the LCSD are concerned that teams who play in the later match (of a double header) will moan about the quality of the pitch.”

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