Photo credit: Hong Kong Rugby Union
As the Hong Kong Sevens returns this weekend, this article will highlight how the city can leverage its unique advantages, its resilience and diverse landscape to accelerate the recovery of Hong Kong’s sports industry.
Members of Hong Kong’s sports industry are optimistic that it can leverage the many unique advantages that the city offers as an urban playground. With its proximity to 87 Million people in the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong’s access to urban sports, water sports, hiking trails and a vast number of sports facilities make it a prime location in Asia.
Sports is a lucrative business in Hong Kong. In 2020, even during the pandemic, sports and related activities contributed US$6.5 billion to Hong Kong’s US$344.9 billion economy and employed over 75,000 people. Its recovery is important and this is why our Founding Partner Loron Orris recently led an AmCham panel on- “What’s next as sports return to Hong Kong.” Panelists including Robbie McRobbie, CEO of Hong Kong Rugby Union, Hugo Jehlen, CEO of DECATHLON HONG KONG, and Tina Wong Co-Founder and Chief Moving Officer at Social S shared insights on the challenges, the opportunities and how Hong Kong can leverage its unique strengths, sporting events, urban sports, and social impact to rebuild its sports economy post-pandemic.
Commercial and sponsorship opportunities in sporting events
The sporting events sector has always been an important pillar of Hong Kong’s sports industry, with the Hong Kong Sevens being the most significant and profitable event in Hong Kong’s sports history. Before the pandemic, Hong Kong reaped over US$51 million in revenue from the tournament every year, with over 20,000 overseas visitors attending per day with an average spending of US$1,650 per trip.
Since Hong Kong is reopening, top-tier sporting events are returning to the city. Some upcoming major events include the two Hong Kong Sevens (Nov 4-6 2022 and March 2023); The Hong Kong Marathon;; the Gay Games 11 2023, and more.
With the opening of the Kai Tak Sports Park in 2024, Hong Kong will have more capacity to host more world-class sports and entertainment events, which have huge commercial and sponsorship potential.
“Celebrating sports stories and local heroes like the Olympic medalists such as Siobhán Haughey and Edgar Cheung, as well as populating the facilities like the Kai Tak Sports Park are other things we should work on.” McRobbie said.
One significant challenge facing Hong Kong is a talent shortage that hinders the development of Hong Kong’s sports industry. According to McRobbie: “Recruiting talent has been a struggle for the Hong Kong Rugby Union. We are also not making the most of the sports talent based in Hong Kong.”
Singapore has given Hong Kong increased competition as it has been gaining global attention by leveraging significant government support and attracting more and more top-tier sporting events. As we mentioned in our recent article about Singapore’s sports market, their sporting events industry is thriving, with revenues already doubling from pre-pandemic levels driven by a record-breaking 300,000 people attending the recent F1 in September.
Although Hong Kong still has its unique advantages, the city must come up with innovative and creative solutions to attract new sporting events, reinvent existing events and attract talent to remain regionally competitive.
Government support and the development of urban sports
The Government has been proactively promoting sports in Hong Kong and is allocating more resources to support the local sports industry. According to “The 2022-23 Budget”, the government has invested more than US$7.6 billion in different categories of the sports industry (community sports, elite sports, events, and sports and recreational facilities) since 2017.
In Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee’s October Policy Address, he proposed initiatives that will impact the sports industry in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area such as the 10-year development blueprint by the ‘Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau’ to provide over 30 diversified facilities including a second sports park; a five-year pilot programme on career and education for athletes; promoting urban sports including 3-on-3 basketball, skateboarding, and sport climbing; and hosting of at least 10 major international sports events annually.
“The newly introduced Urban Sports in the policy address is refreshing and can help to improve youth participation. Yet, the 10-year sports facilities footprint should cover the facilities required (including building 30 more sports facilities including a second sports park) to make it work.” Wong explained.
Hong Kong can leverage itself as one of the world’s most unique urban playgrounds, it has the perfect mix of indoor and outdoor spaces and facilities for people to stay active.
Jehlen commented: “Hong Kong is a very dynamic urban city, same as its people, who are very dynamic and love new discoveries and new sports. I personally believe that we need to create more new sports to adapt to the growth of Urbanization.”
“Optimizing space and allowing people in urban cities to practice sports is a must to have a balanced well-being life, and encourage people to continue to practice the sports within the limited spaces. In the long run, we want to see more new sports designed into Urbanization for growth.” Jehlen continued.
Physical inactivity has been an issue in Hong Kong as a survey by CUHK in 2020 indicated that more than 20% of high school students do not participate in sports at all, which is five times higher than the global standard.
In AST’s article “Reimagining Our Cities and Urban Spaces to be Healthier and Smarter”, we also mentioned how urban space designs play an important role in promoting a healthy environment that promotes play, sports, and social interaction in communities. Hence, outdoor public spaces need to become more inclusive, innovative, and inviting. Creating inclusive active spaces as a part of a city’s urban development plans and optimizing the use of public spaces is the need of the hour.
Sports as a vehicle for social change
Social impact is a crucial element for sustainable growth in the sports industry. As we previously highlighted, ESG will be one of the key focus areas of the global sports ecosystem and sports is a very powerful tool that should be leveraged even more to drive the ESG agenda. Every party, top-down from federations, leagues, teams, local governments, athletes, and event organizers should come together and contribute to solving social and environmental problems.
Hong Kong has been leveraging sports to drive social change. Over the years, many grassroots initiatives have been launched to make sports more universal and accessible, such as the ‘Junior Sports Reporters Programme’, the ‘Youth Football Development’, and the ‘Community Equestrian Development’ operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. There are also multiple programs that provide access to sports for less privileged kids that are run by different NGOs. In addition, Hong Kong will be the first Asian city to host the Gay Games, which would place it at forefront of the D & I movement in sports in the region.
Wong believes: “We should use sports as a vehicle for social change and focus on the community before competition and engaging different stakeholders like charities and youth units to promote new sports have proven to be very successful.”
Building on HK’s Strengths
“Hong Kong’s advantage is Hong Kong itself,” said McRobbie concerning how people consume and enjoy sporting events in contrast to other cities in the region. One of the reasons why the Rugby 7’s became part of the Olympics grew out of the unique experience of the Hong Kong Sevens that helped demonstrate the great experience, fan engagement, and opportunities for less powerful rugby nations to compete on the world stage.
Members of Hong Kong’s sports industry are optimistic about the future as the reopening is supported by the city’s unique advantages discussed above. To strengthen Hong Kong’s position in the sports industry regionally and globally will require the government and the private sector to work together as well as cross-industry collaboration between sports, culture, technology, tourism, and finance.
Reach out to AST to discuss business opportunities to build your business in Hong Kong and Asia growing sports industry.