Hong Kong Rugby Fans Clad as Donald Trump Watch Fiji Clinch Cupby and
Fiji beats New Zealand to claim 16th Hong Kong Sevens title
Highest sales month forecast for party district Lan Kwai Fong
Revelers dressed up as Donald Trump and several movie characters watched as Fiji clinched its 16th title at Hong Kong’s biggest annual social event, the Rugby Sevens.
Fiji beat New Zealand by 21 points to 7 on Sunday in the final match of the three-day event, claiming its second consecutive title. Hong Kong eagerly embraced the infusion of visitors -- and cash -- during the extravaganza as an antidote to sluggish markets, a slump in Chinese tourism and a precarious property outlook.
The top draw on the city’s entertainment calendar, the event provides a shot in the arm for the Asian financial hub that is set for the slowest economic expansion in four years. Fans fueled by thousands of pints of beer dressed like characters from Ghostbusters and Game of Thrones to U.S. presidential hopeful Trump as banks and other top companies hosted clients in pricey corporate boxes.
“Hong Kong Sevens has developed into one of the biggest sports events in the region,” said Peter Lam Kin-ngok, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. “It draws a large flock of rugby fans to our city every year. Sevens is crucial for reinforcing Hong Kong’s reputation as the events hub of Asia, and an important means to boost local businesses.”
The event is the seventh of a 10-tournament series held around the world, and this year also serves as a qualifier for the summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where rugby will be included after a 92-year hiatus. Fiji is leading the series, with New Zealand second and South Africa third.
As over the last 12 years, three-day tickets for the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium were sold out in advance, at the official price of HK$1,800 ($232) each. Only in 2003 did the Sevens fail to sell out, the year when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, killed 299 people in the city.
Not even heavy rain early on the final day could keep the masses from showing up in fancy dress and costumes that in past years have featured angels, bananas and likenesses of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. It’s a voraciously hungry and thirsty crowd, too, with nearly 380,000 pints of beer, 23,000 pies and about 11,000 hot dogs being consumed, according to suppliers.
The surge in visitors is welcomed by the retailers in the city, which saw sales plunge in February by the most since 1999 as fewer Chinese tourists visited Hong Kong during the Lunar New Year holiday.
Hong Kong’s entertainment districts, including Lan Kwai Fong, count on the competition for a big part of their annual revenue. Fans will spend about 40 percent more during the month in the bar district than the next best month of the year, December, according to Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings Ltd. Buses are hired to ferry people from the stadium to the district.
“Sevens is very good financially for the city because you have people from all over the world coming and spending money,” Zeman said in an interview. “It’s an amazing event.”
The Excelsior hotel, operated by Mandarin Oriental International Ltd. and within walking distance of the stadium, has a “very, very high” occupancy rate during the tournament as in past years, according to spokeswoman Wings Mok said.
Heart of Sevens
Fiji is the most successful team in the history of the Hong Kong tournament since it began in 1976. New Zealand, which featured Jonah Lomu on debut in its 1994 winning side, is the next best with 11 cups. Lomu was selected as one of the seven best players to have appeared at the event during the past four decades. He died in November at the age of 40. Among this year’s featured players was New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams and Australia’s Nick Cummins.
“The sort of things that Hong Kong conjures up for overseas visitors are visions of the harbor and Bruce Lee -- not far behind that is the Sevens,” Robbie McRobbie, general manager of operations at the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, said in a phone interview. “It’s an iconic event and it’s become part of the fabric of the city in the same way that the carnival has for Brazil.”