Hong Kong’s famous Rugby Sevens tournament has become a hotter ticket than ever as new restrictions force banks and other sponsors to slash invites to one of the biggest events on the international sporting calendar.
The sellout, three-day competition is a frenzy of drinking, schmoozing and sport where regular tickets can be resold for as much as $1,000. Banking conferences are timed to coincide with next weekend’s tournament, the better to lure money managers from Europe and the US.
But new rules are putting paid to the corporate party that is as much a part of the event as flamboyant fancy dress. Previously, hosts were able to recycle box passes, enabling them to entertain potentially hundreds more guests than they had actually invited.
A crackdown on the practice for health and safety reasons and a new electronic system, meaning one pass, one entry, have left the likes of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup scrambling to prioritise their guest lists.
“We’ve gone through all sorts of pain over our invites,” said one senior sponsor. “There is still a bunch of us thinking, hoping, the new system will collapse under pressure and we’ll all go back to normal.”
Senior bankers left trying to work out the most lucrative, or otherwise worthy, guests say they have been asked to more than halve the number of people they would expect to invite to the box.
Tickets and box entry are separate. Before, would-be guests could call their host, who came down with a box pass and then retrieved it for the next invitee. That allowed bankers and other box hosts to offer casual drop-by invites to scores of contacts.
Boxes start at $260,000 for a three-year contract. In spite of the fact few other events are held regularly at the stadium, just one box has come on the market in the past four years, underscoring the importance of entertaining clients at the Sevens.
The new system does, however, bring the famously rambunctious event more in line with other big sporting events.
“Look around and there are a lot of very corporate, very rigid events — think about Wimbledon, or the US Open,” said one sponsor’s event planning head. “Sevens in Hong Kong has always been unique and there’s a risk it is becoming a little less fun and a lot more serious.”
Antony Phillips, head of sponsorship at the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, the tournament organisers, said the changes were designed to stop overcrowding and that the HKRFU had received as many positive responses as negative ones.
“People are looking carefully at the level of clients they are inviting,” he added. “Some have said it is great because it gives them a reason to say no to people, too.”
Other sponsors suggested tighter ticketing could make invitees more loyal to their hosts and less prone to hopping into competitors’ boxes.
“Whether clients will get that message I don’t know,” said one banker. “But in theory you’d hope they’d be more grateful for the access.”
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