26 May 2016
More than a Game
Cricket is a game played and loved by billions of people, whose biggest players are idolised and paid like rock stars. It’s a game that fills stadiums and draws a television audience into the hundreds of millions.
The sport has a storied past in Hong Kong, with the first recorded game played in 1841. Some 175 years later, the national team has just competed in its second consecutive World Cup for Twenty20 cricket – a fast-paced, abbreviated form of the game, which is tailor-made for a city that buzzes with energy.
To say that the Hong Kong cricket team punched above its weight to make it to one World Cup would be an understatement; repeating the feat reveals talent. The cricket team is the city’s highest ranked international sports outfit, far outranking the rugby union or association football squads.
The sport also gathers the city’s significant South Asian, European, African and Australasian minorities, and is increasingly attracting keen financial support from across all sectors of the city’s multiracial community.
Hong Kong Cricket Association Chief Executive Tim Cutler is proud of the sport’s successes. “We are working in the community and developing local cricketers from all parts of the community across Hong Kong to give them something else, to give them self-development. We are growing tomorrow’s leaders,” Mr Cutler says. “We want to show how cricket can be a positive for Hong Kong.”
Mr Cutler says while he and his team have a number of milestones they want to achieve to develop the sport, they are focused on the twin goals of community engagement and high-level competition.
The association is dedicated to growing the game at the grass-roots by introducing the sport to school-aged students, and announcing recently a weekend-long tournament, the DTC Hong Kong T20 Blitz.
The four-team contest took place 27-28 May. Players in each of the four franchises – the Rude Bar Island Warriors, Kowloon Cantons, Hung Hom JD Jaguars and GII Lantau Galaxy Riders – are drafted from local competition and international stars.
Former Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke – a recently retired legend of the sport – has signed on to play for Kowloon. Other internationals have also expressed interest.
The Hong Kong T20 Blitz has drawn interest from players and businesses alike, exceeding the association’s expectations. “We’ve got to make the sport suit Hong Kong and that’s what we’re trying to do with the Blitz, to really make it suit a local audience,” Mr Cutler says.
Mr Cutler says the tournament achieved more than four-times its target sponsorship in a two-week period from inception to launch, illustrating the potential financial value of the sport to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Cricket Association Marketing and Commercial Director Max Abbott says the Blitz was designed to secure attention and revenue. “T20 Leagues have been one of the most successful tools in growing the game, so it makes sense for us to follow that model,” he says. “We are doing that with a tournament over one weekend that will not only be the highest standard of domestic cricket played here, but also a chance to connect with the local business community.”
The association has benefited from the city’s strong ties to cricket-mad India, with Hong Kong-based Indian businessmen purchasing the GII Lantau Galaxy Riders franchise.
“They contacted us directly saying ‘We want in on this and we can tie this in with our business contacts in Delhi and hopefully bring some good, young players out and also get some sponsors’,” Mr Cutler says.
“There is a really strong Indian feel to it and, considering how many millions watched the World T20, I’m happy that they are also watching what’s happening in Hong Kong cricket. It’s a huge market.”
The interest in the Blitz mirrors a renewed enthusiasm for the game around the world, with tournaments attracting some of the biggest money in professional sports, and helping facilitate business deals.
“It’s a great boost to the tournament to have DTC Mobile involved,” says Mr Abbott. “Their involvement will allow us to further invest in this new concept for Hong Kong, which has grown immeasurably in stature since we announced the tournament.”
While the association is pleased with the progress and keen to ensure it continues, they have one eye on the development of the game. “I think the awareness of the game among the Chinese population is growing and that’s really the first step in getting locals to love the game,” says Mr Abbott.
“We are in schools every week introducing the game to kids and they always have a smile on their face and enjoy it. It’s a big focus of the association and we are putting a lot of resources into it.
“We’ll shortly be launching a new Junior Sixes programme, which will target local schools by first introducing to them to shortest form of the game rather than trying to win them over with traditional methods.
“We have three Chinese teams that play in our various domestic leagues and the numbers of players are slowly but surely increasing. More than half of our women’s team are Chinese and they will compete later this year on home soil in the East Asia Cup.”
State of Play
As it stands, only the lack of a professional-grade cricket facility is preventing world-class matches being played here, and the foundation is being laid to remedy that.
World cricket, in the form of five-day Test match games and matches from other domestic T20 leagues, have made it clear they want to consider Hong Kong as a venue. Professional franchises from the Australian and Caribbean T20 Leagues have expressed interest in forging strategic partnerships with the association. Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL) – a month-long competition held annually in December and January – is one potential partner.
“When the BBL start asking, ‘where do we go? Oh, Hong Kong’s already doing this. They’ve already developed a market there,’ it’s a natural step, as opposed to taking a gamble,” says Mr Cutler.
Another fan favourite, The Hong Kong Sixes, is also on track for a return this year, with Mr Cutler hoping it can play a role, like the Blitz, in solidifying the future of Hong Kong cricket. “We are really trying to develop commercial value for the sport here, so we’re not just relying on funding by the government and the ICC,” he says.
Hong Kong Cricket Association