Monday, 25 November 2013

HKFA Premier League 香港職業聯賽

HKFA Premier League

One of the key recommendations of Project Phoenix was the establishment of a fully professional league based on a club licence system. The rationale for this was quite clear. Compared to the past, the standard and popularity of the 1st Division has slumped to unacceptable levels. For a number of reasons we have entered a seemingly endless downward spiral of;

  • Lowering standard of players and quality on the pitch leading to…

  • Fewer spectators…..resulting in…..
  • Less commercial (sponsor and TV interest)…. which in turn….
  • Means less money for the Clubs….and therefore…..
  • Reducing salaries for the players…. And so the spiral starts again.

The main problem is the lack of money in the sport which means that Clubs cannot invest in players, coaches and the other important things that Clubs need like Governance, management, marketing, administrative support etc. In Hong Kong Clubs don’t own their own facilities for playing and training and so (as well as the playing surface being poor due to overuse), they are denied vital secondary spend opportunities such as advertising, retail, food and beverage etc. The lack of a dedicated ground also means that Clubs (other than District teams) have no real affinity with a local community and therefore no fan base.
All of this has coincided with the ability to watch foreign matches on the television which has compounded the situation.

The current 1st Division is comprised of 12 Clubs and these are all very different. Some are commercial entities, some are part of wider Sports Associations and some are District-based. Some are managed very professionally and others less so. Indeed it would not be unreasonable or inaccurate to describe some as semi-professional ‘teams’, rather than fully professional ‘Clubs’.

We have to be honest and say that the public perception of the HKFA football leagues is not great. There is a commonly held view that the sport is run by the ‘bosses’ and that players and coaches are not afforded the respect they are due. In the past there have been match-fixing incidents which have further damaged the reputation of the sport locally.

Whether the perception is true or not is hardly the issue. The point is that for many, the top tier of the sport is tarnished to some extent and this is not attractive to either fans or prospective sponsors and supporters. The number of active spectators is embarrassingly low for a place the size of Hong Kong. Another important issue is that football does not offer an attractive enough career for an aspiring young footballer.

For all of the above reasons the situation must change. The top tier of football in Hong Kong should be the lifeblood of the sport. It should be sufficiently attractive to entice the best players and coaches who in turn will provide players for the Hong Kong representative teams. International success will encourage more young people into the sport as well as creating ‘local heroes’ for the domestic league thus drawing back the crowds. It is time to unwind the downward spiral and turn it into a virtuous circle.

It is acknowledged that this will not be easy, particularly for the Clubs themselves. The Premier League has to be the vehicle to lead that change. The HKFA is taking the bold step of linking participation in the new league to the attainment of a ‘licence’. The criteria for getting a licence must be carefully positioned. The targets should be stretching so that Clubs have to work on improvements to get a licence but not so strict that they require unrealistic levels of investment or workload. This is a difficult balance to get right especially in Hong Kong where the degree of sophistication of the Clubs varies so widely.

Initially the HKFA wanted to set the ‘licence benchmarks’ at the level required for Clubs to enter the AFC Champions League. However, on reflection this threshold was deemed to be too high for some our Clubs to reach, at least initially. Therefore there will be two levels of licence. Tier One is the AFC Champions League Club Licence Regulations. Clubs wishing to participate in this competition will need to attain this level. Tier Two will be the Hong Kong Premier League Club Licence Regulations. The criteria are the same for both licences but the thresholds and targets within them are different, with the Hong Kong Licence being easier to achieve. Clubs will be able to decide which level to apply for depending on their ambitions and resources. However any Club wishing to participate in the Hong Kong Premier League will need to obtain the Tier Two Hong Kong Premier League licence – that is a prerequisite.

The regulations set minimum standards (criteria) in a number of areas including:

  • Sporting Merit
  • Personnel and Administration
  • Facilities (infrastructure)*
  • Legal
  • Financial

*Clubs are not responsible for this area because they don’t own the grounds. This will be a Government responsibility.

In adopting the two tier approach, the HKFA has listened to the concerns of Clubs and believes that it is not asking them to do anything other than would be expected of a professional football Club. For example, a proper legal constitution, financial transparency, qualified coaches, bona fide player contracts etc are all basic requirements that the League, fans, sponsors etc would expect to be already in place.

The HKFA wants to work in partnership with the Clubs in establishing the League and will be there to provide help, advice, template documents etc between now and when the Licence application are due to be submitted in May 2014.

Applications will be independently and objectively evaluated and there will be an appeals process.

Twelve Licences will be available for the 2014/15 season. First refusal will go to the top 11 finishing teams in the current 1st Division and the winners of the current Division 2.

It is important to note that eligibility to apply for a Licence does not automatically guarantee entry into the Premier League. Clubs will need to pass the application process. Whilst it is hoped that all twelve teams will apply and be successful, we are not going to worry unduly if some Clubs don’t want to participate or fail to meet the standard. We will start the Premier League with less teams if necessary because we only want professional, committed and ambitious Clubs to play in our top tier of football.

I do not believe that the criteria for entry are too onerous but it is inevitable that Clubs will need to invest some time and money in obtaining a Licence. We will do our utmost to secure additional resources that can be used to help the Clubs to ‘gear up’. We will also expect them to find the additional resources required. At the end of the day it is the Clubs that will ultimately benefit if the League is successful by attracting more money from gate receipts, sponsorship, merchandising, prize money etc.

If the new Premier League is established as a sustainable entity, it is the intention of the HKFA to ultimately set up the League as an autonomous body. Under such an arrangement the Clubs would be responsible for match-day organization and through a League Committee be more involved with setting the League Rules etc. We believe that this is what the Clubs want and the HKFA is happy to facilitate that. However the Premier League must be established first and prove that is sustainable and capable of self-regulation and management.

I sincerely hope that the Clubs will view the Premier League as a positive catalyst for change. I repeat, there is nothing in the criteria that a professional club should not already be doing. The criteria are attached so you can see for yourself.

The next few months are critical for the future of the Professional game in Hong Kong.

Read more about AFC Club Licensing Regulations




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  • 體育功績
  • 人事及行政
  • 設施(基礎建設)*
  • 法律
  • 財務












  1. Dear Mark:

    I think the only way to improve the quality of Hong Kong players is to compete the Chinese Football League. We don't lack of people, but maybe we are too small to accommodate a higher standard football league. Since 1990s fans can stay home and watch high standard football competition from TV broadcast. Fans rather stay home watch EPL than HK football. HK fans want to watch high standard football competition, which means we must 12 very professional clubs. I don't think it is possible because we need 12 businessman to "invest", lavishing 20 million a year or more. The standard of Indonesia same as HK but their average attendance is 8,000-10,000, this is because this is their major entertainment. Not all of them have TV broadcast, stay home watching European Football.
    Joining Chinese League can improve HK players skills. At least they will play about 30 games. I've never seen a professional league only play 18/22 league games a year-except HK. If they play only 18 games a year (average 2/month), do you think they can compete with those players who play 30-38 games a year?
    The attitude of parents are also important. They are not willing to let their boy become a footballer because of no future. However joining Chinese League may change some of their attitude, at least they may have a chance to earn more and compete in a higher standard division. In UK, kids play football since they are 6, after almost 10,000 hours training , finally become a professional player, only some of them can play in EPL. Rome wasn't built in a day.

    1. Dear dragoon17c (I'm sure that's not your real name),
      Thanks for your comments, you make some good points.
      Actually we looked into putting a team into the China Leagues as part of Project Phoenix. In many ways it is a good idea but there are problems too. For example we would have to start in the lowest Division and try to make our way up until we could eventually play in the Super League. We would not be able to start there. Secondly we would have to decide which team to put into the League and that wouldn't be easy. We couldn't put the HK representative team in because FIFA don't allow National Teams to play in domestic League competitions. We will keep thinking about this and I am thinking that we could at least enter our Cup Winners into the China FA Cup.
      You are right that it will be difficult to sustain 112 fully professional Clubs in Hong Kong, that is why I would be happy with a Premier League with 8 or 10 teams in it as long as as you say they get to play more games.

    2. for joining the China League,
      I think HKFA can discuss with big companies in HK, for example, HSBC or some buliding companies as they are very rich, then ask them to sponsor to run a team. Their brand can also be promoted in China, a big market.
      however, local businessmen seem not like to invest in sports, maybe it is a culture thing but it can be changed if they can see the light

  2. @dragoon17c: Unfortunately, joining the China Super League presents itself with greater challenges. With Pro/Rel, club investors would be wary to fund for their clubs to compete in tiers lower than Premier level, and we know funding and exposure go hand-in-hand. Also, the added cost of travel will be an immense financial burden.

    CEO has the right approach. Club soccer must have a measured grassroots expansion and be meaningful to the community.

    1. David,
      Thanks for your comment and support.

  3. After briefly glancing through the Licensing Regulations document, I can appreciate the level of thought and detail that went into this draft. The required amount of support that needs to happen at the youth level is also a welcome sight.

    One thing that should be of further study is the atmosphere of stadia.
    - The silence during pregame, halftime, and postgame needs to be filled. Music an hour prior to the match should be loud and attract the community.
    - Supporters Groups need to be able to develop more tifo and regulated flares should be allowed.
    - Allow for mascots
    - Expand pregame and half-time activities with contests, community outreach, concerts, celebrities, etc. There should be vendors to sell team apparel, and other outside vendors to puchase space outside the stadium to sell their goods/services.
    - Food and beer vendors should be allowed to sell their items in the stands.

  4. Dear David,
    You are absolutely right, the atmosphere at most of our matches is subdued to say the least. Some teams are better than others at generating a spectacle. I have been impressed with Pegasus this season, they are making a big effort with their marketing. It shows in the number of spectators too, they have had a 150% increase on last season.
    Sometimes the Stadium Rules do not allow for some of the things you suggest and as you know, many complaints are made by local residents!
    I really hope that the HKFA and the Clubs can work together to improve the entertainment value both on and off the pitch as part of the transition to a new League. It certainly need livening up. We will do our best.

  5. Dear Mark
    Welcome to working in Hong Kong. It is my first time to write to you. I have a passion in football too. There are some suggestions I would like to make, based on my experiences in working in a English Premier Leauge Club before and watching Premier League live as well as I was grown up in watching HK football and attend some matches every year in Hong Kong.
    Here are some suggestions for attracting people I think may help
    Inside the stadium:
    one and a half hour before the match, and at half time, the stadium can play some local popular music, make fans feel relaxed and the atmosphere relaxing

    involve spectators, to be part of the match
    for example, at half time, use the 15 minutes for a few (maybe 2-3) fans to go to the pitch to have a penalty shoot out game. The fan can get $100 for every goal he/she scored. Maybe the maximum is $500 per person.

    Regarding to the tickets
    i think adults tickets should be reduced from $60 to $50 or $40. The reason for that is to attract the 20-35 aged group, This group of people is willing to spend money but generally feel that $60 is not worth to watch a local football match.

    Secondly, add coupons next to the ticket. not only you can draw advertisements, but also it can benefit spectators. for example, there is a coupon on every ticket that $10 dollars for buying a hot dog and a soft drink or other snacks/food discount within the stadium or outside the stadium, or $10 dollars cash coupon of HK jockey club.

    for supporting HK team, i think HKFA can set up a HK cheering team, make some cheering phrases for supporting hk team, before the match, it can educate fans how to support the team effectively.

    I know it is easier to say than done. Maybe every little change can help.
    All the best for your work

    Yours sincerely,

  6. Dear Joe,
    Thank you for your comment, interest and ideas. You are right when you say that the 'experience' of watching a match here is quite dull compared to other places especially the Premier League.
    I will discuss your suggestions with our Marketing team and as you say, lots of small changes will eventually add up to big change.
    I hope you will continue to support Hong Kong football.