【明報專訊】TATLER ASIA, the organiser of the Inter Miami exhibition match in Hong Kong, has become the target of public censure amid the controversy over soccer legend Lionel Messi's absence from the pitch. The role of the government has also attracted much attention. Chief Executive John Lee said yesterday (6 February) that the government will keep on urging the organiser to explain in detail what happened and actively respond to the demands of fans who bought tickets to the match. As for the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau and the Major Sports Events Committee, they should also review their supervisory roles, responsibilities and requirements when assisting in the organisation of mega events.
The organiser and Inter Miami have made huge profits from this exhibition match but failed to pay due respect to the fans, who were treated as ''cash cows'' and had to bear the insult of receiving services that did not meet the advertised descriptions. It is the organiser's responsibility to explain the entire incident in detail, make a public apology and refund the tickets to the fans who attended. The government must also learn from this and closely monitor the use of sponsorship funds to prevent major mistakes by the organiser that would damage Hong Kong's reputation.
Inter Miami's visit to Hong Kong was originally awarded the "M" Mark status by the government, providing a sponsorship of HK$16 million. But unexpectedly, the event caused a public uproar. The organiser issued a brief statement the night before yesterday, saying that it would voluntarily withdraw its funding application, but did not mention any plans for compensation or answer any questions. As of yesterday evening, the Consumer Council has received 477 related complaints.
The Inter Miami players are now in Tokyo, preparing for an exhibition match today (7 February). At a press conference in Japan, Messi spoke for the first time about his sit-out in Hong Kong, saying that he could not play because of ''thigh muscle discomfort''. He expressed regret about it and hoped to play in Hong Kong again in the future. Of course, whether the attendees of the match accept his explanation is another thing. After all, the organiser sold the tickets at extortionate prices as high as HK$4,880. Even a bucket of ordinary fried chicken cost HK$580 at the stadium. If Messi does play in Tokyo, it will certainly not sit well with the over 38,000 fans who attended the match in Hong Kong on Sunday.
The business of Tatler Asia, the organiser of this exhibition match, includes running a luxury lifestyle magazine, a website and e-commerce services. It also organises banquets and activities for many famous international brands. Inter Miami charges as much as US$10 million for an exhibition match. For Tatler Asia, although the cost of organising this match was high, the profit apparently seemed to be more substantial.
A conservative estimate puts the ticket revenue from Saturday's practice session and Sunday's match alone at over HK$100 million, that is, not including sponsorships from other private organisations. In addition, before the friendly match, Tatler Asia also organised a ''meet-and-greet'' and ''autograph session'', charging as much as HK$120,000 to 150,000 per person. All these actions and arrangements surrounding this exhibition match gave people the impression that the organiser was trying to squeeze every penny from the event—instead of doing it for the sake of football, the fans, it was all merely for marketing.
Both the organiser and Inter Miami owe the fans an apology and a public explanation regarding the controversy over Messi's absence. The Hong Kong government must hold the organiser responsible. Moreover, the Consumer Council and the Customs Department should also actively deal with the related complaints and urge the organiser to give a refund to fans who had bought tickets to the match.
明報社評 2024.02.07：盛事「賺到盡」易起爭端 主辦方應向球迷「回水」
今次表演賽的主辦方Tatler Asia，主要經營奢華生活雜誌、網站和電子商務等，也為不少國際名牌舉行宴會及活動。國際邁阿密一場表演賽收高達1000萬美元的酬金，Tatler Asia主辦今次賽事成本雖高，但收入似乎更可觀。
/ Glossary生字 /
cash cow：the part of a business that always makes a profit and that provides money for the rest of the business
extortionate：(of prices, etc.) much too high