Best Sevens box

Who had the best box at the 2012 Hong Kong Rugby Sevens?

Our annual take on the best bank boxes at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament.

As always, the bank boxes at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens this year reflected conditions in the industry (or that’s how we justify writing this annual column, anyway).

Deutsche's Lego wall

In boom years, lavish boxes rival Rio’s carnival, while during the downturns they resemble dorm parties. This year, they told a mixed tale. The only decor in the RBS box was a few advertising posters and the employees didn’t even wear RBS shirts – although at least one was seen wearing the RBS tartan. As its spokeswoman said: “We have to keep a low profile.” The boxes at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and even HSBC, the new sponsor of the Sevens, were mostly plain-vanilla efforts. There was some flashy lighting, balloons and photos of the Hong Kong skyline covering the walls in HSBC’s boxes, but nothing to write home about.

However, HSBC redeemed itself with its viral video “fancy dress street rugby” — aired on the big screen between games and viewable on Youtube — which featured South Stand-styled characters playing rugby in Hong Kong. Pretty cool. Some of the characters from the video were also present in HSBC’s upstairs box over the weekend, including a couple of friendly centurions and a cowboy that at the time of our visit was tending the bar.

We were, frankly, disappointed by Goldman’s box. While understated was better than last year’s elitist Yalie’s den, we were so looking forward to seeing Kermit, Ms Piggy and Animal dangling from the ceilings. Alas, the blue-chip bank showed no such sense of humour (though there were some frogs, plenty of divas and an abundance of maniacs on display around the stadium). A little self-ridicule would have won the bank many friends — though “muppetgate” would of course be a ballsy theme for a client event.

Nomura’s highlight was definitely its rubber sumo wrestlers, which could be whipped across the stadium like baseballs — far more satisfying than folding your programme into a paper aeroplane and watching it nosedive into the small child two rows in front of you.

The Japanese bank’s concept appeared to be the Olympics, perhaps a nod to sevens rugby becoming a sport in the 2016 Brazil games. At the very least, it was a clean, healthy sports theme, and one of the friendliest boxes in the stadium.

Credit Suisse, which for the first time since 1998 was not an official sponsor of the event, choose a Swiss theme. Not too original perhaps, but it worked well and felt fresh. A panorama of the Alps on one wall was combined with the comfortable, warm and relaxed feel of a skiing chalet throughout the box and the air was, if not entirely crisp, at least very friendly. Red Alpine-style hats that could be spotted from far away and cowbells (thankfully with a rather muffled sound) completed the package.

Morgan Stanley's pharaoh-themed box was clearly one of this year's highlights

CLSA, a top-three contender for this award for the past few years, seemed a bit more downmarket this year. The knights slaying the dragon message could have been done so much better — but instead it came across as a frat party scene where dungeons and dragons were on hand, and the entertainment in the “Long Bar” appeared more for their own bankers than clients.

Macquarie, on the other hand, stepped up the theatrical game with its submarine theme. But someone definitely didn’t think this message through. What are we supposed to take away from this? That Macquarie’s underwater? Uh, not good. The bouncer was even dressed as a scuba diver, complete with fins, which meant he was in no shape to chase anyone down. But we admired his good humour. No matter how many times people stumbled over his flippers, he always answered with a smile and a cheery “No worries, mate”. The third time one of our rather tired journalists missed his footing, the happy frogman even said he was glad to see him back. He also didn’t get arsey about the suggestion that floaties would be a nice touch. He clearly wins the award for Bouncer of the Year.

However, we thought Macquarie’s set design was a bit derivative of Ocean Park’s Ocean Express train, which features a big squid on its ceiling. Even so, the octopus set was still dramatic (though it would have been funnier had they gone with Octopussy as well). Kids loved the blow-up squid arms (get how the theme would have worked with Pussy Galore?), and the coral imagery was beautiful, and, yes, we get it, a reminder of the extraordinary oceans surrounding Australia.

Hats off too to UBS, which did perhaps a better job of sending a branding message on a smaller budget. A pit stop theme drew on its association with Formula 1 and, at the same time, allowed the bank to claim that it is in “pole position”. It also had a buffet and drinks table supported by tyres, where guests could “refuel” (the cup holders also looked like tyres). The wait staff wore pit-crew uniforms and the de rigour photo stand featured a trophy so you could pose like a Formula 1 winner. Clever, not costly, and good fun. Not surprisingly, the box was packed, and a senior banker was on hand throughout the weekend so clients were suitably wined and dined. The only thing missing was Sebastian Vettel.

Similarly, the name of the game at Citi’s box, as always, was entertaining clients. (We’re even starting to recognise the clients who annually choose Citi’s box as the place to watch rugby). Along with Morgan Stanley, Citi always has the most number of high-ranking bankers in its box.

“The Hong Kong Sevens offers the perfect opportunity to mix business around what is an iconic event. We will have several hundred clients with us over the course of the weekend,” said Stephen Bird, CEO of Citi Asia-Pacific on Saturday. “I have lost count of the number of bank and corporate CEOs who cancelled their boxes in recent years for one reason or another and now regret it as they can’t get back in.”

Even on Friday night, when other bank boxes were largely quiet, Citi’s was packed. Perhaps it’s that they serve the best food of all the boxes (if you wanted to eat healthy you could find broccoli, mushrooms and salmon, instead of fat chips and deep fried onion rings at most of the other bank’s buffets). Or maybe it is that they have the most number of servers pouring Carlsberg and Pimms. Or maybe it’s just that the banter is actually about rugby and deals. But it’s the right spirit. Their walls were covered with sports-related stats, such as “Rocky Marciano fought and won 49 times in boxing”. But the key number was 200 — for how many years Citi has been banking. All those stats and useless facts added up to the number 200. Perhaps that’s why the blokes loved it so much — a reminder of schoolboy (useless) general knowledge games and the pub quizzes some of them still enjoy. While clever, the best part of their box was the soft carpet — particularly if you were wearing heels — and the 290-odd women who attended the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation Ladies Long Lunch on Friday (that raised more than HK$1 million for the charity) were showing off their Louboutins. By rugby time, the soft carpet was needed relief. Nice touch.

For combining the art of entertaining clients and pure theatrics, absolutely no one beats Morgan Stanley. We should, at this point, simply introduce the annual Morgan Stanley Award, because it’s doubtful anyone will ever outdo their efforts to put on a top-notch show. It starts with their invitation to the box, which this year was a mock papyrus scroll, wrapped in leather and tied with a leather strap and Ankh pendant. So once you received the invite, you knew their box would be an Ancient Egypt theme.

The performance was unparalleled, as would be expected. As with Macquarie, they had a fun-loving bouncer — this one donning gold-trim and guy-liner, and flexing his muscles for photo ops. Morgan Stanley had a pharaoh walking about, a beautiful Cleopatra, a rugby-loving mummy and a tarot card reader, as well as sarcophagi that served as storage for handbags (a much-appreciated service). The tarot reading was apparently very popular with Morgan Stanley’s own head of Asia investment banking, although our source wasn’t sure whether it was for personal or professional reasons. There was also an ancient Egyptian word puzzle whereby Morgan Stanley’s name in hieroglyphics was the key to unlocking the answers (and yes, we appreciated the nod to FinanceAsia, given one question asked who won the Best Box of the Year award in 2010 and 2011?).

The box was stacked with talent, too, including several of its most senior bankers and Welsh rugby legend Ieuan Evans, who was on hand to explain the nuances of the game to anyone sober enough to realise there was a sporting event going on.

And the winner is... Deutsche Bank
You almost won a hat trick, Morgan Stanley, but this year, you were edged out by Deutsche Bank, which got the branding message in there as well. Their Lego box “Brick City” had walls, quite literally, made of Lego, with the commercial: “Building connections, creating value”. Nice thinking outside of the box.

The moment people walked in, they’d stop, touch the wall and generally mumble some form of appreciation. It was a people-watching box. Kids, attached to their electronic toys, would walk in, look up, and say, “Hey, Lego!” — it was magical enough to get them turned on. But it was the adults who got into it more. Quite a few were overcome with excitement, a flash of happiness crossing their faces as they remembered a time before morning meetings and 360-degree reviews.

We’ll admit there was a creepy factor to it — it was bright, and it is a bit weird getting your arse grabbed by a Lego character dancing to Lady Gaga (they had two Lego girls on Friday night and a Lego rugby player on Saturday and Sunday). And we won’t ever be wearing the Lego hats again (which doubled as chip bowls), and probably not the apron either. But the Lego tattoos and the Lego on hand to build out their wall were all good fun.

Deutsche’s box simply ticked all the boxes. It had an appropriate branding message. It was full of clients and bankers. It showed an effort to entertain. And, above all, it had a sense of humour and joy that perhaps is needed when the message coming from across the world is mixed.

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