In a year when many of the perennial favourites underperformed on the pitch, the action on the executive levels at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens featured the usual cast of contenders.
Some firms continue to keep a low profile for fear of public scrutiny, but there was still a decent field of banks that were in it to win it. Deutsche Bank, UBS and Morgan Stanley all maintained their enthusiasm for the event with boxes that showed plenty of thought and had coherent themes.
HSBC also stepped up to the plate (or the cup, in Sevens speak). Clearly taking its role as sponsor seriously, its two West Stand boxes were among the most crowded — so much so that the Dragon’s Den was a bit of a sweatbox.
Goldman Sachs also doubled up its boxes, with a new second home in the scaffolding above the North Stand and a New York block party in its traditional spot overlooking the South Stand.
However, austerity is still the main theme. Most banks kept the props and decor to a minimum, preferring to focus on the rugby — an unfortunate decision for fans of England and France, which both suffered surprise losses in the group stage and ended up in the bowl.
Gifts are definitely getting cheaper and more scarce, with branded shirts seemingly the only giveaway to escape the cost cuts. Hazardous throwables such as mini rugby balls and frisbees were also notably absent, which meant the brass band escaped its traditional gauntlet.
There weren’t even any streakers this year. Are they serving watered-down American beer in the South Stand?
However, none of this diminished the sporting entertainment on offer for rugby fans and the final was a fitting climax to a weekend of world-class Sevens rugby.
Overall, UBS was the clear winner among our panel of judges. The Swiss bank followed up last year’s Formula One theme with another corporate tie-in — an artists’ studio that had something to do with its sponsorship of the local arts community in Hong Kong. Whatever the message, we liked the end result.
It was a fun box where kids were allowed to draw on the walls and the face-painting corner, which has featured in the UBS box for years, finally fit with the theme. Aside from the Roy Lichtenstein-inspired pop art on the door and the Mona Lisa cut-out for photo opportunities, the art on display included a projection on the floor, a video installation and prints of a well-known Mao image, updated to include a rugby ball, on the bar counter.
Gifts for the kids included a white UBS T-shirt and colourful textile pens, but it wasn’t all child’s play. We particularly liked the modern art installation that doubled as a vodka cranberry tap — it gave a new meaning to art appreciation, and one that plenty of people seemed to take advantage of.
The plate and the bowl (or is it the bowl and the plate?) go to Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley for their sterling efforts.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, Morgan Stanley turned its box into a “branded sports store experience” called The Touchline, but the simple, clean design was all done to a high standard and the welcome from the bank’s events team was as warm as ever — even if the theme was a bit cold.
Not content to simply give away a few pre-made T-shirts, the bank had a couple of guys printing up fresh shirts that focused on the designs by local artist Key Chow rather than branding. They also allowed the kids to add their own monogram to the shirts (just like Dad does on his work shirts). A big hit with just about everyone.
Morgan Stanley also conducted some unofficial research by offering separate bull and bear designs. We're informed that the bulls were significantly more popular during the course of the weekend.
Deutsche Bank’s theme was also slightly confusing — using the Transformers movie to convey a sense of change within the industry and the bank itself (we think?), but intellectual property restrictions meant that they had to theme the box as “Metamorphosis” instead, leading some to think that Deutsche was making a nod to Kafka (and perhaps modern banking regulation).
It didn’t help that the two guys dressed as robots (which transformed into rugby balls) really did look a lot like bugs. That hardly mattered in the end, as the clever design of the costumes kept the kids enthralled and none of them seemed to be thinking of poor Gregor Samsa. There was also some sort of inflatable weapon that kids could put around their arm and play with, and which several clients ingeniously transformed into beer holders.
A newcomer as a box host, CIMB stuck to a simple theme — women in Asia — which can also be seen on the bank’s website. Photos of pretty ladies in ethnic dresses and headgear adorned the walls, and there were also actual women sporting similar attire tending the door and making people feel welcome. Simple, yet stylish.
But it was the friendly atmosphere and the fact that a large number of top-level investment bankers, many of whom moved to CIMB from RBS last year, were in the box from the start on Friday afternoon until the Cup was handed to Fiji on Sunday evening that made clients, friends and even rival bankers visit the box. And once they arrived, many of them ended up staying. It showed that you can definitely achieve a lot of goodwill on a small budget.
Best of the rest
HSBC’s Dragon’s Den seemed to refer to the decoration only, while the theme of the box was really Serious Play — the serious side of rugby, combined with the play that goes on around the stadium and in the stands. The latter was illustrated by several employees (and George Gregan, who is one of HSBC’s rugby ambassadors), dressed up in classic Sevens fancy dress, such as the centurion, the soldier and the cowboy. The costumes seemed to be recycled from last year when they also featured in the firm’s great Sevens promotional video, but they work.
Goldman Sachs’s main box in the West Stand had a New York theme with graffiti and landmark images from the city, as well as (big) apple cocktails. The low-key decoration didn’t stop the box from having a good atmosphere.
Nomura walked a fine line between sparse and minimalist with a Japanese theme that comprised some bits of bamboo, a couple of paper lanterns and a few artful motifs. Even so, attendance was anything but minimalist and there was a good crowd cheering on Japan.
CLSA went for a Goodstock theme (another intellectual property issue?), which happened to tie in nicely with the Beach Boys’ performance of their classic 1960s hits, but we weren’t sure if that was the reason for it.
Macquarie camped up its box with a Zoolander theme, complete with a rather literal interpretation of “Blue Steel” in the form of actual steel scaffolding. Strange. However, the Zoolander guy at the door was super friendly and seemed intent on attracting people into the box as opposed to keeping them out, which seemed to be the main function of most of the guys at the other banks — a welcome change!
Standard Chartered’s “Nothing is Standard” theme was illustrated with an upside-down room. The ceiling was on the floor, the floor on the ceiling and the walls were decorated by chairs hanging upside down and pictures that kept rotating — all of which felt a bit disorienting after a few beers.