Wimbledon Looks to American Market to Help Fund Court One Roof


The Wimbledon Tennis Championships are looking to the American market to help fund a retractable roof for Court One. The tennis event placed an ad in The New York Times in February for debenture seats that went on sale last week. The money will also be used to expand the grounds as the world’s oldest Grand Slam continues to modernize.

The club needs to raise $168 million to help solve one its biggest problems every year-the rain. Year after year players and fans have to sit and wait for the infamous British Summer showers to end. Fitting a retractable roof on Center Court in 2009 helped solve that problem as the marquee players were able to get their matches completed. It certainly helped get the tournament finished on time and changed the doom and gloom of a usual Wimbledon rainy afternoon to a far more exciting, atmospheric one under the lights.

But in a venue where rain can pour for days on end, and with two 128 player draws in singles alone, it is not enough to just have one roof. Court One tickets are not cheap either, and a roof would save not just scheduling headaches but the problem of refunding and exchanging tickets for attendees whose days were washed out by rain. Roofs though, like Court One tickets, do not come cheap, and so the All England Club is turning to the U.S to help them out.

Wimbledon and America certainly have had a long, illustrious and lucrative relationship. Champions from the U.S such as Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Serena and her sister Venus Williams, and Lindsay Davenport have all won in S.W19, doing their part in pulling in the crowds.

Americans have worked behind the scenes, too. Mark McCormack of International Management Group was brought in to help brand the company to markets in the U.S and Japan and with financial deals over TV rights and hand towels. Revenue from those deals helped shape up the club, enabling it to compete with its more modern Grand Slam cousins in Melbourne and New York.

Now, Wimbledon looks to the U.S again to get into even better shape. And this time its product is one of its most expensive: debenture seats. Debenture seats are seats on Center Court or Court One which the buyer owns for five years and which are available to him or her everyday of the championships. The buyer can also sell their seats if they cannot make play one day. They might have to sell a few here and there, too. Debentures do not come cheap. The asking price? 50,000 pounds.

The debentures currently on sale are for 2016-2020. But Americans interested in being courtside to see one of their countrymen hold the trophy had better get in quick. With Serena Williams aged 32 and her sister Venus in her twilight years, there are no other current Wimbledon singles champions from the U.S on the ATP or WTA tours, and, worryingly for one of the world’s once great tennis nations,  none looming on the horizon.

Parallels can be drawn with the number of Americans sitting on the current Wimbledon debenture seats. Right now, of the 2,500 debentures at Wimbledon, the number owned by Americans is in the tens. Chairman Phil Brooks wants to change this, a change he thinks makes sense. Brooks said that with there being so many wealthy American tennis fans out there, there was every reason to seek them out.

Perhaps an American invasion to the Wimbledon show courts with their retractable roofs might cause a few influential holders to have a word in the ear of those high up in the U.S.T.A. The U.S Open in New York City has its fair share of weather problems, too. Problems which got so bad that the Women and Men’s finals were put back a day to Sunday and Monday respectively.

Problems the Wimbledon Championships, once plagued by rain and the odd Monday finish, will never have to worry about again come 2019, the projected completion date of the Court One roof, if enough Americans can be convinced to part with 50,000 pounds and make the trip to London to enjoy the tennis whatever the weather.

Commentary by Christian Deverille

Sports Business Daily

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