Opinion: Is Wimbledon unique? You better believe it…
No other tennis tournament captures the attention of a global sports loving public (not just die hard British tennis fans) like Wimbledon, but what is it that really makes this two week mash up of tradition with progress so enthralling for millions? Tim Farthing, Tennishead’s owner, tries to sum up the mood.
Having whiled away many a happy hour with friends or family watching world class tennis in the comfort of a padded show court seat at SW19, I can now reveal that most people have never heard of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).
Why is this such earth shattering news? Because the AELTC is the private tennis club situated down the hill from Wimbledon village that just so happens to have hosted one of the World’s most popular annual sporting events since 1877.
And ‘host’ is the most appropriate description. Ok they actually own the tournament but for the purposes of my analysis I think that using ‘host’ is useful because it helps to portray the relationship between this small band of tennis club members and the money making, career defining tournament that Wimbledon has become.
Wimbledon is in essence organised, managed and developed by a group of around 500 or so carefully picked tennis enthusiasts who are lucky enough to be invited to be members of the AELTC. This private members club then opens its door for two weeks every year to host The Championships, a professional tournament with Grand Slam status awarded by the sports governing bodies, the ATP and the WTA.
This ownership position allows Wimbledon the freedom to make it’s own decisions and more importantly to generate it’s own revenues and profit, all £44m of it in 2021. They aren’t beholden to anyone apart from their own members and their own members aren’t in it for the money because they don’t personally financially benefit from the tournament. All the profit is either piled back into their club to pay for facilities development or it’s given to the Lawn Tennis Association to help them develop the sport of tennis in the UK.
So can you see what I’m getting at now? You have a behemoth of sport generating £millions of annual profit but without any greedy humans ever getting their own hands on it. For example, if you are a broadcaster in Japan who wants to show Wimbledon to your TV audience you must negotiate directly to buy the rights with an unpaid tennis club member who reaps no personal financial gain from the deal (In fact they have paid professionals doing the hard work but the final decision still comes down to a member of the AELTC).
So how does this effect your enjoyment of the tennis at Wimbledon? A lot. It allows the decision makers to take decisions that aren’t solely based on their own back pockets, which is definitely what happens at a lot of other tennis tournaments. For example, many other tournaments will have to pay appearance fees to the best known players and those appearance fees need to be funded through revenue streams such as ticket sales and merchandising.
Those same tournaments will need to make profits because they have shareholders who are looking at making a good return on their investment. This will directly impact the decisions of the tournament organisers and it won’t always be for the benefit of you the fan.
But Wimbledon has no such worries as they aren’t looking over their backs at greedy investors desperate to make a quick buck. They can and do make decisions solely based on giving the fans, players and TV audiences the best possible experience, even if it costs the club that bit more. As Wimbledon often likes to remind us, ‘the pursuit of greatness’ is their mantra.
I’m not saying that Wimbledon is some kind of ‘freestyle, hippy-esque, love-in’ for socialist tennis fans because they certainly know how to separate you from your hard earned dollars as soon as you walk through the gate, but at least you know that the £9 you spend on a small bottle of beer is in some small way helping to improve tennis for everyone, and I for one wholeheartedly applaud that.
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