By Rick Horrow
Photo by REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
There’s something a bit off about Wimbledon this year.
It’s not the timing – that oddity will come next year, when the tournament’s start date is pushed back a week to allow for a longer breather following the French Open. And it’s not the newly optimistic demeanor of a previously championship-bereft Commonwealth. To the contrary, the UK is seemingly over the thrill of Andy Murray’s win last year, and is now busy fretting about whether the Scot can repeat.
In the absence of any Centre or other court drama, the quite proper games of the legions in white hitting ground stokes in London’s SW19 are a bit dull this year compared to that rainbow-hued football carnival down in Brazil.
While Wimby is used to ruling the international sports roost in late June, this year there’s a new sheriff in town – and she’s wearing a Tutti Frutti hat.
Accordingly, most of the chatter this year around the All England Lawn Tennis Ground is coming from outside the court.
For starters, the new pricing structures that Wimbledon organizers have announced for guaranteed Centre Court seats are so mind blowing they could easily churn that fruit hat into a smoothie. In order to raise US$170 million to pay off the $59 million Centre Court roof loan balance and renovate the grounds (including adding a second retractable roof), the All England Club in April announced that it would issue 2,500 Centre Court debenture tickets for 2016-2020 at $84,020 apiece – an 80% jump over 2011-2015 debenture pricing.
What’s more, the Club is for the first time heavily targeting the U.S. market for these debenture seats, which number more than 2,500 and have predominantly been purchased by Brits.
“There are lots of wealthy tennis fans in America,” All England Club Chairman Phil Brook told Bloomberg. “Why wouldn’t you try to seek some of those out?” (Never mind that the current dollar to pound exchange rate is over 1.7, the biggest gap in decades and one that makes buying a nice cup of tea prohibitive for most Americans, let alone a debenture.)
As another newfound revenue play, Wimbledon is also looking to add two new sponsors to its highly selective roster of commercial partners, even hinting that if the price is right, it could end its 77-year broadcast deal with the BBC.
The All England Club currently has 12 sponsors – including such long-standing partners as Slazenger, which has provided the tournament’s balls since 1902; Robinsons, the club’s official soft drink since 1934, and newer sponsors such as Jacob’s Creek, the official wine since 2011, and Stella Artois, the preferred beer as of this year.
A while back, Coca-Cola had as its main global slogan “the real thing,” and right now there’s nothing more real in women’s tennis than 13th-ranked Eugenie Bouchard of Montreal, current It Girl on the WTA Tour and likely delighted to have reached her first third round at Wimbledon after a resounding straight-sets win on Thursday over Spain’s Silvia Soler-Espinosa.
Bouchard, represented by Lagardere Unlimited, has just signed her first major off-court endorsement deal – with Coca-Cola – since reaching the semis of 2014’s first two Grand Slams.
In a reported three-year deal, Bouchard will be the face of Coke and Diet Coke across Canada, integrated into ad campaigns, experiential marketing, and retail activations for the brands. The Coke agreement adds to her existing portfolio, comprising deals with Babolat, Nike, USANA, Rogers Communications, and Pinty’s foods.
“[Bouchard’s] demeanor both on and off the court embodies happiness and active, healthy living, and because of this, she is truly an inspiration to Canadians and a perfect fit for our company,” said Michael Samoszewski, vice president, sparkling business unit, Coca-Cola, in a statement.
While Bouchard and fellow Lagardere client Caroline Wozniacki (once again the Wimbledon supermodel for high profile British designer Stella McCartney) are watching their brand portfolios grow organically, at present, China’s Li Na is second only to Maria Sharapova in terms of female athlete global earning power. But if golfer Michelle Wie, fresh off her ladies’ U.S. Open win at Pinehurst #2, gets a couple more LPGA Tour Major wins under her belt, look for that dynamic to change.
While Wimbledon defending men’s singles champion Andy Murray is admittedly not as fashion forward as his female counterparts, that doesn’t mean he’s not brand conscious. Murray recently told GQ Magazine UK, about the prospect of developing his own brand, “I’ve thought about it, but whether or not it would be any good I don’t know. That’s the other thing: you don’t want to start something up that in the space of about two months is absolutely useless. I would only do something like that if I was 100% sure it would do okay.”
And even as they are likely glued to World Cup coverage in the Wimbledon players’ lounge between matched, other men on the ATP Tour are making subdued news by their political moves.
Last week, it was announced that Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and the ATP’s highest-ranked American, John Isner, have been elected to the ATP Player Council for a minimum two-year term. Other players voted in include Kevin Anderson, Gilles Simon, and Jurgen Melzer. The new council will first meet in New York before the U.S. Open, when it will elect a president to replace Roger Federer, who has held that role since 2008.
It’s a good thing that the players don’t have to worry about their political duties until August, as Wawrinka and Federer are no doubt too preoccupied with their native Switzerland advancing to the World Cup Round of 16 to focus on them now.
Not to mention advancing through the rounds at Wimbledon.
Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.
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From:: The Sports Professor Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Sports