As the world’s most famous grass court tennis tournament prepares to demand ‘New Balls’ again today, we’re reminded of what a lucrative business tennis can be – and not just for the players, who can earn millions from prize money, appearance fees and sponsorship deals.
On the one hand you’ve got the story that the tennis authorities want us to hear: the remarkable global appeal of the Wimbledon brand. Apparently, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (which runs the tournament) generated about £26.3m in profit from its various merchandising, sponsorship and rights deals last year, all of which goes straight into the coffers of the Lawn Tennis Association to fund its search for the next Fred Perry. This contribution (part of a deal to guarantee the club the rights to hold the tournament) has gone up by about 50 times in the last 30 years – although given the number of British champions in that time, it doesn’t seem to be doing much good…
Most of this money comes from TV deals, suppliers and sponsors, but it also includes sizeable sums from flogging Wimbledon-branded products overseas – particularly in the Far East. According the Guardian, Wimbledon now has 34 shops in China selling various pieces of merchandise, while in Japan it attracts thousands to its regular Wimbledon fairs (it managed to shift 350,000 pairs of branded shoes in Japan last year, about 350 times more than it managed in the UK). And of course there are its numerous retail outlets in the UK, which now include a shiny new superstore in the renovated Centre Court building.
And then there’s the issue that tennis is less keen to talk about: match-fixing. According to press reports, eight matches from last year’s Wimbledon fortnight have been reported to the authorities in connection with possible match-fixing, identified by bookmakers through irregular betting patterns. Certain matches saw huge unexpected spikes in the sums being wagered, after which one player was beaten in straight sets – the suggestion being they were bribed to throw the match by some dodgy European betting syndicate. The bookies’ dossier apparently names the players willing to throw games for cash, which will often be much more lucrative than the prize money on offer – and all of those suspected of throwing games at Wimbledon are accused of doing the same at other tournaments too.
Let's just hope somebody can be persuaded to grass them up.