- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

— Wimbledon has shot a major forehand whack at economic naysayers by charging 20 percent more for Centre Court debentures - and then selling every last one of them with no problem.

All 2,500 debentures - which gives the buyer a reserved seat on Centre Court every day of the event for the next five years - were snapped up for $43,830 each - or $7,266 more than those released for the previous five-year cycle.

Marketing experts say it’s just one sign that the premier tennis tournament put on by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club - which starts Monday - appears to be unaffected by the recession that has taken a bite out of other sporting events.

“Wimbledon is a bit like the NFL in that the NFL only plays a limited number of games so that the fans are always left wanting more,” said Nick Massey, chief executive officer at Cadogan Management, a strategy consulting firm in London. “Wimbledon is only two weeks long as well as being an absolutely unique event, and so the recession isn’t likely to affect it in terms of revenue.”

Massey pointed out that Wimbledon is an integral part of a British summer social season dating back to the 1830s - simply referred to here as “The Season” - that includes the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot horse races and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

Those who purchase tickets to such events are extremely wealthy consumers not likely to be affected much by the recession.

“From a corporate hospitality and sponsorship standpoint, Wimbledon is one of the events that CEOs and chairmen take their wives to, and they’ve been doing so for many, many years, and they aren’t about to cut it out now,” Massey said.

Massey said there’s also a certain aura surrounding Wimbledon that’s simply not found at other tennis tournaments.

For example, while the other Grand Slam events boast heavy-duty advertising around their main courts, Wimbledon has generally taken a more subtle approach with ads purposely kept to a minimum.

Allyson Stewart-Allen, who runs International Marketing Partners, a cross-cultural consulting firm in London, agreed that Wimbledon is a special kind of brand that appears to be recession-proof.

“Tennis also is a more mainstream sport which is either played or watched by significantly more people than something like Formula One racing,” she said. “And Wimbledon has created a brand that is both aspirational and stylish in many parts of the world.”

Motorsports became a victim of the credit crunch late last year when Honda decided to pull out of Formula One.

“The fact that fashion designer Ralph Lauren - himself a global brand - even designed the Wimbledon staff uniforms a few seasons ago tells you that Wimbledon is clearly a covetable marketing platform with a broad reach,” Stewart-Allen said.

Even as unemployment continues to rise in Britain and is expected to peak above 3 million next year, interest in the Grand Slam event is expected to be especially intense this year thanks to a new translucent retractable roof that guarantees play on Centre Court no matter the weather.

Even tickets for exhibition matches played last month under the new roof sold out within five minutes.

Rain delays still could occur at the outer courts, which remain vulnerable to the elements.

Also boosting interest is a new sunken Court 2 with a capacity to seat 4,000 spectators.

At the same time, British fans are particularly excited this year over the prospects of Andy Murray, the 22-year-old Scot tipped to become the first Briton to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

The world No. 3 has been drawn to play American Robert Kendrick, ranked No. 76, in the first round.

As always, demand for daily Wimbledon tickets continues to surpass supply with lines expected to form overnight each day during the two-week event that ends July 5.

The good news for those who get in is that Wimbledon executives have opted to keep the price of a punnet of 10 strawberries, one of the spectators’ most popular snacks, at 2.25 pounds - about $3.72 - or the same as last summer.

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