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Hospitality Event Feature - Wimbledon Winners

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WIMBLEDON WINNERS - Hospitality Event Feature from Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2007

The key to successful entertaining at the famous tennis tournament is knowing what’s on offer. Read on for our guide to the best hospitality options.

Hospitality is always at a premium at sold out events, and no more so than at The Wimbledon Championships. The tournament may last a full 13 days but tickets are nevertheless notoriously scarce, particularly as they are non-transferable and can only be purchased through the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s public ballot and tennis clubs affiliated with The Lawn Tennis Association. As a consequence, the hospitality market operates mainly through the buying and selling of Wimbledon ‘debentures’.

A debenture is a type of bearer bond that entitles its holder to buy one ticket for either Centre Court or No.1 Court on each day of the championships. Sold separately for each court – commanding £23,150 for Centre Court and £12,250 for No.1 Court – these are issued by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and are valid for a period of five years. During this time, debenture holders can either choose to watch a solid fortnight of tennis themselves or – if they’re not blessed with that much free time – offer unwanted day tickets up for resale, as specified by the terms and conditions of the original debenture purchase.

There are two main ways in which this can be done. The most straightforward option is to sell them back to the AELTC, which around December each year writes to all debenture holders to make them aware of the price it is prepared to pay for tickets to the upcoming championships. Debenture holders can also sell their tickets on the open market and, as ticket agents and hospitality companies will generally pay more than the AELTC, this is what many choose to do. It is through this market that all but the two official hospitality companies are able to offer Wimbledon packages.

So where are the various operators’ events based? Well, many take advantage of the fact that local residents in this affluent corner of South-West London cash in on the championships by offering up their sizeable properties to host ‘house parties’. Others use local hotels, restaurants and sports clubs.

All of these operators tend to offer the usual summery luncheons with strawberries, cream and drinks on tap, but – though invariably reliable – they are all technically unofficial, so be sure to buy only from reputable companies that have a solid track record of providing Wimbledon debenture packages. If you’re unsure, take advice from an established agent such as Quintus (tel: 020 7351 7499) as the AELTC certainly won’t honour tickets promised by unofficial hospitality companies that find themselves long on bookings but short on seats.

The AELTC operates 25 official hospitality chalets within its grounds (tel: 020 8971 2321). Each can accommodate 36 people, but to entertain that many guests even for a single day will set you back some £22,500 (plus VAT charges on certain elements), with tickets on top. This year these start at £36 each for the Centre Court on the first couple of days, escalating to £87 for the finals weekend. Furthermore, chalets are only sold in blocks of three or more days, but even so, there are plenty of takers. So before you rush to the phone with your company credit card in hand, note that the vast majority are retained from year to year by repeat bookers, and there’s a waiting list of companies eager to take any slots that become available.

Also within the club itself, debenture ticket holders can make use of the Debenture Lounges. While offering drinks, light lunches and tea, these are sadly not pre-bookable so make for a rather haphazard option if you’re entertaining clients. Tables in the club restaurants, by contrast, can be reserved, but as they’re hugely popular with the regular crowd, they can be very hard to come by. Moreover, as the tables are fixed into position and can only seat a maximum of eight people, all of whom must hold debenture tickets, they are not really appropriate for large corporate groups – hence the demand for other hospitality facilities.

So, if a UK company wants to take a table of ten guests to the finals weekend (or, indeed, a larger group during the first week), what are the best alternatives available? The AELTC will direct you to its two official hospitality suppliers, Keith Prowse (tel: 0845 602 8900) and Sportsworld (tel: 01235 555844), both of which have smart marquee facilities just a forearm lob from the Club. The former operates The Gatsby Club on the outfield of Wimbledon Cricket Club, while the latter erects its Fairway Village by the 7th green of Wimbledon Park Golf Club. A third (unofficial) option called The Wimbledon Club sits equidistant between these two, within the cricket club’s pavilion. The facility is run by Mike Burton (tel: 01452 419666), which is a well-regarded hospitality company.

All three sites offer pleasant alfresco areas, plenty of parking, superb catering and tickets for games at either Centre Court or No.1 Court, depending on the package purchased. It is worth noting, however, that while the two official suppliers get their tickets directly from the AELTC (and thus are able to book guaranteed seats in blocks), unofficial suppliers depend on debenture tickets, which are often dotted around the arenas.

DOs & DON’Ts

DO book tickets and hospitality packages through the official channels or use a reputable agent to guide you through the complicated and varied range of unofficial options.

DON’T expect everyone in your group to be sitting together at the tennis courts if you’ve purchased an unofficial package.

DO plan to arrive promptly and leave plenty of time for traffic issues – the area gets very busy!

DON’T get indigestion gobbling down lunch in time to take your seat. Skip breakfast and bring an appetite for the early sitting.

DO stay late to enjoy an exciting doubles match in the warm early evening sunshine – the atmosphere is lovely and traffic will have eased by the time you’re ready to leave.

DON’T go without a hat and plenty of suntan lotion, especially if you’ve got Centre Court tickets for the 2007 Championships, when (due to redevelopment) there won’t be a roof to provide shade.

DO make the dress code clear to your guests. It doesn’t have to be blazer and tie and summer frocks, but the smarter end of smart casual (ie no jeans or trainers) will set the right tone.

DON’T rush into booking a big-name celebrity like McEnroe or Connors to come to your facility. A lesser-known player could offer equally enthralling insights and would (unlike the stars) be prepared to entertain guests for the entire day – handy if it rains.


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