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Tennis tournaments are a winning opportunity for client courting. Anna Longmore serves up the hospitality options at Wimbledon and other UK championships
For two weeks in late June, the eyes of the sporting world are fixed upon a small pocket of leafy SW19, the home of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. For more than 100 years, the world’s finest players have made the pilgrimage to the hallowed turf in the hope of earning a place in Wimbledon’s illustrious history. ‘Growing up as a kid, Wimbledon was where I dreamt of playing and where I dreamt of winning,’ says seven times winner Pete Sampras. Twice finalist Andy Roddick agrees, ‘There’s no event like it.’
Of course, it’s not just the players who are seduced by the great tournament. One look at the mile-long queue for daily admission is testimony not just to Wimbledon’s magnetism, but also the breadth of its appeal to male and female, young and old. Unlike more niche sporting hospitality options, Wimbledon is accessible to everyone. Sports fanatics love the faster pace of the grass-court game – the ball bounces lower and moves more quickly, giving exciting attacking players an advantage – while those less interested in the score boards can soak up the buzz, take in a spot of tennis and enjoy the Champagne and strawberries.
‘We book a table of 10 every year in the Gatsby Club for top customers. It’s important that we know we’re going to get a quality event and Wimbledon delivers every time, which is why we go back,’ says Mabel Derry-Collins, events manager for insurers Unum, who has been booking corporate hospitality at the tournament for five years. ‘In terms of building relationships and networking, it’s a brilliant day. There’s plenty of time to talk over lunch prior to the tennis starting and in between matches, over afternoon tea. Our clients jump at the chance to go to Wimbledon. Put it this way: all my guests are already confirmed for this year and it’s only March.’
Indeed, the stars are aligned for 2009, making it a hotter ticket than ever before. The gladiatorial five-hour battle of the 2008 final was declared ‘the greatest ever seen’ by former champion-turned-BBC commentator John McEnroe and the rivalry between its stars, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, shows little sign of abating. Meanwhile, British tennis fans have a genuine hope in tenacious Scot Andy Murray, who is dispatching some of the sport’s finest competitors with some distinctly un-British mettle. On top of all of this, the brand new Centre Court roof means that the dreaded ‘rain stops play’ will be consigned to history.
With the now-uninterrupted on-court action set to smoulder, it’s no surprise that hospitality packages are selling fast. Of the packages on offer through official supplier Keith Prowse (tel: 0845 125 4880), most corporate buyers will be opting for the flexible Gatsby Club facility (squaremeal.co.uk/kp-gatsby), which works just as well for a table of two as a party of 600. The air-conditioned structure, styled throughout after the 1930s heyday of Fred Perry, is just outside the AELTC on the outfield of the Wimbledon Cricket Club.
It’s an elegant setting for entertaining: live jazz music, waitresses in lace gowns and attention to detail at the fore, right down to the tennis ball flower arrangements. The hot à la carte menu clobbers the distinctly ordinary on-site fast food and a bar in the centre delivers the all-inclusive drinks (yes, that does include Champagne). Packages start from £450 +VAT for Tuesday 23 June, including No. 1 Court tickets, though Centre Court tickets are also available.
For private entertaining within the Gatsby Club, the Speakeasy is a separate area with a lounge and garden for groups of up to 40. Organisers have much more control over the layout of the space and the day’s schedule (including an evening reception if required) and full AV kit is provided for presentations. This year, a handful of guests have the chance to square up to a former Wimbledon champion on the adjacent tennis courts. Packages start at £540 +VAT for Tuesday 23 June, including No. 1 Court tickets, which are best suited to groups who want to sit together as they can be booked in blocks. Centre Court, sold in pairs, start at £955 +VAT.
By far the most exclusive option at Wimbledon is a relatively new offering: the Centre Court Skyview Suites, which launched in 2008. Ten suites with capacities of 10 and 20 offer the full VIP experience: a chauffeur, butler, usher, private entrances and routes to prime Centre Court seats that mean you don’t have to rub shoulders with – horror – the public. Views from the balcony stretch across the outside courts (they’re particularly good from the corner suite) to the city skyline beyond and are best contemplated with a glass of pink Champagne in hand. As you’d expect, luxury like this comes at a price: from £1,095 +VAT for Tuesday 23 June, but the best value is middle Saturday, when you’ll see plenty of great-quality tennis.
The only other on-site facility is the LTA’s own BTMS Suites (tel: 0845 872 0520) for British Tennis members, only available for pre-booking by members who have won tournament tickets through automatic entry into the public ballot (anyone can become a member, but you have to sign up to qualify for the ballot). The ground floor is a functioning restaurant, open throughout the fortnight for pre-bookings (£85 per head) while the upstairs is an elegant restaurant with a more exclusive feel and extras like guest speakers (£149 per head).
With just under two months to go before 2008 champion Rafael Nadal steps back onto court on the first Monday to defend his title, the competition for packages is already hotting up. Will this be Britain’s year? Don’t miss the chance to find out.
BEST OF THE REST
British tennis isn’t all about Wimbledon; there’s a multitude of alternatives for entertaining over the summer and beyond. The grass-court season begins at the AEGON Championships (formerly The Artois Championships) at Queen’s Club in Baron’s Court, from 8-14 June (tel: 0845 125 4880). Keith Prowse has six 30-capacity suites overlooking the practice courts (so you can arrive early and watch the warm-up) as well as a shared restaurant facility, while the LTA (tel: 020 8487 7224) offers exclusive tables for up to 40 with all-day refreshment starting at £365. Running the same week, the AEGON Classic (tel: 020 8567 3530) at the Edgbaston Priory Club in Birmingham provides an alternative for more centrally based client entertaining.
The men’s tour is now joining the ladies’ for the Wimbledon warm-up at AEGON International, Eastbourne, from 15-20 June. Availability is much better than at Queen’s. Meanwhile, a range of fantastic ‘legends events’ attract the big names of yesteryear. These include The Fortis Classic at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham from 16-20 June, (tel: 020 8233 5854, squaremeal.co.uk/fortis) and The Boodles Challenge at the stunning Stoke Park Club in Buckinghamshire from 16-20 June, (tel: 020 7384 4877), where current players like former Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian will be taking to the turf as well.
Inclement weather doesn’t stop the tennis continuing year-round, with a flurry of indoor tournaments in November and December. The newest arrival is the ATP World Tour Finals (tel: 020 8233 5888), held in the atmospheric arena at The O2 from 22-29 November. Expect big-name players – only the ATP’s top eight for singles and doubles qualify. A few days later from 1-6 December, the golden oldies return to The Masters Tennis (tel: 020 8233 5854) at the Royal Albert Hall, but the competitive spirit is very much alive among stars like Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2009.