As a tennis buff, I occasionally enjoy watching tennis on television. Usually the venues are plastered with billboard ads and corporate sponsorship signage. Virtually everything you can see is covered with a logo or corporate brand of some type. All this commercialism certainly takes away from the event itself.

However, Wimbledon, is the great exception. Centre Court at Wimbledon is basically free of corporate logos and ads — on the playing surface or in the grandstands. Those obnoxious rotating signs that are ubiquitous in the United States at pro sports events? Not a single one at Wimbledon.

As tennis writer L. John Wertheim put it, “During breaks in the action, note that there is no music, no sponsored dot races on the scoreboard, no unnaturally peppy cheerleaders or mascots air-cannoning T-shirts provided by still another sponsor. At no time will you hear the phrase, ‘Brought to you by …”

Moreover, Wimbledon administrators have passed up bigger television rights fees in England to keep the tournament on BBC, a publicly-funded network that doesn’t air commercials. Unlike the other major professional tennis tournaments that start on the weekend to maximize television revenue, Wimbledon starts on a Monday and organizers have kept the tradition of taking the middle Sunday off, when interest in the tournament is beginning to peak.

Access to the tournament at Wimbledon is easier than it is at any other major sports event. Unlike our Super Bowl, where only the wealthiest individuals and corporate hot shots can attend in person, the All England Club that hosts Wimbledon makes 6000 grounds passes and 500 Centre Court tickets available to anyone who walks up and stands in line. Tickets go at face value (around $80).

Wimbledon’s Centre Court doesn’t even have luxury suites. Don’t tell the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones that, he might faint. A sports marketing consultant would quickly identify a boatload of money that Wimbledon organizers are leaving on the table.

While Wimbledon undoubtedly has some unsavory elitist aspects to it, the fact is it’s the most fan-friendly major sporting event in many respects.

“It all leads to one of sports’ great ironies,” says Wertheim. “Wimbledon has a reputation for patrician elegance, even snobbishness. In truth, it’s the most populist and least mercenary sporting event going.”

In the United States, where everything that happens in professional sports seems to have a sponsor attached to it (including pitching changes in Major League Baseball), it’s refreshing that greed hasn’t overtaken Wimbledon. And that’s a big reason why I thoroughly enjoy “breakfast at Wimbledon” every July.

As Wertheim concludes, “Maybe the moral for sports properties is this: Sure, you can make money from selling your soul. But there’s also value in hanging on to it.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.