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Brexit and Bribery Act cause Wimbledon to revamp its hospitality

  • Keith Prowse partnership built on need to create more coherent hospitality offering
  • New Rosewater Pavilion designed to allow for smaller bookings by high-net-worth individuals
  • Roux family to design menu and offer hot food options in upgraded facilities

The All-England Club (AELTC) says the introduction of the Bribery Act and uncertainty about Brexit have motivated it to rebuild some of its corporate and private entertainment structures and to introduce a more flexible hospitality approach at the Wimbledon Championships.

Changes introduced this year are the first signs of the work the AELTC has been doing with official hospitality provider Keith Prowse to cater for smaller groups of high-net-worth individuals rather than focus entirely on corporate clients. The two parties signed a five-year partnership in October 2017, which came into effect this year.

All of the changes to the hospitality structures were instigated before the AELTC succeeded in acquiring the lease to the adjoining Wimbledon Park Golf Club in December last year – a move that will almost triple the size of its grounds after 2021. Effectively, the AELTC is looking to augment its offering in its current footprint before that expansion takes place.

“Hospitality is challenged at the moment,” James Ralley, AELTC head of marketing and commercial tells SportBusiness. “Clearly there is uncertainty with Brexit. I think various companies are feeling the pinch. The Bribery Act has made it incredibly challenging, so we need to do an ongoing piece of work with Keith Prowse and ourselves to ensure that we are delivering an offer that people are prepared to pay a premium for.”

Ahead of this year’s Championship, the AELTC demolished a group of single-tier marquee structures that have sat at the south end of the Championship site for over 30 years and replaced them with the Rosewater Pavilion, a new, larger capacity, two-tier structure.

Computer generated image of the new Rosewater Pavilion at the south end of the All England Club site.

“The old marquee structures had capacities of 35 to 40 people and you had to book for that number, to make it viable,” says Ralley. “Whilst there is still a requirement to have those private spaces, there’s also a huge opportunity for hospitality to attract high-net-worth individuals and people who want to come and book smaller tables.”

The new pavilion allows private or corporate clients to book tables for groups of between two and twelve but retains larger exclusive spaces that corporate partners can dress themselves – providing they comply with Wimbledon brand guidelines. Keith Prowse will manage all of the AELTC’s long-term hospitality clients carried over from the old marquee structures but will also lead sales for the new Rosewater facility.

The hospitality firm has also led the revamp of a second hospitality structure, previously known as the Gatsby Club, situated across the road from the main stadium complex. This facility has been rebranded as “The Lawn” and its capacity also increased.

Computer generated image of the interior of The Lawn facility.

Keith Prowse has commissioned celebrated chefs, the Roux family to design a menu for both the Rosewater Pavilion based around the Wimbledon brand mnemonic: “tennis in an English country garden”.

“Up until last year, we actually only offered a cold buffet on site and now we have lots of different options of hot and cold foods,” says Ralley. “We’re basically looking to try and tailor the offering for each client.”

Ralley says the decision to partner exclusively with Keith Prowse was taken to provide a more coherent hospitality offering and to protect the Wimbledon brand – a hallmark of the AELTC’s strategy during outgoing chairman Philip Brook’s tenure. Previously Sportsworld, another corporate hospitality provider, also ran a facility on the same site as the new Lawn structure, but the company’s status has now changed from official hospitality provider to authorised re-seller.

The AELTC says it will try to more proactively police unofficial providers organising hospitality outside of the grounds and trying to pass it off as officially-sanctioned entertainment.

“What we’ve tried to do, where possible, is have an exclusion zone around the club. There was lots of unofficial hospitality around here and we’ve tried to create more control around that,” says Ralley. “Having one exclusive partner is like ‘insourcing’ and having much more control about how Wimbledon is promoted as an event across hospitality. We have brand guidelines of how Keith Prowse can use our logo and it’s only them that can use it in that particular way.”

As part of the deal, Keith Prowse will manage and lead sales for a number of private Centre Court ‘Skyview suites’. The suites, which host groups of between 10 and 20 guests with butler service and high-quality food delivered by pre-existing catering partner Compass Restaurant Associates, are situated in the structure but don’t look out onto the court – “philosophically that’s just not something we’re looking to do,” says Ralley.

jamesralley.jpg
James Ralley, AELTC head of marketing and commercial.

The AELTC manages 22 suites itself, in which it hosts its most important partners, though Keith Prowse will provide concierge professionals to these facilities to ensure the hospitality offering is consistent across the Championships.

These suites are divided between the main Centre Court stadium and the refurbished Court Number 1, where the addition of a roof has allowed the AELTC to build 15 new suites in the upper ring of the arena that will be reserved for the tournament’s official sponsors and media partners.

“Each sponsorship arrangement is different,” says Ralley. “We don’t have the tiers of partnership where everyone’s getting the same rights. Brands get different rights and we try and act like a media company in many ways and we take a brief and we create a package of rights around that. For some partners hospitality is very important, for others it is not.”

The biggest advantage of the new roof on Court Number 1 is that it will allow the AELTC to offer its broadcast partners more tennis coverage when it rains. But it will also provide shelter for an additional 12,000 people, over and above the 15,000 already covered by the roof on Centre Court.

“You’ve now got 27,000 people who can see live tennis [when it rains],” says Ralley. “That makes a massive impact when people are looking for cover – it’s less claustrophobic.”

Computer generated image of the interior of the Rosewater Pavilion.

Marketing

Ralley says the AELTC and Keith Prowse have had to tread a fine line when marketing the new hospitality offering. A hallmark of Wimbledon’s branding is a message of scarcity and exclusivity (it is not an accident that the queues for ticket resales so visibly snake around the grounds) and the increased hospitality offering mustn’t dilute this.

The Universal McCann agency has created an advert, online trailer and media-buying strategy for the new hospitality options. “We’ve been targeted as we possibly can be, but it’s about marketing it in a Wimbledon way, without having an overtly commercial and sales message,” says Ralley.

He adds that similarities with the hospitality approach at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which has also introduced menus by the Roux family and hospitality for smaller private groups, are entirely coincidental.

“Have we specifically looked at Spurs? Probably not, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t. I think their entire venue philosophy has blown everybody away. But the beauty of working with somebody like Keith Prowse is that they can provide us with the latest market insights.

“It’s all about delivering the best hospitality that you would get at a sports event with a longer-term goal to offer the best hospitality you would get at any type of event. That’s what we’re striving towards.”

To view some of the pricing for the new Wimbledon hospitality offering, click here.

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