Wimbledon Targets U.S. Market to Fund $168 Million Expansion

The Wimbledon tennis tournament is targeting the U.S. market for its guaranteed Centre Court seats for the first time to help pay for a 100 million-pound ($168 million) expansion of its grounds including a second retractable roof.

The All England Club, which organizes the annual championships, ran an advertisement in the New York Times in February to publicize the tickets, which were priced at 50,000 pounds each last week and may raise as much as 100 million pounds. These so-called debentures, valid from 2016 through 2020, give the right to a reserved seat on Centre Court for every day of the tournament in a five-year period. They are freely transferable and often trade at a premium.

“There are lots of wealthy tennis fans in America,” All England Club Chairman Phil Brook said in an interview on Centre Court yesterday. “Why wouldn’t you try to seek some of those out?”

The All England Club decided to advertise the debentures abroad for the first time because it aspires to be “a global brand,” Brook said. It may advertise in Asia for a future debenture issue as wealth is growing in that region, he added.

U.S. buyers currently number “in the tens” of the entire debenture list of about 2,500, which is largely U.K.-based, Brook said.

More Expensive

“So it’s a very small proportion,” he said. “We’re not reliant on the U.S. but we just wanted to see if we could raise a little bit more awareness over there. If we went into the hundreds it would be nice.”

Centre Court debentures, which are sold every five years, were first marketed in 1920 to pay for the construction of what’s become the world’s most famous tennis court.

This year’s Centre Court debenture issue is 80 percent more expensive than the previous one, when they were sold for 27,750 pounds each in the five years from 2011. The All England Club raised 60 million pounds at the time.

Around half a million tennis fans visit the Wimbledon championships each summer in southwest London. Unlike tickets from the heavily oversubscribed public ballot, debentures are freely transferable. One debenture valid for the 2011-2015 period was sold for 96,250 pounds in January, according to the Wimbledon website. Historically, preference has been given to existing debenture-holders for the next round, it said.

Brook said this year’s price increase was partly because of the economic recovery as well as Andy Murray winning the singles title last year. He was the first man from Britain to do so since Fred Perry in 1936.

Wimbledon is planning a retractable roof over No. 1 Court by 2019. Centre Court has had such a roof since 2009 after years of struggles with rain delays. It will also build three new courts north of No. 1, new player accommodation and landscaping that seeks to give fans the experience of “tennis in an English garden,” it said at a press conference yesterday.

This year’s tournament will be held June 23 through July 6.

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