How Wimbledon can net a profit for investors

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The Independent Online

Andre Agassi, the William sisters and the other tennis millionaires will be playing for record amounts of prize money when Wimbledon starts in a week or so. And it is not just the players who can make big money out of tennis.

The total prize pool is up an inflation-beating 9.5 per cent on last year, with the mens' winner now picking up a cheque for £575,000 and the ladies' champion collecting £535,000.

Investors, homeowners, entrepreneurs and even shoppers can cash in on Wimbledon, without even breaking a sweat. Here are the key ways to do it:

Investors

The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts each Wimbledon Championship, remains a private club. So, unlike other sporting brands such as Manchester United you cannot buy shares in it. But you can still invest. Every five years, Wimbledon issues debentures to help raise money for big development projects. Money from those sold in the late Forties was used to repair bomb damage, for example, and more recent issues have paid for the new Number One court.

Buy a debenture and you get guaranteed tickets every day on Centre or Number One court for five years. The tickets, and the debentures, can be sold to others. You need deep pockets to get started; the last set of five-year Centre Court debentures, which run from 2001 to 2005, cost £23,150. But you can make big profits. Within a year their value had risen 40 per cent and they were selling for £33,000 in the official second-hand market.

Even if you hold on to the debentures and enjoy a great day's tennis throughout their life you get a cash-back bonus when their terms end. Justin Urquhart Stewart, of Seven Investment Management in London, says: "Debentures are very expensive and advanced share perks. But even if you can afford to invest, your first problem will be getting hold of them."

At present, debentures are issued only every five years, and existing debenture-holders get first chance at new ones. If you buy second-hand you have to get your stockbroker to keep an eye out for any that become available, and months go buy with no sellers.

If you buy to make a profit by selling, you need to get your timing right. Debentures rise in value for their first few years as demand exceeds supply. But in their final years their values fall, because potential buyers know they are only getting free ticket rights for an ever-declining number of days.

Homeowners

Local people are the highest- profile Wimbledon winners. For the two-week tournament, they can make big money by renting out their flats or houses to tennis stars and their hangers-on.

Joanna Doniger, of the specialist lettings agency Tennis London, says: "The number of people who need somewhere to stay during Wimbledon fortnight just keeps rising. Most of the top players have families and entourages who all need short-term accommodation, and the world's media also need to be near to the courts."

Wimbledon has few hotels so the spotlight falls on the local housing market. Estate agents say more than 1,000 properties are rented during Wimbledon fortnight, often for up to three times the normal rate.

Owners get other benefits. Ms Doniger says they should have the money paid in full, in advance. With players and media decamping immediately after the last ball is struck, there is little risk that you will end up with sitting tenants.

You do not even need to do a lot of work to get your home ready. "Players do expect clean, top quality places," she says. "But many like the sense of staying in a family home, so you don't need to put away all your ordinary belongings."

You should take care of valuables, and tell your insurance company what you are doing. Few will levy extra premiums, though they are likely to refuse claims for accidental damage or burglary without a break-in during the rental period.

So how much can you make? A top player wanting a family house, with parking, privacy and good security in Wimbledon village is likely to pay up to £10,000 for the tournament period, though owners who use an agency to find tenants will lose 15 per cent of this in fees. More ordinary one-bedroom flats rent for at least £800 for each week and a two-bedroom can earn you £1,200 a week, Tennis London says.

Entrepreneurs

With more than 500,000 paying visitors descending on south-west London for the tournament, and millions following the games in newspapers or on television around the world, there should be plenty of money to be made if you come up with the right ideas. As the box shows, British players Helen Crook and Victoria Davies have set up gbtennisgirls.com website, although the money they make is ploughed back into the British game.

Others try to earn by setting up stalls in their gardens on the long road between the tube and the turnstiles or by renting garden space from others to set up stalls of their own.

But beware of the council and the taxman. Wimbledon's high profile means someone will be watching what you do. Health inspectors will stop illegal or unlicensed food stalls, for example. And the Inland Revenue may want some of the action. Mark McLaughlin, of taxationweb.co.uk says: "Any profits you make are likely to be treated as income and will have to be declared on your tax form. That goes for any money you make on a stall, rent you get from letting others use your garden or renting your whole property. Fortunately, while you have to declare the income, you can probably find ways to control the actual tax bill."

If a spouse with no earnings runs the mini-business it is better for them to collect the income, rather than a tax-paying partner, for example.

Shoppers

Tennis fans can prove how much they love the tournament every time they shop by taking out a Wimbledon credit card. The Visa card, issued by Halifax, comes in three forms, classic, gold and platinum.

It is not the cheapest around, with standard rates of up to 16.9 per cent depending on the card. But there is no annual fee, it has all the usual benefits such as free purchase protection, and a low-rate balance transfer offer if you are moving debts from existing cards. You also get a choice of card designs showing either the mens' or womens' trophies, or the All England Club logo.

'Getting funding for our site has been a struggle'

Tennis players Victoria Davies and Helen Crook, below, are a classic example of how to turn your hobby or interest into a business.

They set up a women's tennis website three years ago that is trying to shine a spotlight on the lower-ranked British female players.

"We designed it for fans who want to know more about how key players are performing and for players who need information and advice from each other," says Ms Crook, 31, from Essex. She is a full-time tennis player and will be competing at Wimbledon next week.

The site is doing well and has landed some large sponsorship deals, but at this stage, Ms Crook and Ms Davies put all the advertising and other revenue generated back into its development. It is a not-for-profit business, but the women hope to eventually be paid for their work.

"Getting funding for the site has been a struggle because the womens' game in Britain doesn't yet have a Henman-type figure to focus attention," says Ms Crook. "But we work on it all the time so people want to come back to it again and again."

While world number one Serena Williams, below, has won £1million in prize money so far this year, life is a lot tougher for British players further down the rankings, as Ms Crook and Ms Davies have experienced.

"Prize money in low level tournaments is practically non-existent and if you have a low profile it is hard to get either sponsorship or other funding," says Ms Davies. "But British players can be good bets for sponsors because when they do break into the big time the publicity they get is enormous - as Tim Henman can prove."

www.gbtennisgirls.com

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