A ticket to watch Andy Murray on Centre Court at Wimbledon is perhaps the ultimate prize for tennis fans. But the draw of seeing the British number one was not enough to lure many guests in the corporate hospitality tents away from their lunch.
Hundreds of empty seats could be seen around the stands as Murray walked out for his quarter final match against Vasek Pospisil, with the 1pm start time proving awkward for those dining in the exclusive private areas to the south of the All England Club.
Companies including RBS, Aegon, Nike, JP Morgan, Phillips and Hertz that have paid for on-site hospitality packages at Wimbledon are able to offer their clients free tickets to both Centre Court and Number 1 Court, but their guests are under no obligation to fill them.
One source inside the hospitality area, who did not want to be named, said: “Yesterday they were all saying they hate tennis and how they’re only here to represent their firm – one had never heard of [Novak] Djokovic.
“Lunch often runs over onto pudding and once they’ve had quite a lot of steak and booze they don’t want to leave. If they go to one match, they come back and are exhausted. It’s about business more than tennis.”
One guest enjoying the hospitality, who also did not want to give his name, said that an hour into Murray’s match against Pospisil, around 100 people were still “milling around” in the marquees. “I’m not really surprised, people here don’t necessarily come for the tennis, they are just here for the networking,” he said. “They see the tennis as a drop-in, drop-out sort of thing.”
Hundreds of empty seats were also visible at the start of Roger Federer’s match against Gilles Simon on Number 1 Court. The blocks of between ten and 20 seats were mainly in the middle section of the stands, suggesting that they were part of hospitality packages.
The sight of the empty seats did not go down well with tennis fans. Jamie Saunders, 34, from Guildford, said it was “ridiculous” that he and his friends had been forced to sit on a “crammed” Murray Mound watching the Scot play on the big screen while there were hundreds of seats on Centre Court.
“It was disappointing to see loads of empty seats, not being utilised by fans but just being set aside for corporates who would rather eat lunch,” he added. “I’m fine about corporate events, but they need to utilise the tickets. Maybe they should publish, at the end of the Championships, the capacity that was used.”
The television screens at the Champagne Bar, which is located just across the walkway from Centre Court, do not show live matches to encourage drinkers to take their seats on the show courts. The area was reportedly “rammed” during Heather Watson’s match against Serena Williams last week.
A Wimbledon spokeswoman insisted that tickets were “fairly” allocated. “Alongside the majority which are available through the public ballot, the LTA ballot, debenture holders and those for sale on the day to the queue, we allocate less than 10 per cent of Centre and Number 1 Court seats to the official hospitality market,” she said.
“Seats may not be occupied for a variety of reasons – for instance there are matches on 17 other courts – and most often may just be the result of spectators taking a refreshment break which they are perfectly entitled to do.”
The Wimbledon crowds began to disperse a lot earlier than usual, with London’s transport network effectively being closed from 6pm due to a Tube strike.
In the third set of Murray’s match, at around 4pm, an announcement flashed up on the scoreboard advising those who relied on the Underground to “consider leaving as soon as possible”.
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