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WOULD A BIGGER STADIUM BE BETTER?



Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic played out one of the all-time great grand slam finals last month, as the 20-year-old Spaniard took home his second major and showed that the future, may be just as bright as the past in the world of tennis.

In fact, you could argue, that despite four of the greatest athletes in any sport in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Djokovic either having already retired, or about to retire, tennis as a whole is in a very good place despite those big names being past their prime.

As a whole, popularity wise, the sport continues to be on the rise, and not having as much as a predictable outcome in both the men’s and women’s draws, seemed to lure more interest as in 2023, the Wimbledon attendance record was broken once again.

532,651 people entered through the gates in this year’s tournament, as lines went out the door and campers pitched tents throughout the night to secure a ticket.

Seeing the dedicated fans battle it out overnight in a que to gain access to the ground is a tradition like no other in sports. For the earlier rounds it’s great, and as for all of the grand slams, you can gain access to watch your favourite stars at a fair price.

But here’s the downside, when it comes to grand slam finals, these days you basically have to pick between selling your kidney, or missing out on attending.

With a capacity of 15,000, Wimbledon’s Centre Court is near impossible to get into for the final. You can enter the ballot where if you’re lucky, you can purchase tickets from just under $500 (AUD) to $445, which still isn’t cheap, but is much more affordable then the alternative.

In today’s world of modern technology, gone are the days where people stand outside stadiums yelling out that they have tickets to sell, now scalpers can go online through third party websites and raise prices through the roof.

For the 2023 men’s Wimbledon final, scalpers were listing tickets from anywhere between $19,371-$27,120 (AUD). While there is no doubt the final lived up to expectation, the idea that you would be able to buy a car for what it costs to go to the Wimbledon final is insane.

Unfortunately, the reality is, when supply and demand are at complete polar opposites, prices are only going to get worse.

So what can be done?

Currently, three out of the four stadiums that host the final of the majors can hold around 15,000 people, while Arthur Ashe Stadium that hosts the US open, can hold just under 24,000.

Given that tennis as a whole is only getting more popular, is it time to increase the capacity of these stadiums?

Now here’s the thing, when you look at some of the occasions where one off games have been played in stadiums not designed for tennis and have attracted over 30,000 people, you have to wonder just how good of a view you’d get from the ‘nose bleeds’.

When Federer and Nadal played an exhibition game in Africa and drew in 51,954 people, the court was quite far away from the stands, where potentially, sitting in the back row was no better than just watching at home.

Personally, one of the most disappointing sporting experiences in my life was when I went to watch the USA men’s basketball team take on Australia at Marvel stadium. Not wanting to splurge on tickets to watch America’s C team, I settled for nose bleeds, where sitting at the top, you couldn’t see anything and it was quite clear that hosting a basketball game in a stadium not build for it, was not a good idea.

Alternately, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend an NBA game in Boston, and while my seats were three rows from the very back, I had a perfect view and could see everything clearly, the difference being, I was in a arena designed for the sport.

So while increasing capacity at the current stadiums may mean there are some seats that aren’t amazing, because the stadium is built for tennis, it would still be better than what some of the makeshift tennis matches have looked like in the past.

Alternatively, architecture has advanced quite a lot since the current tennis stadiums were built, meaning that if new stadiums were to be made, capacity could be increased, without diminishing the standard of seats by too much.

On the other side of things though, does the tennis world want this change?

AFL is played in front of a 100,000 seat stadium, soccer has weekly attendances of 75,000+ people all over the world, even American Football colleges can get crowds upwards of 90,000 fans, and while these sports are played on much bigger surfaces then tennis, the reality is, they’re not a very intimate setting.

Now I’m not saying going to a live sporting event needs to be on the same intimacy level as a one on one candle lit dinner date, but there’s no denying, there is a charm about going to a big event in a small crowd.

When Taylor Swift performs at the MCG in February, 100,000 people will be in attendance each night, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be anywhere near as good as a smaller venue, so who’s to say the same doesn’t apply for tennis?

Being up close and personal with the players makes you feel as if you’re a part of the one v one battle taking place on the court. You can hear the ball hit the racquet instantly, every groan, yell and shoe squeak is heard crystal clear.

You don’t get that in most sports, and it’s something special and unique to tennis, where you could argue, losing it would do more damage than good.

The other issue as well is the stadiums are historic, Centre court at Wimbledon was built in 1922 and Stade Roland Garros in Paris was built in 1928. While Rod Laver Arena and Arthur Ashe Stadium aren’t as old, there is still a form of tradition associated with them, that a new stadium just wouldn’t carry.

What may be the biggest issue however, is that supply will probably never meet demand new stadium or not, meaning that even if a 30,000 seat tennis arena is built, the good seats will just increase in price, and the price of what could have gotten you a half decent seat today, is now the cost of one of the worst seats.

Overall there are positives and negatives to increasing tennis stadium capacities, but the reality is, as the population continues to increase, the popularity in tennis will do the same.

Soon it may only be the rich and famous who can afford to attend the major finals, and the days of seeing the pinnacle of the sport in person may be gone for your regular Joe, that is unless they’re willing to sell their car.

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