The financial recovery the Australian Open has managed to pull off during the past decade has been nothing short of extraordinary. A little over 10 years ago, Tennis Australia’s flagship event was struggling to attract sponsors and the opening grand slam of the season was under serious threat of relocation.
Today, Tennis Australia (TA) is reporting record revenues and net surplus and the tournament has 30 different partners and sponsors including KIA, ANZ Banking Group, and Emirates. The Australian Open is being broadcast to 200 territories around the world and organisers claim the current TV deals have a potential of taking the tennis action to 900 million homes across the globe.
The Australian Financial Review reported that TA is on track to reach annual revenue of A$300 million (Dh780.6m) in the current fiscal year, which is a significant increase to the A$254.6m revenue published last November in the company’s annual report for 2014- 2015.
The tournament’s host venue, Melbourne Park, has undergone significant expansion in recent years and it is the only grand slam that has three stadiums with retractable roofs – Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena, and Hisense Arena.
The Australian Open, dubbed the ‘Happy Slam’ by the players for catering to their every need, pays extra attention to the fan experience and this year a visitor to Melbourne Park not only got to watch some world-class tennis but also had the choice to go to an onsite luxury spa, eat at one of seven new fine-dining restaurants, watch players before the walk-on in a new hospitality area or catch the practices by sitting on grandstands placed right behind the players, separated only by the newly-installed glass walls.
The players were given unlimited food for the first time – an experiment that might not last – and centre court was surrounded by two-metre digital walls that played ads and videos during changeovers.
The prize money has gone up to A$44m this year – a 10 per cent increase on 2015’s total purse. But how can Tennis Australia finance all this in what is a challenging financial climate for all global sporting events?
“It’s never easy. But we’re a very fast-growing business,” TA CEO and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told Sport360 in Melbourne. “We’re a new leadership team and I’ve been the CEO for two-and-a-half years now and our objective every year is to innovate, push the limits, challenge the status quo and do things that are different because we know our fans like that. And that’s why our ticket sales are up and that’s contrary to what many sporting events are experiencing.
“The last two years have been the most successful two years in our business’ history – we’re over 100 years old. And this year is shaping up to be the most successful.”
In 2015, TA reported a 46.1 per cent increase in sponsorship revenue, which rose from A$45.3m the previous year to a record A$66.2m.
The 2015 results don’t include several agreements concluded in the new financial year, such as the Australian Open’s first partnership with a gambling company, William Hill, a new deal with coffee brand Lavazza and an expanded arrangement with Canadian Club. ANZ Banking Group renewed its associate sponsorship of the Australian Open at the end of 2014 in a deal worth about A$7m annually, double the amount the bank has previously paid, according to the Australian Financial Review.
The new broadcast deal with Seven West Media (currently in its second year) is worth about A$35 million annually, up from the previous A$21m Seven was paying for the Australian Open and lead-in events.
But sponsorship money represents just 26 per cent of TA’s overall revenue, so surely there are more reasons why the Australian Open is thriving at the moment? The answer could be TA’s move last year to produce their TV content in-house and sell their own media rights.
TA now own the production rights previously held by Seven. In 2015, for the first time in grand slam history, all 411 main draw matches were filmed live and distributed to the rest of the world. Some 170m minutes of footage was produced.
“We’ve opened offices in Shenzhen and Shanghai and Hong Kong and also this year in Tokyo. So we’re expanding our footprint globally and we do all of our rights sales, media rights, we do that inhouse and also we’re the only grand slam and tennis event in that we produce all of our own content as well,” explained Tiley.
“We’re the host broadcaster as well and have a production team that works full-time. They deliver all the content and our broadcast partners can customise it. Last year was the first year and it was very successful.
“It’s made a big difference because we’ve been able to really localise the content so like if India want to see one of their players on Court 6, we could do that. We could package it, send it off to them and they can customise it.
“We now have 200 territories around the world and we’ve never had as many as that. So we could sell our rights to lots of local broadcasters, regional and national ones and it just helps get our brand, our event and our fan experience out to the rest of the world.”
According to TA’s annual 2014-2015 report, a record 369m television viewers around the world watched the 2015 Australian Open in more than 200 countries, reaching in excess of 900m households daily. Japan alone represented nearly a third of the total audience.
Merchandising represents one per cent of TA’s profits and last year there was a seven per cent growth in sales with the official Australian Open towel once again proving the most sought-after item, with sales close to 25,000 units. Emirates is a relatively new partner for the Australian Open and Tiley stated the deal with the UAE airline is an exciting one.
“We have a great relationship with Emirates, this is our second year. We do some innovative things with Emirates. We did the flyover last year and this year we’re doing the entry. So they’re good partners of ours and we’re on a long journey,” he said.
“We want to make sure we always have partners that have the flexibility on that journey to make changes and adjustments as long as both partners are benefitting.”
The Australian Open’s deal with William Hill has come under-fire with ads for the betting provider seen around the grounds, raising moral issues – some players calling it “hypocritical” especially in light of the match-fixing allegations that have risen in the past fortnight.
“The interesting thing is that the sport of tennis has already been partnered with many (betting companies) because Perform as a broadcaster provide all the content directly onto the betting providers,” said Tiley.
“They just act as an intermediary to do that. And then there are tennis tournaments around the world that have betting partners like the German Open, Bet365 I believe (Bet-at-Home Open). So we didn’t see it as an issue. They’re very reputable, they’re a well-respected organisation, everything they do is legal.
“For us it’s a good partnership that they can also help us identify any illegal activity and so that close partnership gets us closer to that because we want to make sure we’re avoiding it as a sport.”
We’re four weeks into the new season and Novak Djokovic has already notched crushing victories over his three main rivals – his fellow ‘Big Four’ members – and has made history by equaling Roy Emerson’s all-time record of six Australia Opens won.
One can only imagine what he will have achieved six months from now.
After destroying Rafael Nadal in the Doha final in the opening week of the season and beating Roger Federer convincingly in the Australian Open semi-finals, Djokovic committed Andy Murray to the same fate in the final yesterday,
Djokovic won 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) to hand Murray a fourth defeat in an Australian Open final, leaving the Scot as just the second man in the Open Era to lose five finals at the same major.
The world No1 kissed the ground on Rod Laver Arena after he slammed an ace to wrap up his near-three-hour triumph.
“I’ve had a love affair with Rod Laver Arena for many years and I hope it can last a long time,” said Djokovic after the match.
The victory earned him an 11th grand slam title and he now joins Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg in fifth place on the all-time list of most majors won.
What a journey. Really grateful for everything. I'll keep working hard. Love is the key! pic.twitter.com/CrT7TYRL3O— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 31, 2016
Djokovic mentioned in his victory speech that he and his team have been “breathing as one” and later in his press conference, he spoke about a metaphor he heard recently that said that “the wolf running up the mountain is hungrier than the one standing on top of it”. The increasingly dominant Serb of course is the one standing at the top and he says he is well aware that everyone is gunning for him.
“I can’t allow myself to relax and enjoy. I mean, I can. Of course I want to enjoy, and I will, but it’s not going to go more than few days. After that I already thinking about how can I continue on playing well throughout the rest of the season each tournament,” said Djokovic, who has now won four of the last five majors.
“Kind of a mindset that one needs to have if one wants to stay up there. Because I think you need to work double as hard when you’re up there.”
Against Murray yesterday, Djokovic survived a mostly-dreary match that saw the world No2 commit 65 unforced errors.
Before the final, Ken Rosewall carried the Norman Brookes trophy onto the court and was welcome by a host of Australia’s finest ever players including Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Pat Rafter, Tony Roche and Lleyton Hewitt.
“To all of the ex-players that are watching, I can’t see all of you, but thank you for coming, it makes playing this match extra-special,” Murray told them after the match after receiving yet another runner-up trophy.
Djokovic was up 5-0 in 20 minutes as Murray struggled on every shot, hitting error after error.
The reigning Davis Cup champion finally stopped the bleeding in game six, hitting his first ace and first winner of the match, sending the crowd into a frenzy, but Djokovic closed out the set in the following game.
Murray had to save four break points to hang on and hold for 2-1 in the second set in a 12-minute game that saw him yell “this is the worst I’ve ever played”.
Djokovic broke for a 4-3 lead but Murray broke right back to stay in it. The No2 seed inexplicable was broken from 40-0 up soon after which gave Djokovic the break for 6-5. Serving for a two-set lead, Djokovic saved a break point and took the game on a yet another error in the net from Murray.
The world No1 broke Murray in the first game of the third set but his opponent retaliated to draw level at 3-all. The set went to a tiebreak and two Murray double faults were basically the end of him as Djokovic soon took the title with an ace.
Eager to fly back home to reunite with his pregnant wife, Kim, who is due in a couple of weeks, Murray was fighting tears when he addressed the crowd.
“I feel like I’ve been here before,” he joked, referring to his four other Australian Open final defeats.
“To my wife Kim who I’m sure is watching back home, you’ve been a legend the last 2 weeks, thank you so much for all of your support and I’ll be on the next flight home.”
Djokovic is having an incredible run against his toughest rivals – he has won 11 of his last 12 matches with Murray – but insists he doesn’t let himself acknowledge the gap he is creating between himself and everybody else.
“I don’t want to allow myself to be in that frame of mind. Because if I do, the person becomes too arrogant and thinks that he’s a higher being or better than everybody else. You can get a big slap from karma very soon. I don’t want that,” said Djokovic.
Asked if the wolf is now hungry for Roland Garros, Djokovic replied: “Very hungry. But wolf needs to eat a lot of different meals to get to Paris. Paris is a dessert.”
Andy Murray endured a nightmare start to his Australian Open final as Novak Djokovic threatened to embarrass the Scot during a dominant opening set.
The world number one annihilated Roger Federer 6-1 in the first set of his semi-final three days ago and he gave Murray the same treatment, again winning 6-1 with two breaks along the way.
Murray is bidding to end a run of four losing finals in Melbourne, three of which came against Djokovic, but he has never beaten the Serb after going one set down and there was little to suggest he would reverse that trend on Rod Laver Arena.
The world number two set his stall out early, attacking Djokovic’s second serve in the very first exchange and then opening up a break point which his opponent saved with a backhand winner.
Murray’s impetus, however, soon drained away as he thrashed a forehand into the net and then double-faulted to hand Djokovic the break.
When Djokovic feathered a drop shot which Murray failed even to get a racket to, one fan shouted “Give him a chance Novak!” – prompting chuckles among the crowd – and the foundations were laid for a procession as his opponent raced 3-0 clear.
Matters soon became more desperate for Murray, who conceded a second break for 5-0, and while the Briton did finally get on the board it was too little too late as Djokovic served out.
Murray ranted and raged to jolt himself into life but he came under pressure again at 1-1 as a Djokovic pass on the slide carved open the first of four break points.
One forehand into the net had Murray laughing in disbelief and then he was halted by a heckler sarcastically shouting, “Take a bit longer Murray!” after umpire Carlos Ramos had given him a time violation.
Murray: "I just want to congratulate Novak. What he has done, it’s incredible. To him and his team, well done" pic.twitter.com/ltzCVj1TiH— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 31, 2016
A dose of irritation may not have been a bad thing as Murray finally held with an ace and for the first time he began to stretch Djokovic, dictating more rallies and making less mistakes.
Frustrated, Djokovic spiked a ball into the court, but just as Murray looked to have gained a foothold he let it go again, chucking away the break when a backhand flew long.
Down 4-3, Murray dedicated his changeover to a monologue of grumbling, but it did the trick, as he broke back instantly with a line-clipping backhand.
The fightback though was temporary as Djokovic came again at 5-5, winning a 36-shot rally on Murray’s serve, the longest of the match so far, before the Scot fired a tired backhand long.
Djokovic was serving for a two-set lead and despite consecutive double faults, he delivered, cementing his advantage when Murray’s backhand hit the net.
Djokovic's victory puts him level with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg on 11 Grand Slam titles and moves him within six of Roger Federer #AusOpen— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 31, 2016
The top seed’s record in five-setters is 26-8 but any feint hopes of a comeback were quickly diminishing as a superb backhand winner broke Murray in the opening game of the third.
On the brink, Murray found some fire within and when Djokovic hit long he deservedly broke back for 3-3 to keep himself in with a chance.
Into the tie-break, however, and Murray’s resolve crumbled as he served two double faults, his fourth and fifth of the match, to give Djokovic a 6-1 lead.
Murray pulled two points back but not a third as Djokovic served out with an ace to seal the title and when they met at the net Murray had two words for his conqueror: “too good”.