Game, Set, and Match

Ahhh Tennis, I remember the days I played tennis with my mates, hold on, tried to play tennis with my mates during my teenage years and that pretty much sums it up. Another go at tennis saw me relentlessly swing the WII remote across the tv, although without much grace but with a lot of professionalism as I had a bag of crisps next to me.

My recent uni field trip or should I say more appropriately case study took me to Brentford F.C. This time I was at the O2 Arena watching the top players in Tennis at the moment. As part of a course in stadium and event management, besides enjoying the venue, an assessment of it was to be made.

I’ll start from getting there. The O2 Arena is situated in East London right by the Thames river. The closest tube station is North Greenwich which is right outside. Being part of the Jubilee line service, the arena is very accessible for different parts of the city. I took it from Wembley, which is quite north-west (Kanye and Kim reference nailed it!), but the line operates from there, through Central London, down to the Southbank and back to the opposite bank and to the east.

In the arena itself, there is a good amount of signs and directions to the concourses and services. Assuming that it’s probably the first time in the arena for most of the crowd this is very important. The arena feels more like a shopping centre in a tropical resort. Palm trees were present and almost every big food chain in the UK had a branch there.

The event sponsors presence was evident from the entrance with Barclays representatives handing out promotions to their customers only, but actually, it wasn’t a problem to trick them to think you’re one and get the benefits.

Fan engagement was really entertaining. Two of the sponsors, Peugeot and Infosys, delivered VR experiences and by the queues to sit down with the headset the popularity of it was clear. The centre of attention of the fan zone was without a doubt the practice area. Fans had the chance to see the top players warm up and train up close.

While some of the sponsors were focusing on handing out free items to the fans, Nature Valley, used the power of the people to decide the flavour of their next protein bar range by letting people drop an oversized tennis ball into the tube of the desired flavour. They even reduced the amount of sugar in the bar which is always good.

Regarding merchandise, there was a small store at the entrance, and while the range of products wasn’t very wide, it was quite expensive. 55 GBP for a simple hoodie and 40 for a bath sheet. While it may be reasonable to think that the profile of the crowd that goes to see Tennis is more economically able, in my opinion, there’s no justification to charge 40 GBP for a bath sheet.

The arena’s capacity is 20,000. I couldn‎’t find attendance figures but the arena was far from full. Evidence of that was stewards offering free ticket upgrades courtesy of Emirates Airlines in order to get the crowd much closer to the court rather than sitting higher. It was a nice gesture that certainly increased fan satisfaction,  but I wonder what is the loss on such upgrades as many tickets were up for grabs. At least all the seats are cushioned and not plastic so that’s another plus.

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This also made me think why would such a high profile event is played during midday and midweek? Especially when it’s the week of football international break, these games can be moved towards the evening and thus increase attendance and revenue. I got to watch the doubles game between the Bryan brothers vs Murray/Soares and the singles game between Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem. Surely enough to secure a full house.

In comparison to other sports, the crowd is not very involved other than clapping and occasional bursts of “come on” to a specific player by a single fan. Barclays did a great job in fan engagement and crowd involvement by handing out light bands to the crowd which were lit up during breaks and were part of promotions for prizes.

Usually, queues at breaks in sports events are a nightmare and fans have to wait a long time to be served. There was a wide spread of food and beverage services across the concourses and even information signs of where to get certain foods, which I haven’t seen in any football ground, and I’ve been to a decent amount. It must be said, the prices were high in comparison to other events. 5.50 GBP for a pint and 2.60 for a bottle of water? Not the mention the 11.00 GBP Chicken Burger. There were cheaper options but 10 GBP could easily be spent on just water and a simple sausage.

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To my surprise, there was a limitation on crowd movement. Maybe it is common in a Tennis event, but for a person attending for the first time, I left my seat to go out for a sec only to find out that returning back was blocked until a certain pause in play occurred. At least there’s a screen outside to view the action.

Another issue in many events is mobile phone connectivity. When UNICEF promotes a good cause on the main screen and asks the crowd to text and make a donation, my phone had limited signal and when I tried the open WIFI it didn’t work.

Overall, the experience is good and I felt that the game itself was much more engaging than on TV, which may be one of the reasons to come down to these events. However, in trying to make the most out of it I think reorganising the match schedule is key.

Oh and this can’t go unnoticed, the seriousness and professionalism of the ball boys and girls were impressive.

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