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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK

Anyone for tennis?

Wimbledon is the place to be seen for corporate clients

For all its associations with champagne and finery, Wimbledon is virtually the only top sporting event where anyone can queue and get tickets on the day. Ordinary people get the chance to scoff over-priced strawberries along side royalty, celebrities and corporate high-fliers.

Or so they say.

[ image: Dedicated fans patiently queue]
Dedicated fans patiently queue
At Greg Rusedski's quarter-final match last year, instead of packed rows of cheering fans more than 5,000 seats were empty.

Only 500 seats were reserved for queuing fans. The rest of the arena, they were told, was full.

The press immediately pointed their finger at corporate hospitality: "Give empty seats to the real tennis fans," the headlines shouted.

Tennis fans in the queue for tickets at Wimbledon lend their views on corporate hospitality
Wimbledon Officials blamed last year's bad weather for the deserted seats. But that was not much comfort for those camping out all night in the rain for tickets.

Those hostile feelings are still bouncing around in this year's queue. Diana Tung, a die-hard fan (and coincidentally the president of the official Greg Rusedski fan club) says that coroporate hospitality is given too much priority:

"There were empty seats in the court for Agassi [on Monday], all in the middle section for hospitality. They could sell those seats ten times over on the street."

[ image: How the other half lives]
How the other half lives
Around 500m is spent on corporate entertaining every year. Companies wine and dine their top clients at high-class venues like Ascot and Twickenham in the name of "marketing".

A marquee at Wimbledon can cost up to 12,000 a day to hire. But big companies say that the expense is well worth it.

Corporate Affairs Director at Burmah-Castrol James Alexander sees it as good business
"Corporate hospitality is a cost effective way of maintaining and developing good relationships with people who are of importance to the company," said Corporate Affairs Director James Alexander at Burmah-Castrol.

[ image: The pampered client: still in the game]
The pampered client: still in the game
But fans rejoice: The pampered client is becoming a thing of the past. Top venues are becoming increasingly sensitive about too many tickets going to companies.

Wimbledon spokesman John Friend told BBC News On-Line that the number of seats designated to corporate hospitality has been reduced this year to less than 10%.

"People are always complaining that more people should be able to see the tennis. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to come to Wimbledon.

"The companies who do offer corporate hospitality are generally supporters of British Tennis," he added.

For fans, those reassurances may not be enough. Anyone who has waited overnight for a ticket to Centre Court is not likely to be sympathetic to the corporations' point of view.

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Internet Links

Wimbledon Championships Official Web Site

Burmah-Castrol Plc

Price Waterhouse UK

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