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SBD Global/July 2, 2012/Events and Attractions

Late Nights Under Wimbledon's Roof Becoming New Tradition

Wimbledon's $125M retractable roof was installed in 2009.
The retractable roof at Wimbledon has resulted in a number of late nights during the first week of the tennis tournament that could "hardly have escaped anyone's attention," according to Simon Cambers of the London GUARDIAN. Andy Murray's 11:02pm GMT finish against Marcos Baghdatis on Saturday night was "the latest in the Championships' history." The main reason for these late-night finishes is the retractable roof, which was installed in '09 at an estimated cost of £80M ($125M). In the first two years, good weather meant it was "barely required." In the past seven days "it has been called into action on a regular basis." Television companies love it because "they can plan their schedules with absolute certainty and fans splashing out good money on tickets also know that they will not be rained out." However, the All England Club was criticised for closing the roof several times "even when it was sunny outside," a decision it said was necessary because of "a dodgy weather forecast." The All England Club insists it "remains an outdoor event." But "much of the talk behind the scenes" has been about whether the increasing use of the roof means "we are creeping towards night tennis." The U.S. Open and Australian Open have had scheduled night tennis for years. The French Open will follow once it has installed a roof in '17, leaving Wimbledon as "the only Grand Slam event not to be officially playing at night" (GUARDIAN, 7/1).

RATINGS SWELL AT NIGHT: In London, Barry Flatman asked the question: "Who runs the Championships these days, the All England Club or the television moguls?" On Saturday evening, there was "a nail-biting race against time" as Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis pushed up against the 11pm curfew set by the London borough of Merton. However, the late-night tennis was a ratings boom. The BBC reported a peak audience of 8 million viewers with a 41.3% share of national viewing figures. A night earlier, 5.7 million tuned into the prime-time battle between Roger Federer and Julien Benneteau. And on Thursday, 5.2 million watched on BBC2 as Lukas Rosol beat Rafael Nadal. There was a three-year extension of the long-term contract with the BBC, and "most certainly that was not a charitable exercise." The same came be said for the 12-year deal with ESPN. Traditions "have to be left behind and everybody understands that when something or somebody pays considerably more for something, they want a little bit extra." Wimbledon needs to "admit the fact that the demands of television now call the tune" (SUNDAY TIMES, 7/1).
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