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Kai Ryssdal: The big attraction at Wimbledon this week isn’t the tennis quite yet. The tournament just started today. It’s the new retractable roof over center court. Functional yet understated in that way the Brits have. Commentator and sportswriter Jon Wertheim wishes one huge part of American sports could be the same way.
JON WERTHEIM: Last month I attended a New York Mets game at Citi Field; Citi being the TARP-assisted bank that still finds $20 million a year to slather its name on a baseball stadium. The outfield walls are adorned with signs for everything from Verizon to Pepsi. I counted eight logos on the scoreboard alone. My ticket doubled as a coupon for Subway sandwiches. When it comes to sponsorship, the Mets still trail their crosstown rivals, the Yankees. At the new Yankee Stadium, where the Mohegan Sun Sports bar blocks views from the cheap seats, even the home runs are brought to you by Geico.
But at Wimbledon? The only logos there are tiny, tasteful representations for Rolex, the scoreboard provider, IBM, stats provider, Slazenger, the ball provider, and Robinson’s barley water, the provider of barley water. And while television pays a premium for weekend broadcast rights, Wimbledon not only starts on a Monday, but schedules no play for the middle Sunday so they don’t disturb the neighborhood on the holiest day of the week.
Why does Wimbledon leave so much money on the table, easily tens of millions a year, when other sporting properties do everything short of look behind bleachers for extra change to boost revenue? When I asked a tournament official, he laughed gently and said, “While there are plenty of offers for sponsorship, if the tournament hung banners behind the baseline or sold naming rights to center court, Wimbledon wouldn’t be Wimbledon, would it?”
Yes, there’s money to be made from having a business sponsor your mascot or from carving out luxury suites. But there’s also equity in tradition and dignity. Wimbledon “doesn’t do costings” — that is, make its financials available to gauche journalists — but profits from 2008 exceeded $50 million. This suggests that protecting the brand, and keeping “Wimbledon, Wimbledon,” has plenty of value as well. In short, a sporting event’s soul is worth something, too.
It sure would be nice if more franchises adopted this philosophy. Even if meant that home runs were to brought us by the actual batter that hit them; not by an insurance company.
RYSSDAL: Jon Wertheim is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. His most recent book is called “Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played.”
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