CORRESPONDENCE FROM MELBOURNEThe happy slam, between barrels of honey and... critics

Eugen Ionescu
English Section / 9 februarie

Photo source: facebook / Australian Open

Photo source: facebook / Australian Open

Versiunea în limba română

Eugen Ionescu

The 2024 edition of the most important early-year sporting event, the Australian Open tennis tournament, was dubbed The happy slam. Why so? Simply put - the designation referred to the carnival atmosphere, excellent facilities for spectators, and the pleasant climate of Melbourne during this time.

The little rain that fell didn't cause many inconveniences, especially since the tournament was extended by a day. The famous John McEnroe commented that this extension could be associated with the organizers' pursuit of money, especially considering that last year tickets were introduced even for the qualifiers, costing ten Australian dollars.

The truth is that the Australian Open started the year with a debt of approximately 60 million Australian dollars, generated during the COVID epidemic. Organizers resorted to a loan from the government. However, the loan eventually became non-repayable, with the government stating that it has other methods to recover these funds (so far, there is no official explanation of how this goal will be achieved).

"Innovations", with pros and cons

Tournament director, Craig Tally, announced that they will continue with "innovations" after allowing spectators into the arena after each point this year, whereas previously access was only allowed after a game. A debatable measure, often this hustle and bustle displeased both players and spectators who were disturbed more often.

Among the planned innovations for the future is the possibility for spectators to order food and drinks to be delivered by drones. Additionally, a dynamic pricing system for tickets has been announced. What does this mean? Probably, demand will govern the prices.

This year, the most expensive tickets were SA 6,000 for the men's final. I imagine buyers were found, although before the big match, I checked online and there were still offers - the most expensive ticket was 1,900 Australian dollars. For comparison, two years ago tickets were sold for up to 20,000 Australian dollars - entailing being brought to the arena by a limousine, dining at the most expensive restaurants - with caviar and French champagne - the best seats, and of course, food and beverage services during the matches, plus transportation home by limousine.

More respect for the local audience!

Reputable commentators have stated that AO must understand that it has a social contract with those whose taxes made this gigantic tournament possible, for which 40 hectares of land in the city center were made available and most facilities were paid for. Tennis Australia, therefore, has a moral obligation to make it possible, through reasonable prices, for the local public to access this event.

There were also criticisms regarding scheduling, with cases where paying spectators had to stay in the arena until three in the morning to find out the outcome of a match. Also, those who bought tickets for evening matches had to wait even two hours until the end of the matches from the day session when the arena was emptied and they were allowed access. Let's not forget that in most cases tickets cost over 200 Australian dollars...

Returning to the designation of the happy slam, we can also explain it by... the barrel full of honey that awaited the players. Participation prizes have substantially increased compared to previous years. Thus, a player with a ranking around 250 who lost in the first qualifying round was rewarded with 32,000 Australian dollars, and on the main draw, the first-round loser received 130,000. Note: the minimum wage in Australia is about 50,000 per year!

I imagine that no player, as long as they rank around 250-260 in the world, would refuse to travel to the Antipodes to get their share from the barrel of honey...