Terrible weather to blame for drop in Wimbledon visitors, All England Club chief says

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Sally Bolton, the chief executive of the All England Club, has blamed the “terrible” weather on lower attendance figures for Wimbledon after nearly a month’s worth of rain fell on the tournament in its first week.

Attendance in the first week of the championships dropped to 282,955 visitors, almost 4% fewer than the 293,681 who came in the same period last year.

Fewer tennis fans passed through the gates of SW19 every day last week compared with 2023, except on Tuesday when the two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray had been due to play his first-round singles match.

Wimbledon was deluged by half a month’s worth of rain in a single day on Friday as it recorded the lowest day five attendance since 1998, excluding 2021 when visitor numbers were capped due to Covid restrictions. On Friday, when the Met Office recorded 26.6mm of rain at nearby Kew Gardens, 36,630 tennis fans went to the tournament compared with 42,279 on the same day in 2023.

Bolton said the unpredictability of the weather had made it the most challenging tournament to schedule since she took up her post in 2020. There were only two dry days in the first week and 79 matches were cancelled from Friday to Sunday either due to the rain or player injuries.

Bolton blamed the dip in numbers on the weather but said that Wimbledon accepted that attendance figures would fluctuate due to tickets being held back for its famous queue.

She said: “The weather has been so terrible that perseverance in the queue has been even greater this year than it ordinarily is.

“We’re never about maximising our attendances, we’re all about protecting the queue and making sure that we have still got that accessibility, accepting that as a result of that was some variability on the numbers that we will end up achieving.

“Every year when we get back to the end of the championships we look back and try and analyse the data to understand what might drive that. But this year the weather has been so variable and so bad at times, that at the moment our assessment is it’s almost certainly the weather that’s impacting it.”

Bolton denied that the retirement of household names such as Roger Federer and Serena Williams was having an impact on attendance and the popularity of the tournament, saying there was “real excitement” about the “changing of the guard, passing of the baton” to younger stars such as the US player Coco Gauff, 20, and Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, 21.

“I think the broader challenge for tennis and sport is that competition for people’s attention and time is just ever greater from a whole different range of things,” she said.

She made the comments after a triumphant weekend for British sport, with Lewis Hamilton winning the British Grand Prix and England reaching the Euro 2024 semi-finals.

Bolton said she believed the championships, which changed from a 13-day to a 14-day tournament two years ago, could get back on schedule, although conditions are forecast to be similar this week.

“We’ve got a range of contingencies. Obviously having put two roofs on show courts, that’s definitely helped us. Having the extra day has given us that extra flexibility,” she said.

Bolton added that the tournament has already reduced early rounds of mixed doubles to two sets and a tiebreaker, and further contingencies could include moving juniors matches indoors.

She said: “I think the real challenge for everyone is the variability of the weather. Even those who are just using weather apps can see that looking two days ahead, and it looks like it’s getting better and then it changes,” she said.

“Trying to keep up the joy and excitement of fans coming to the championships when it’s on and off raining is so difficult. And the teams around the grounds have been working so hard to try to keep our guest experience going.”

Andrea Bishop, of the Met Office, said: “It has been a damp start to Wimbledon, with more than double the rainfall we’d expect to see over the Greater London area in the first week. It is the influence of low pressure which has been bringing periods of rain, and this doesn’t look like it’s changing over the next couple of days.

“But, there is some good news for fans, as there is a signal towards drier conditions overall by the weekend. Although there should be some sunny spells, there will still be showers in places with temperatures generally below average for the time of year.”

Source: theguardian.com

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