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Is Wimbledon Too Small for Tennis?

Wimbledon is one of the most famous tennis competitions in the world, if not the most famous. The only one of the Grand Slam tournaments in the sport that is still played on grass, it has taken place at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club since 1877.

It remains as popular as ever, which is something that anyone that has tried to get tickets for the competition will know all too well. In fact, it might even be increasing in popularity, which has led some to question whether the venue used to host it isn’t big enough for an event of its size. Though the traditionalists won’t like it, some wonder whether it might need to move somewhere else to survive.

Where it Stands Compared to the Other Grand Slams

Whilst Wimbledon is the first of the Grand Slam events to have come into existence, that was nearly 150 years ago. In the century and more since, other major tennis tournaments have come into existence and grown in size and importance.

Here is a look at the venues that host the different Grand Slam competitions as well as the record attendance numbers:

Grand Slam Event Host Venue Record Attendance
Australian Open Melbourne Park 1,020,763
US Open USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center 957,387
French Open Stade Roland Garros 630,000
Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis Club 532,651

Obviously that isn’t a completely fair comparison, given the fact that there are numerous different things that can affect the number of people that attend a tournament. Even so, it gives you a sense of the number of people that are able to head to the various Grand Slam events thanks to the size and scope of the venues that are used to host them. In the case of Wimbledon, it has the lowest record attendance of the four competitions, which is less than ideal in the eyes of the event’s organisers.

The Application to Increase its Size

Fearing falling too far behind the likes of the Australian Open and the US Open, Wimbledon made an application in the October of 2023 to expand over Church Road into Wimbledon Park. The plans were approved by Merton Council by not by Wandsworth Council, with more than 16,000 people signing a petition that was designed to ‘Save Wimbledon Park’.

The council were also on the receiving end of more than 2,000 letters of objection, whilst a local Conservative MP and a Labour MP joined forces to opposed the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s plans to grow in size by a large amount.

The application was to allow the organisation to build an 8,000-seat show court based over ten stories, in addition to another 38 grass courts that would, in the eyes of critics, turn it into a ‘industrial tennis complex’. The proposal was to grow the size of the grounds on which one of the world’s most famous tennis championships takes place from 17 hectares to 46 hectares.

The hope, in the eyes of the Chair of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, was to deliver ‘one of the greatest sporting transformations for London since the 2012 Olympics’, which would ‘bring the qualifying event on site, in line with the other Grand Slams’.

Does it Matter How Big it Is?

wimbledon show courts and outer courtsThe obvious question to ask is whether or not it really matters how big the Grand Slam event is. Is it important that it is able to welcome around double the current number of attendees in order to compete with the Australian Open?

The All England Lawn Tennis Club first purchased the freehold of the land of Wimbledon Park from Merton Council in 1993, but when it did so it signed a covenant that said that it would ‘not use the [land] other than for leisure or recreational purposes or as an open space’. It was loaned to Wimbledon Park Golf Club until 2018, at which point fears came to the fore that Wimbledon was falling behind the other Grand Slams.

The lease signed by the golf club lasted until 2041, so Wimbledon offered to pay the members £65 million in order to give it up 23 years early. That worked out as £85,000 per member, with celebrity members of the golf club including Ant & Dec and Piers Morgan. For the organisers of the Grand Slam event, though, it was seen as being worth every penny.

The more than Wimbledon falls behind the other Grand Slams in terms of the facilities that it is able to offer the players as well as the amount of people that can turn up and watch matches being played, the less it will lose its appeal. Slipping down the pecking order is not something most are willing to stand for.

Might a Future Move be the Solution?

The objections from both one of the local councils and thousands of people leads to the question of whether it might mean that Wimbledon moves to a larger venue at some point in the not too distant future. The reality is that the organisers feel as though there is a need to expand the location of the Grand Slam, irrespective of whether others agree with them.

With that in mind, they are unlikely to simply forget about their desires to expand the size of Wimbledon if their applications are all turned down. Instead, a decision might be taken to move away from the All England Lawn Tennis Club, as unimaginable as that might seem.

Wimbledon as a tournament is worth nearly £200 million to London as a whole, with a huge chunk of that going to the local area. It might seem like the right thing to do to protect Wimbledon Park in the short-term, but there could well be huge economic impacts to local businesses if Wimbledon ended up being relocated to somewhere else in the country that is more willing to allow it to welcome an increase in visitors.

Equally, if the size of the current venue for Wimbledon is increased, the amount of money that would be contributed to both London and the local area would increase accordingly, which many might consider a good thing.