Tennis: Tournament rain pushes roof up wishlist ladder

By Dylan Cleaver

Members of the public sit in the rainduring the  Heineken Open. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Members of the public sit in the rainduring the Heineken Open. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The biggest bugbear of the past two weeks could become Auckland Tennis' best friend.

The rain that ruined the conclusion of the ASB Classic and forced two quarter-finals and the semifinals of the Heineken Open to be played on one day has expedited talks between Auckland Tennis and authorities about a roof over centre court.

"We're having very serious discussions with both local and regional authorities about funding options," Auckland Tennis chief executive Robyn Kiddle said.

There are already roofing anchors in place but as yet no cash to complete the job.

"We are talking to people about the retractable roof. That is absolutely our priority now."

Kiddle, who joined Auckland Tennis in July last year, said there was a realisation that the stadium experience for spectators had to improve.

She said the sports body had decided that to enhance the tournament the players first had to be looked after. The courts were upgraded to plexi-cushion to mirror conditions at the Australian Open and the players' facilities have been vastly improved.

"It was important that players wanted to come here. If they didn't want to come because the facilities were not up to standard you have not got a tournament you can build on," Kiddle said. "We can go, 'Great, we've protected the tournament by way of the talent that will come here,' because we don't offer the biggest prizemoney of the tournaments that are available at this time of year.

"Now our attention has to turn to the facilities themselves for the public and our corporate hosting capability."

Auckland is the only tournament on the circuit offering courtside catering and the players enjoy the intimate surrounds. But concrete terraces, difficult access to the outer courts, substandard toilets and, yes, regular rainfall all detract from the experience.

A poor set of figures, however, made any further redevelopment of Stanley St difficult, but Auckland Tennis was recovering, Kiddle said, from a parlous financial position.

In the 2011 annual report, the auditor ominously noted: "These conditions indicate the existence of material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the society's ability to continue as a going concern."

The incorporated society reported a net deficit of $337,688 for the financial year ending April 30, 2011 and current liabilities exceeded assets by $471,055.

It had an operating cash loss of $139,000 compared with a $22,000 profit the previous year.

"It's improving and we knew that it would," Kiddle said.

In his report, chairman Alan Chester described the year as "very challenging", noting the leadership vacuum that was created in the seven months between Greig Bramwell's resignation as CEO and Kiddle's appointment in July last year.

Chester said the principal reasons for the "unsatisfactory [financial] result" were the loss on domestic operations and the operating costs of the Scarbro Tennis Centre in Glen Innes, which included an annual payment of $107,000 to Tennis New Zealand.

Kiddle said that they were renegotiating that fee.

The biggest hit, however, came from a $237,000 reduction in profit from the ASB Classic and Heineken Open because of increased operational and player costs.

"These tournaments subsidise the rest of our operations, pretty much, so we have to get them right," Kiddle said.

Much of the rise in player costs in 2011 could be attributed to the six-figure appearance fee paid to Maria Sharapova, who lit up the ASB Classic last year.

A similar fee was headed into the account of Venus Williams this year, but her late withdrawal will have alleviated some of that burden.

Kiddle said she was "really gutted" when Williams withdrew because she was a genuine tennis icon, but acknowledged it was a "bonus" that they saved on the appearance fee and it appears not to have affected ticket sales at all, with the last five days of the Classic sold out.

A deal with ASB has just been concluded which gives the bank long-term naming rights over the Stanley St stadium.

Switching to Sky TV also meant Auckland Tennis no longer has to pay for television production.

- NZ Herald

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