Strawberries & Cream...and Debentures

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Even the name screams of history and tradition: The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC). Every year, this private institution serves up the best in competitive tennis, fresh strawberries and cream, and the occasional royal in the royal seating box. The elegant affair dates back to 1877 and is the oldest of the four Grand Slam tennis competitions. For the lucky, well-heeled tennis fan there is also the Wimbledon debenture, a 100-year old, tradable 5-year season pass that mixes tennis and investing in grand scale.

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam organized by a club instead of a tennis association and is the only one of the calendar majors to be continuously played on grass courts. At the U.S. Open, grass was abandoned for clay in 1974 and then for hard court beginning 1978. The French Open alternated between sand and clay in its early days before settling for the latter, while the Australian Open switched to a hard surface in 1988.

In front of a crowd of 200 spectators, cricketeer Spencer Gore won the inaugural Gentlemen’s Singles on July 19, 1877. The Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles weren’t introduced until seven years later. For taking first place, Gore collected 12 guineas and a silver cup donated by “The Field”, a sporting magazine that helped promote the tournament and is today the world’s oldest outdoor sports publication.

The monarchy has been connected to Wimbledon since King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, became patron of the club over a century ago. The Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Kent and President of the AELTC since 1969, has traditionally presented the Trophy to the tournament winner. The original inscription on the Trophy still reads: “All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World”.

Upon entering and leaving Centre Court, the main ground at the championships, it was customary for players to bow or curtsy to royal members sitting in the Royal Box. That tradition was discontinued in 2003 and is only followed today if the Queen herself or the Prince of Wales are present.

More noticeable is Wimbledon’s strict white dress code, which at other majors has long been cast aside in favor of fashionable designs, stylish colors, and corporate logos. Since tennis was originally played in upper class social gatherings, sweat marks were deemed unbecoming especially of ladies and the playing garment was kept white to hide the stains.

Along with the absence of blazoned attire, there is also no open advertising around the courts with the exception of the luxury watchmaker, Rolex. Since 1902, sporting goods maker Slazenger has quietly supplied Wimbledon with all its tennis balls, making that relationship the longest sponsorship in sports history. Offering refreshments since 1935, Robinsons fruit drinks have also quenched a thirsty tennis crowd for generations.

A favorite snack of the Victorian elite, strawberries and cream have been served at the tennis matches since Wimbledon’s debut. The harvest of berries in late spring and early summer coincides with the tournament and relishing the scrumptious munchies has become a popular accompaniment with afternoon tea. It was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1509 who paired strawberries with cream for the first time at a banquet during Henry VIII’s reign.

For nearly a century, the AELTC has issued debentures, or unsecured debt certificates, to fund facility expansions and improvements such as Centre Court in 1922 and the retractable roof in 2009. Holders of a debenture package are entitled to a single ticket for each day of the tournament for a period of 5 years, or a total of 65 tickets (13 tickets x 5 years).  Among the most coveted passes in all of sports, they offer  the same level viewing as the Royal Box and access to an exclusive lounge and restaurant.

Debenture owners have the right of first refusal with each issuance cycle, so they rarely change hands and are typically passed down in a family from generation to generation. Only 2,520 of the 15,000 seats that make up Wimbledon’s Centre Court are allocated to debenture-holders and at least one family is reported to have continuously held a debenture since their sale was initiated 100 years ago.

While the cost for a serving of strawberries & cream at Wimbledon hasn’t budged since 2010 and remains at £2.50 ($3.59), the price for a Wimbledon debenture has nearly tripled in the same timeframe. The 2011-15 package sold for £30,000, increased to £50,000 for 2016-20, and £80,000 for 2021-25.

Debenture tickets are also the only Wimbledon seats that can be officially sold in the secondary market by a broker, so they offer potential bumper profits to their holders. A debenture last year that was originally bought for £50,000 traded for £105,000 with just 2 years remaining, which calculates to an average of £4,038 per seat (£105,000/26 seats).   For a slice of Wimbledon history, the passionate tennis fan need not be a royal, just flush with cash.

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