At Wimbledon, Royals and Debentures
A century of very British tennis
Want to feel like a royal? Buy a Wimbledon debenture.
In the world of finance, debentures are medium and long-term bonds that pay a fixed rate of return. At Wimbledon, they are 5-year guarantees for the best tennis seats money can buy.
Among the most coveted passes in all of sports, these certificates offer the same level viewing as the Royal Box, plus access to an exclusive lounge and restaurant.
A century-old funding program, Wimbledon debentures financed the construction of Centre Court in 1922 and the addition of the retractable roof in 2009.
Similar to their corporate cousins, these debt instruments are distributed by authorized brokers and can be traded to realize gains above face value.
For the 2021-25 Centre Court Debenture Series, the price per issue was £80,000 ($104,800 in current exchange rate), up from £50,000 in the 2016-20 period.
Each issue provides a single holder with daily access to the 13-day tournament over a 5-year time frame (65 total days). Therefore, the daily value of the pass is roughly £1,231 (80,000/65).
According to Dowgate Capital, an investment services firm that holds weekly auctions for the princely views, Centre Court debentures last traded at £115,000.
Of the 4 calendar majors, Wimbledon is the only one organized by a club instead of a tennis association. Even the name screams of history and tradition: The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC).
Every year, this very British institution serves up the best in world class tennis. For the lucky, well-heeled debenture holder, the program mixes tennis and investing in grand scale.
For the one-time moneyed investor, the privilege to see and be seen in royal style only demands one requirement- a ‘smart casual’ dress code, defined as no jeans, shorts, or collarless shirts.
Only about 2,500 of the 15,000 seats that make up Wimbledon’s Centre Court are allocated to debenture investors, who also have the right of first refusal with each issuance cycle.
As such, these tennis passports are highly prized and rarely change hands. At least one family is reported to have continuously held a debenture since their sale was initiated over 100 years ago.
The oldest of the Grand Slams, Wimbledon’s elegant affair dates back to 1877 and is the only one 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 in 1978. The French Open alternated between sand and clay in its early days before settling for the latter. The Australian Open switched to hard surface in 1988.
On July 19, 1877, in front of a crowd of 200 spectators, cricketeer Spencer Gore won the inaugural Gentlemen’s Singles. 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 ever since King George V became Patron of the All England Club in 1910. His son, George VI, father of late Queen Elizabeth II, was the only royal to actually ever compete at Wimbledon.
Just weeks after Elizabeth was born (1926), her father, then the Duke of York, entered the doubles tournament with his partner, Sir Louis Greig.
The aristocrat duo lost miserably in straight sets (6-1, 6-3, 6-2), crushing the initial euphoria that a Windsor could have a shot at the tennis title.
Princess Marina, King George VI’s sister-in-law, carried the AELTC patronage during most of the war years, though Championship play was suspended until 1946.
It was during this period that Wimbledon was also bombed from the air by the Germans who were targeting factories in the area. On October 11, 1940, one of the bombs landed on Centre Court, destroying 1,200 seats.
After 36 years at the helm, Princess Marina passed the baton to her son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who succeeded as president of the prestigious club in 1968. His first Trophy presentation was to Anne Jones and Rod Laver.
50 years on and 350 Trophies later, the Duke of Kent transferred that honor to Kate Middleton, the Dutchess of Cambridge and wife of Prince William.
An avid tennis fan, the Dutchess made her Trophy presentation debut in 2022, awarding the distinguished Plate and Cup to Elena Rybakina and Novak Djokovic, respectively, winners of the Ladies' and Gentlemen’s Singles titles.
First hoisted in 1887, the silver gilt Cup is engraved with every champion’s name and is still inscribed with the original words: “All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World”.
In the past, upon entering and leaving Centre Court, it was customary for players to bow, or curtsy, to royal members sitting in the Royal Box. That tradition was discontinued in 2003 except when Queen Elizabeth, or her husband Prince Phillip, were present.
More noticeable among players today is Wimbledon’s traditional white dress code, which has long been cast aside at other majors in favor of stylish colors and fashionable designs.
Since tennis was originally a recreational pursuit among the upper echelons of society, 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, Wimbledon has also avoided over-commercializing its grounds with corporate logos, preferring to retain its unique image and character.
Since 1902, sporting goods maker Slazenger has quietly supplied Wimbledon with all its tennis balls, making that relationship the longest sponsorship in sports history.
Beginning in 1935, Robinsons fruit drinks have also quenched a thirsty tennis crowd at the matches. That 86-year partnership ended in 2022.
And then of course there is the ever-popular strawberries & cream, a favorite snack of the Victorian elite and a Wimbledon treat since the Championship matches were first played.
It was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1509 who paired strawberries with cream for the first time at a banquet during Henry VIII’s reign.
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.
While Wimbledon debentures have nearly tripled in face value since 2010, the cost for a serving of strawberries & cream on the grounds has hardly changed, remaining at a steady £2.50.
And that’s a slice of Wimbledon that everyone can afford.
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