June 28, 2010 11:31 pm

Business diary: Ian Ritchie, Wimbledon

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Ian Ritchie

The 56-year-old former head of Channel Five was appointed chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 2005. The not-for-profit organisation stages Wimbledon, which attracts an attendance of about 450,000 people and is followed by hundreds of millions around the world.

We’ve had an eventful first week – using the Centre Court roof on day one, welcoming the Queen and then a record-breaking match on Court 18. Week two is really the business end of the tournament.

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So far, it has been smooth. But at the risk of sounding like a football manager, I have to take each day as it comes. Last year some of the players came down with swine flu, and three years ago the attempted terrorist attack on Glasgow airport put us on high-security alert.

The marathon match that saw John Isner eventually defeat Nicolas Mahut at the end of last week attracted a lot of attention. The last set (which ended 70-68) was longer than any match. I felt sorry that they had only a night to recover but we had to keep to the timetable.

It makes life easier when the sun shines. It’s impossible to predict the weather, but it looks good for the next few days. As long as we get through the first week without rain and get most of the matches out of the way, then it’s a relief. Towards the end of the second week, when play is focused on the Centre Court, at least we know we can pull out the roof if it starts to pour.

Tennis players are pretty delightful. Before the Queen arrived they were practising their bows and curtseys. Such high-profile visitors help create a buzz around the tournament. Last year, we had Russell Crowe, Ben Stiller and Pierce Brosnan who met Roger Federer – I don’t know who was more excited over the introduction.Wimbledon is a serious professional event but it is also meant to be entertaining, so the presence of celebrities adds to the spectacle.

My job is to worry about anything and everything – “unfocused fretting” is what we call it here. We are responsible for looking after the players and their families for two weeks. We have a crèche for the players’ children, for example. When Mirka Federer was here last year, she was heavily pregnant with twins so we had to make sure there were doctors on hand. We can be called upon for anything from theatre tickets to hairdressers.

Security is my chief worry. I meet senior police officers at the start and end of every day. We have very long queues every day. This year we have been advising the public not to join the queue if it’s already so long that it’s unlikely they will get in. Tickets account for less than 15 per cent of our turnover and most are sold by February.Dealing with the media is another big job. Broadcast television is our biggest source of income. As well as doing interviews on radio and television, I have to oversee 2,000 broadcast media – the event is televised in 185 countries – and 1,000 print journalists.

I also discuss strategy with commercial sponsors such as Rolex, HSBC and IBM. Our sponsors also host corporate hospitality events. We tend to be pretty solid in this area – it is one of the few sporting events that appeals to men and women so I think it’s the last hospitality event to be cut in a recession.

Over the two weeks I eat voluminous amounts of strawberries. Whatever we do, the press will always say they’re a rip-off. In fact, at £2.50 a punnet with cream, I think we are making a loss.

When I first got this job five years ago, my friends thought I’d have two weeks planning and two weeks running the tournament. They used to jokingly ask what I would do for the rest of the year. While the build-up and the matches are the busiest time, there are plenty of things to do the rest of the year – preparing for the event and commercial activities. But my primary job is to create the environment for the star turns, the players, so they deliver for the spectators.

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