Singer Natalie Bassingthwaite (second from left) sitting on court for the match between Serena Williams and Lucie Safarova on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen The Emirates hospitality suite at the n Open. Photo: Eddie Jim
Director of new experiences … Tennis ‘s Richard Heaselgrave in the new courtside seats on Rod Laver Arena. Photo: Mathew Lynn
Former AFL coach Mick Malthouse watches from the Presidents’ Reserve section on Rod Laver Arena. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
If your tennis fantasy combines smelling Andy Murray’s sweat and freshening up between sets in the same bathroom used by Madonna on her last world tour, well, here’s some good news.
For the first time at the n Open, well-heeled visitors can have a private dining experience in Madge’s dressing room, watch the players come down the race to Rod Laver Arena and then watch the match courtside in the most prestigious tennis seats in , if not the world.
But all this luxury comes at a price.
While organisers would not release the prices of the courtside seats, Fairfax Media has learned $22,500 will buy you the newest platinum experience for the men’s final; the women’s final costs $15,000.
The cost includes food, drinks and a private security guard to escort guests to and from their seats. And yes, there are still some seats available.
Tennis ‘s commercial director, Richard Heaselgrave, said it wasn’t enough to offer the Open’s top guests “curly sandwiches and tea”.
“Every year we stretch ourselves to find new lounges and experiences. People don’t want to come and just have dinner at a table of 10 [with a] white tablecloth and watch some tennis. They want to have things they go home and tell their friends about,” he said.
Mr Heaselgrave said the customers for the courtside seats included corporates, wealthy individuals and the lucrative Chinese market, which he’s hoping to treble to about 35,000 within two years.
With the top tickets in the stands to the men’s final selling for about $600, the courtside seats take the experience to a stratospheric level, starting with the concierge-style booking service.
“It’s a more one-to-one sale of a seat, it’s not like going on [to an online booking agency],” Mr Heaselgrave said.
He said the n Open had taken inspiration from American sport, the theatre and the cinema when it came to creating platinum experiences.
“Those other [industries] don’t have Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal so they have tried harder on the experience front. That’s the double whammy [we can offer],” he said.
The Open is also an important lure for celebrities, with the likes of Shane Warne and Natalie Bassingthwaighte already spotted in the courtside seats.
Elsewhere, celebrities and VIPs are entertained in the invitation-only President’s Reserve, as well as sponsors’ “super boxes” and hospitality suites.
At Emirates, there’s free-flowing French Champagne from morning until evening and a buffet of seafood, salads and sweets, while Lavazza uses its box to showcase coffee-infused recipes by a range of famous-name n chefs.
Dean Cleaver, regional manager of Victoria and Tasmania, said the suite was a “haven” for guests away from the on-court action.
“It’s not a hard sell, we’re trying to influence them if they’re not already flying Emirates and rewarding them if they do.”
Nigel Meakins, general manager of Lavazza , said the box gives a “social face to the business and not just business across the desk”.
“We can have a personality around our brand and … not just a transactional conversation.”
Celebrities hosted by Lavazza at the n Open have included Olympic basketballer Liz Cambage and actress Olympia Valance.