At his first Wimbledon championship last year, Richard Atkinson barely
watched any tennis at all.
Instead, the finance director was, in his own words, ‘everywhere’ spending every
waking hour, ‘doing all the stuff you wouldn’t do’.
That meant walking around the car parks checking they were all functioning
well and even waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the delivery of the
delicate strawberries and cream at 6am.
Even the organisation of transport for the players fascinated Atkinson.
‘There are obviously a lot of players staying here and they need to get to
the club. We’ve got a network of courtesy cars, on a computerised system, that’s
something like a giant mini-cab operation, that we run for about just over 300
players and their entourages.
‘I also spent time watching how the television operation worked. The one
thing I didn’t do is watch much tennis,’ he says.
With just a few days to go before the finals, Atkinson is probably starting
to come down from the buzz of the first month of preparation and the first week
of the tournament, which kicked off 10 days ago. ‘The last couple of days are
the quietest. There are a couple of junior finals going on. But it’s actually
quite surreal because all the grounds which are usually loaded with people are
deserted,’ he says.
Atkinson left a CFO position in the $6bn (£3bn) media empire of Time Warner
Inc based in New York to step into the role of FD at the All England Lawn Tennis
He’s got no qualms about the fact that, apart from the glamour and prestige
attached to the grand slam, his role has as much to do with year-round event
Hive of activity
‘A few of us [recent senior executives] came here wondering if there was
going to be enough to keep us busy. I think that was the universal fear we all
had. Actually, there’s more than enough to keep us busy.
‘The place is big, it is a sizable enterprise,’ he says.
Atkinson also marvels at how the institution that is Wimbledon has changed
over the years while maintaining its international status as one of the top ten
annual events on the global sporting calendar.
‘The first professional women’s champion at Wimbledon was Billie Jean King
who in 1968 received the princely sum of £750. Whoever wins this year will walk
away with £750,000.
‘My predecessor was of the generation that took Wimbledon from being almost
like a cottage industry into one of the unquestioned crown jewels of the world
sports industry,’ says Atkinson.
When he arrived a year ago, Atkinson realised that the championships posed
several hands-on opportunities.
‘This place has a reputation for being buffoons in blazers but I tell you
what, there aren’t any buffoons about. Plenty of blazers, it might be blazer
capital of the world, but no buffoons,’ he laughs.
He’s now very familiar with the intricate event that the championships are,
and the unique planning that goes in for an entire year to stage a two-week
competition beamed to the rest of the world.
‘It’s a complicated logistical exercise plus you’ve got this gigantic
never-ending construction going on. So it’s plenty big enough to get your teeth
into,’ says Atkinson.
The construction he refers to is set to run into hundreds of millions of
pounds over 15 to 20 years, which began with a refurbishment in the 1990s of
Court Number One, the new players’ areas, changing rooms, a broadcast centre and
a retractable roof set to be in place for next year’s tournament.
All of which Atkinson manages and runs with the rest of his senior team.
‘I was used to having armies of over-educated MBAs working for me. I’d click
my fingers and four of these kids would arrive and produce unbelievably high
‘Here, there’s only a handful of us really. So I recruited my two immediate
financial lieutenants, a financial controller and our finance manager in the
last year, and it’s just the three of us.
‘Anything that is to do with accounting, the three of us do. Plus, there’s
quite a lot of responsibility that I’ve got that runs beyond the finance job, so
that I’m responsible for our debenture holders operation.
‘And this is not just the financial aspects of that, but literally the care
of dealing and communicating with these people,’ he says.
The current financial climate, though, may leave questions about the
willingness of people to spend money on an event as expensive as Wimbledon.
But Atkinson, while fully aware of the economic climate, thinks he has a
right to be realistically optimistic.
The Lawn Tennis Association has collected a ‘surplus’ profit after costs of
between £25m and £30m for the last few years, most of which is pumped directly
into the sport and its development.
‘We’ll be touched by the credit crunch. It could affect our television
contracts, a sizable chunk of our revenue,’ he says.
But Wimbledon’s main revenue remains that of its exclusive tickets.
‘I don’t think people will be reluctant to buy tickets. At the end of the
day, it’s expensive, but it’s a great day out.
‘I think the one way it might affect us is in corporate hospitality. But
we’re quite fortunate Wimbledon still has its reputation of being one of the
premier hospitality events. We’ve also benefited enormously in that it’s a sport
hospitality event that women love.
‘Tennis uniquely really is a 50/50 male and female sport. There are more
women at football and rugby than there were 20 years ago, but it is still a
male-dominated sport in a testosterone-fuelled environment. Here it’s cocktail
dresses and linen suits and Pimms.’
There’s no doubt Atkinson loves his role and, as the self-professed ‘sports
nut’ that he is his father also played cricket for Lancashire and Somerset and
he plays tennis and cricket he finds it a lot easier to be passionate and
involved in the business of the game.
Passion for work
‘If you’re passionate about the product and you’re an accountant, it is
easier to get into a place,’ he says. At Time he was just as thrilled with his
job on account of his love of politics.
‘I could talk to a journalist about issues like the fall of the Berlin wall,
the year after Communism… If you can actually have a sensible conversation with
someone about that sort of stuff and if it just interests you, then inevitably
you’re going to be more successful. You’re more accepted, more integrated into
the operations of the company as opposed to being just the bean counter.
‘And it shouldn’t matter but it does, and it’s the same here. You know, I
don’t know how you can do the job that I do unless you’re a sports fan,’ he
The finesse and propriety attached to the large English-garden feel of
Wimbledon is far cry from his days at the Time media empire.
But Atkinson does not hanker after the lucrative ‘big-shot’ job he once had.
‘One of the reasons I came back and didn’t want to go into a giant
corporation again is because I miss that day-to-day contact with the product, if
‘It’s great having one of these big-shot jobs but its no longer you that’s
coming up with the ideas for the shows or trying to take the ideas and execute
them,’ he says.
With Wimbledon fortnight nearly over, it’s time to wind down and plan for the
‘If you weren’t a sports fan, being at Wimbledon in January, when its
raining, its freezing cold, and you’re working at the construction site, would
not seem much fun. It looks very glamorous now and all the flowers are out and
the sun is shining and all the tents are coming in.
‘But it’s a pretty forlorn looking place here in January… still, it is
something that money can’t buy.’
Wimbledon – some vital statistics
Since 1920, Centre Court Wimbledon Debentures have been sold every five
years. It is from this source that The All England Lawn Tennis Ground plc (1),
jointly and equally owned by The All England Lawn Tennis Club and The Lawn
Tennis Association, derives its funds to meet capital expenditure. Since 1999,
debentures to No. 1 Court have also been offered.
The three issues of 2,100 Debentures for 1986-1990 and 1991-1995 and
1996-2000 realised approximately £11 million, £35 million and £35 million,
respectively. Arising from the extension of the West side of the Centre Court,
an additional 200 debentures, making a total of 2,300, were offered for
2001-2005. Current issue covering 2006-2010 and the previous series realised £46
The total attendance figure for the 13 days of the Championships in 2007 was
444,810. A record for the day, 30,173, set on the second Saturday, 7 July that
Owing to the inclement weather, sales of hot drinks (tea/coffee) rose by
90,000 to 390,000 cups last year.
There were clearly a lot of thirsty people too, as 127,500 pints of Pimms
were sold and people’s appetites were sated with the sale of 25,500 fish and
In 2007, Wimbledon hosted 3,036 accredited media personnel (720 press, 2,100
broadcast personnel, 216 photographers and photographic support staff). That
year, the Championships were covered by 46 different broadcasters.
The top five best selling items in the Wimbledon Shop in 2007 were: 15,000
mini tennis ball key rings, 11,000 Men’s Championship Towels, 10,000 umbrellas,
8,500 Ladies’ Championship Towels, and 8,000 twin wrist bands.
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