Every fall, when the Australian Open rolls out its improvements and launches the next year’s edition of the tournament, it always feels like it’s too soon.
The previous season is still in full swing; the fall Asian tour is ongoing and the year-end championships on both Tour are still to come.
But it’s springtime in Melbourne, and they’re ready to give tennis fans a taste of the hot Aussie summer.
This year’s launch on Tuesday was no different.
Tournament director Craig Tiley announced that once again, the tournament would significantly increase the prize money.
This seems to be an annual contest with only four contestants, as the Grand Slams attempt to try to out-do each other every year to be the richest.
It’s not as though the players won’t come; it’s a Grand Slam. But the players at the top of the rankings don’t seem to be complaining.
$4 million to the winner
Tiley announced that the men’s and women’s singles champions will get $4 million . That’s a nice round number in Australian dollars. Converted to US dollars at today’s exchange rate, it works out to $3,113,660 US.
The total prize-money package will rise 10 per cent, to $55 million AUS.
But that’s not the only improvement.
2018 is the 30th anniversary of the tournament’s big move from quaint Kooyong Stadium just a few tram stops away to Melbourne Park, where the tournament was able to get bigger, better and put the notion of being “the fourth and lesser Slam” to bed for good.
The tournament also will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Open tennis. And Billie Jean King, who won the singles title in 1968, will present the women’s singles championship trophy.
Hisense Arena will host new Nobu and Rockpool restaurants (by reservation only). In the Grand Slam oval there will also be a burger bar, a “southern soul food” place and … a doughnut shop.
There’s a lot more. Here are a few of the additions and improvements.
The tournament will produce every match on all 16 match courts, cover all the practice courts and add what it calls “unprecedented behind-the-scenes access” for its broadcast partners. That will include all the junior, legends and wheelchair matches as well.
The Australian Open also is way ahead of the other Slams in its broadcasting of the qualifying; it will have up to 12 courts available this year.
Really, they almost make it so people have little incentive to come and brave the heat, because they can get most of it comfortably sitting at home.
It’s a risky play. But people still do come, in droves.
Social, digital, international fans
The website has been redesigned. And there will be something called the “AO Chatbot” to “provide more fan interaction” on Facebook.
The tournament is well aware of the source of its viewership; Tiley said the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 39 per cent of the tournament’s global audience share.
The launch of a Japanese-language ticketing site in Japan paid dividends on the attendance side, with the tournament saying Japanese figures doubled in 2017. Part of that, of course, can be attributed to the popularity of Kei Nishikori.
The tournament is planning the same thing in China this year. The television ratings for last year’s tournament were up more than 84 percent over 2015 in that country, the tournament says.
If the Chinese want to see it in person, they will be able to book the tickets with one of China’s leading travel and tourism providers.
Rod Laver upgrades
Melbourne Park is in the second of three development phases. And while the changes aren’t as big or obvious as they will be in the third and were in the first (with the new Margaret Court Arena), there are improvements everywhere.
They’re upgrading the bathroom facilities, improving disability access and giving the outside of Rod Laver Arena a bit of a facelift. By next year, the main stadium will have brand-new seating and a new entry on the eastern side.
For the players
The tournament has upgraded the player facilities, which will include new and more convenient transport access, bigger relaxation areas, a new full-service beauty bar and barbershop, and a bigger area for them to park their kids.
They’re also “expanding (the) player gifting suite and shopping experience” and adding a multilingual concierge to help with tee times, theater tickets and restaurant bookings.There also will be an onsite travel agent and tax advisor.
One great innovation is a new player app with which the players can book transportation and practice courts, as well as find hitting partners.