The super-rich will begin battling it out next week for some of the most expensive and exclusive sports tickets in the world: five-year passes for every match on Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
The 2021-25 Centre Court debentures are expected to cost £100,000 each, and demand will far exceed the supply of 2,520 tickets that will go on sale at 10am on Thursday.
“They are the most sought-after tickets in the world,” said Claire-Estelle Bertrand, the marketing manager for Wimbledon Debenture Holders, a resale service. “Not only do they give you the best seats to see the world’s best tennis, but they grant you access into a rarefied world to meet other global influencers.”
Holders have made tens of thousands of pounds a year selling tickets for some days of the championships, or almost trebled their money by reselling the whole debenture. This makes the debentures one of the best investments in the world, far outstripping the performance of stock markets, gold or fine wines.
The debentures – which were first sold in 1920 for a combined total of £100,000 (about £4.5m in today’s money) to help fund the construction of Centre Court – occupy all the seats on either side of the royal box on level two. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club said: “At least one family has held debentures since inception.”
This year’s sale is expected to land the AELTC a windfall of as much as £250m. The 142-year-old club has earmarked the cash to fund big projects including its £65m purchase of a neighbouring golf club to further expand its corporate hospitality facilities.
Tennis fans who struggle each year to secure tickets in the public ballot or wait in the famous queue may be surprised to discover that the debentures account for almost a fifth (16.7%) of Centre Court’s 15,000 seats. The AELTC reserves a further 1,340 seats for corporate hospitality. Invited guests, including the media, schools and overseas tennis associations, occupy 21% of the seats, leaving just 53.5% for the public.
Debenture holders are welcomed through an exclusive entrance are shown to the private champions’ room with direct views of the outside courts. If they fancy a spot of lunch, they have exclusive access to the Courtside restaurant, which serves a menu created by the celebrity chefs Albert Roux and Bryn Williams.
The AELTC refused to speculate about how much it expected to make from the sale and said it would not reveal the price of the debentures until Thursday. However, two well-informed sources told the Guardian the seats were expected to be listed for in excess of £100,000 each, which works out at a total of £252m.
Applications for debenture tickets can be made online at wimbledon.com until 10 May. The AELTC said it had “received an encouragingly robust level of interest in pre-registration”.
One source said club executives were annoyed that the previous wave of debentures, covering 2015-19, were significantly undervalued when they were sold for £50,000 each in 2014. That sale generated £105m after tax for the club. In 2016 the club sold 1,000 five-year No 1 court debentures for £31,000 each, which were valid only for the first 10 days of the tournament.
Unlike most popular sports and concert tickets, there are no restrictions on the resale of debentures, which are treated as financial instruments and traded on a stock market.
Tim Webb, a stockbroker at Numis who oversees Wimbledon debenture trading, said demand was intense and, in one example, a debenture had tripled its value between being bought in 2014 and sold a year later.
“The record price was £145,500 in December 2015 – that’s even after one of the five Wimbledons had already passed,” he said. “The last debenture traded before the 2018 tournament was £105,000.”
Debenture owners, who can be identified in the grounds by purple lanyards around their necks, are also free to resell some or all of their tickets for each day’s play. These are often bought by corporate hospitality companies. Keith Prowse, the AELTC’s official corporate hospitality partner, is offering tickets for this year’s men’s final for £4,986 each.
Alan Higgins, the chief investment officer at Coutts, the 325-year-old bank famous for serving only millionaires, said a lot of the bank’s customers owned Wimbledon debentures. “Typically they are handed down in families from generation to generation, making it very hard for new people to buy them as existing holders get the first right to buy,” he said. “For most people it is very much a passion investment: they watch a few games, give some tickets to charity and sell some.”
Higgins said that as well as allowing holders to watching some of the world’s best tennis, debentures had also delivered fantastic financial returns. He said most debenture holders bought them because they were big tennis fans, but some people “use it as a business and sell nearly all the tickets”.
“But I’ve yet to come across someone that uses them as a pure investment: nearly everyone is a passion investor,” he said. “And just because something has been a good investment in the past doesn’t mean that it will be in the future. Enjoyment should come first, and if you do make any money that should be the bonus.”