Saturday was the first of my eight events (that I currently have…I’m looking for more!). It was a day at the tennis, Wimbledon, somewhere I’d never managed to get to when the Championships are on so I was really looking forward to the opportunity to take a look at the place.
First impressions – small! A lot smaller than it feels on the TV. Then how well put together it is. It’s obviously a permanent structure that has developed over the years and it knows how people move around it. It’s just been plastered with Olympic branding.
Getting there was straightforward. Train to Putney (where I found the street lined with people waiting for the men’s cycling road race to go by) then one stop on District Line to Southfields before the 15 minute walk to the venue. Getting back was just as straightforward – no problems at all with getting transport. I’d turned up just as the gates were opening, so the queues were very, very long but they moved quickly and security was easy to get through.
We were called to go along to the hill for a ‘special surprise’. Sitting down, waiting for it to start, I was surprised at how many young women appeared to be in the audience – had there been a student offer? It turned out that they weren’t the typical tennis audience…they were part of the special surprise. A ‘flash mob’ of dancers got everyone cheering before the Pet Shop Boys turned up for a few songs
After all that entertainment, it was time for the tennis. I had a seat on centre court and settled in for the day. We had the pleasure of four matches, including seeing the two reigning Wimbledon champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams, and British player Anne Keathavong. The celebrity spotting was high as Michelle Obama popped in to see Williams.
It was definitely not like normal Wimbledon; it was bright and brash. Music was playing in between matches and the people watching seemed to be a different crowd from what you saw at the regular games – more noisy, less likely to quieten and sit down for serves. There was also more of a patriotic crowd – turning up to see their national players and then seemingly going. That contributed to the lots of empty seats that were obvious, both in blocks and scattered around the grandstands.
This was the scene for the most watched match on the day, the Federer match. Plenty of court side seats available – the most expensive ones. This was a theme of the day in many, many venues. Given how short the supply was, how many wanted to go but could not get tickets, why weren’t these being filled? For the final match of the day, with a British player, it was even worse.
The unfilled seats became the national story on Saturday and because of my tweets, by comments got picked up by the BBC for a news story and then I ended up heading east to take part in an talk show on the World Service, talking about empty seats and all other things Olympic, which was great fun There were about a dozen people, BBC reporters, bloggers and other people who had been at the event discussing seating, cycling and the other events of the day.