Return serve: Fancy food and drink to fuel Australian Open revival

The Australian Open is trying to compensate for big losses it incurred last year with lucrative sponsorship deals and expanded food and drink offerings.

The tournament has signed hotel chain Marriott, re-signed luxury champagne house Piper Heidsieck and rolled over existing deals with wine giant Penfolds, watchmaker Rolex and clothing brand Ralph Lauren.

It will also offer new off-court experiences at Melbourne Park for attendees, including a new “Beach House” precinct with beach tennis, VIP champagne cabanas and a vodka bar.

The Australian Open’s expansion comes after Tennis Australia recorded a net loss of more than $100 million for the year. Restricted crowds and a snap lockdown that kept fans out of Melbourne Park for five days of last year’s Open contributed to those losses as did the expense of quarantining players and staff from around the world in hotels for two weeks.

Tennis Australia is hoping to balance the books by serving food from top chefs, including Dave Pynt from Burnt Ends in Singapore who is contributing to Rockpool Bar & Grill’s menu, Shane Delia from Maha, in its super boxes, and with Ben Shewry, of Attica, helming the Atrium Eatery and Bar.

Penfolds will put on a four-course fine-dining experience in its restaurant, where it will pour its premium Grange wines.

An artist’s impression of the Piper-Heidsieck champagne bar at the Australian Open which will include floral installations by celebrity florist Katie Marx.

Greta Cooper, director of product and premium experiences at Tennis Australia, said there had been “incredible demand” for restaurant packages, and she expected them to be almost sold out before the tournament started.

“[It’s driven by] the confidence of coming out of COVID. [Our] corporate and our premium experience guests haven’t had an opportunity to go to a major event,” she said. “The total precinct is open this year, and they’ve got the confidence to come back and really enjoy the Australian Open.”

The Australian Open has re-signed champagne house Piper-Heidsieck as a sponsor.

Alongside luxury experiences, Ms Cooper said the tournament would cater to a broad audience, including children and families. Tickets to the kids ball park will cost $5, giving youngsters the chance to try tennis or play in an adventure zone that includes rides, arts and crafts activities, and entertainment with cartoon favourite Bluey on stage.

Australian Open officials hope the tournament will be able to operate at full capacity. However, Victorian government officials have warned they may bring in density caps on events to avert a worst-case Omicron wave in January of 200,000 cases a day.

Ben Slack, chief revenue and experiential officer at Tennis Australia said last year the tournament took a revenue hit, but strong sponsorship support meant a “solid uplift” looked likely in 2022.

“With border closures and snap lockdowns hopefully now a thing of the past, and with excellent numbers in our pre-sales, we expect ticketing revenue to also bounce back in 2022,” he said.

If the tournament can operate at full capacity, champagne house Piper Heidsieck expects to sell 50,000 glasses of champagne, a big increase from the 12,000 it sold last year.

Piper Heidsieck general manager Benoit Collard said tennis was seen as a premium sport for luxury brands to align themselves with.

“It’s always had this thrill around it, and it’s a sport that really resonates with the image one wants to have with a luxury brand,” he said.

Mr Collard said champagne buying limits imposed by major chains in Australia before Christmas showed growing demand for luxury products and experiences after COVID lockdowns.

“Looking at the thirst for Piper one can witness all over the stores and restaurants at present I don’t see why it would stop right before the Open,” he said.

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