Wimbledon wisdom: Every good deal has to have something in it for everybody

This morning finds me in London on my way to Wimbledon for Gentleman's Singles semi-finals day.

The 60-minute cab ride winds its way through the tiny streets of inner London to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which established the great tradition of "Wimbledon" in 1877.

I have been lucky enough to have been going since the early 1970s to look after business interests that come together there.

"Has anything changed?" asks Charlie.

Yes and no. The club has been and still is the epicentre of moneyed England, with an exclusive total membership of 375.

"Cripes," says Louise, "the annual fee must be a bomb just to cover the cost of keeping the grass down."

Even so, it has a waiting list many years long. It's harder to get into than North Korea.

But Wimbledon is an accident of placement in old London. Just imagine if colonial Sydneysiders had started playing cricket at The Rocks. We'd all have to troop through those narrow streets to see a Test.

But change has occurred, and much of it due to the late Mark McCormack and the foresight of the club.

Mark McCormack turned tennis into a global economic powerhouse by setting up television rights. Photo: Joanna Bailey

Mark McCormack turned tennis into a global economic powerhouse by setting up television rights. Photo: Joanna Bailey

I was lucky enough to meet this American lawyer years ago, not long after he started International Management Group – the sports management company known widely as IMG.

Mark was a wonderfully polite American whose first client was Arnold Palmer, quickly followed by Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.

He was a smooth and skilled operator who was known for never forgetting a name, including mine as it turned out, even though I was just a young media executive climbing a very long ladder.

He was good friends with Kerry Packer, who was also great friends with Player but particularly Nicklaus.

That was a formidable network of mates who, together and individually, transformed a number of sports from exclusive recreation pursuits for gentlemen into inclusive entertainment for millions.

Importantly, they also protected much of the essential tradition that makes the games so attractive to the public.

Mark turned tennis into a global economic powerhouse by setting up television rights.

Today, the latest generation of these rights, which now include digital distribution, is the cash cow for all international sports. An AT Kearney study in 2011 estimated the value of these contracts at around $500 billion. It is now much higher.

But even Mark's great achievements started small. My first memories of Mark are of him convincing the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to put a sponsors' tent on the croquet lawn. It nearly sparked a members' revolt, until he called it a marquee.

That was in the early 1970s. We know now that a sporting event without a marquee or entertainment facility for the corporate folks wouldn't be worth going to.

I know this story because Mark asked Packer to be the first sponsor and I enjoyed being a guest on several occasions at the revolutionary croquet lawn marquee.

Kerry had his then chief executive, Bruce Gyngell, host the event and Bruce was in his element. The marquee was filled with sporting and showbiz notables.

"And oh, how the money rolls in, rolls in," sings Charlie, channelling a Cockney Pearly King.

Today will be no different.

Wimbledon is the largest annual sporting catering operation in Europe. Spectators work their way through 328 tonnes of English strawberries plus 5 tonnes of bananas. (Whatever happened to fish and chips?) All washed down with 320,000 glasses of Pimms, which is 90,000 more than the 230,000 bottles of water.

The key to my visit today is the great advice that was given to me at Wimbledon by Mark in that marquee.

He said to me, "all things being equal, people will do business with a friend – all things being unequal, people will still do business with a friend".

He also said, "you don't have to reinvent the wheel – just attach it to a new wagon."

I had these words in mind three years later when I set up my own business and they have served me well to this day. And in my experience, his advice, if followed, will create successful relationships between any business, client or even country.

Mark, who passed away in 2003, has left an enormous legacy for millions to enjoy.

He was the first person to create merchandise items, which are eagerly sought by fans and generate revenues banked by clubs and players. This year, the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club will sell about 30,000 towels and around 6000 autographed yellow balls.

It's all a great example of what Mark always said of every good deal: "There's got to be something in it for everybody."

Right now, there's a little too much of, "what's in it for me?"

Gippsland Senior
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