Tiley reveals grand plan to keep Open in Melbourne

Darren Walton |

Tennis Australia are working hard to ensure the sun never sets over the Open in Melbourne.
Tennis Australia are working hard to ensure the sun never sets over the Open in Melbourne.

Craig Tiley is promising to keep splashing money into the Australian Open to ensure the Melbourne major remains the crown jewel on the nation’s annual sporting calendar.

Acutely aware of threats from Saudi Arabia and China, Tennis Australia (TA) has extended its contract with the Victorian government to ensure Melbourne Park continues hosting the officially branded ‘Grand Slam of Asia Pacific’ until at least 2046.

The Open, which now runs for 15 days in January, plus its precursor qualifying tournament, has become a behemoth billion-dollar event extending far beyond tennis.

Crowds flood into the Australian Open in 2024.
Crowds flood into Melbourne Park, with this year’s Open attracting a record 1.1 million fans. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

With live entertainment, corporate meeting rooms for international wheeling and dealing, children’s playgrounds offering zip-lining, water slides and all manner of other activities, this month’s Open attracted a grand-slam-record 1.1 million fans and generates around half-a-billion dollars into Victoria each year.

Tiley, though, knows it could all be taken away if TA doesn’t keep its eye on the ball.

“We’ll never take it for granted,” the tournament director told AAP while laying out his plan to retain the Open amid an increasing threat from the  cashed-up Saudis.

“Let me tell you why it’s always a threat: because anyone could decide tomorrow that ‘we have an event with $100 million in prize money and I’m going to put the top 32 players and everyone’s guaranteed to make $2 million’.

“That’s a threat. People can do that and there’s nothing stopping them from doing it in January.

Tournament director and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley.
The Open must keep progressing, tournament director and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley says. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

“So when the premier said the Australian (Open) was under threat, it’s not under threat to be moved as much as it’s under threat that something at the same time goes past it.

“That’s why we always have to invest in this growth, invest in infrastructure on the precinct, keep evolving and developing.

“We’ve got a very aggressive growth strategy.”

Innovations this year included starting the tournament on a Sunday for the first time in more than a century, a move that drew more than 80,000 additional spectators.

Also new was the so-called ‘Party Court 6’ with a bar added, even if it prompted some complaints from (losing) players about “intoxicated” spectators being too rowdy.

And fans were allowed more freedom of movement between games on the show courts.

The bar at Court 6 at the Australian Open.
‘Party Court 6’ at Melbourne Park was popular among punters, if less so with losing players. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“I can proudly say that we’re shifting the paradigm even for the fan experience,” said Tiley, who applauded the TA board for approving the huge spends after the governing body squared up its COVID-driven debts in extra quick time.

“The team did a really good job about getting ourselves out of debt with a very fast rebound.

“We repaid our loan to the government. We reduced costs.

“We had a freeze on head count for a year and a half where there was no increases in staff salaries, or there was minimal I should say.

“But we did some things that kept our cost-base low, and that was across the board.

“We introduced initiatives and then we made a decision this year to invest in accelerating the growth of the AO.”

The Melbourne Park precinct already extends more than 2km almost to the city’s Federation Square, but there are plans for further expansion.

“The board enabled us to then fully invest in it,” Tiley said.

“We pretty much invested all of our profit into making sure that we put on the show that we put on for the players and the fans.

“But we also made sure that we can distribute enough funds to our member associations to help grow the game with overheads and a program that helps athletes develop.”

AAP