Worsley at Aussie Open 2020: How popular is too popular?

OPINION: How much is too much? And how much just makes things uncomfortable?

No doubt, the Australian Open is popular with fans from all around the world, with 796,435 passing through the gate in 2019, including a heap of Kiwis.

But this year, the sheer number of spectators in the first week, despite antisocial weather, has been phenomenal.

The only problem is that you can't get near a court. Even Court Three (seating capacity 2800) had long lines on a day when it hosted only second-round doubles and the odd mixed doubles first round.

This continues at other outer courts, where it's near impossible to see a point.

Sometimes, tennis seems more of an afterthought to the rest of the 'entertainment' on offer.

So, what's the problem with this, you may ask?

Well, there will be frustration among those who actually want to watch the sport of tennis, rather than just be seen - or get boozed and be seen. The real fans will struggle to get through the throng and get charged more each year for entry.

The first few days, a ground pass cost A$54 and then up to $64 from Friday, with kids at a good discount.

Having Billy Idol and Fat Boy Slim performing a couple of nights this year is great, but so is watching Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Nick Kyrgios etc.

Or is it?

Any event organisers must make money from add-ons, ground passes and fan engagement to continue to upgrade the facilities, but when do the crowds simply hamper the enjoyment factor and become a negative tipping point.

Players have quietly expressed disbelief about the crowds and how even getting escorted to courts takes longer. Fans have also noticed how crowded and busy the tournament has become, but that happens when 93,000-plus people arrive for the day and night sessions.

Not everyone can fit into Rod Laver Arena
Not everyone can fit into Rod Laver Arena. Photo credit: AAP

The Open has transformed from a purely sporting event to an entertainment precinct, where the names of tennis legends like Rod Laver, Pat Rafter, Jim Courier and Margaret Court, and even current stars like Serena, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are somewhat unknown among those attending.

But sampling an overpriced Aperol or the latest sponsored pasta creation are high among their priorities.

No doubt organisers have taken notes… or perhaps just so many folding notes that they don’t really care about the tennis and would rather hang out at the secret Founders Club that caters for billionaires - including an environment-friendly (extreme sarcasm here) mining magnate, who is the richest woman in Australia - and charges about $70k for a three-year membership.

Business deals are done and the concierge orders helicopters to fly members to their private jets. Even the A$4m prizemoney for the singles winners must seem like small-fry to these folks.

The popularity of the tournament, particularly the ground passes and corporate areas, works, but over the past three years, everything is sponsored and everything has its price - usually high.

The bigger the crowd, the bigger the dollar return and the tennis stars now seem like the sideshow to the 'entertainment'.

Dave Worsley is a Newshub sports reporter, covering his 22nd Australian Open.

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