Melbourne Park – the magnificent summer transformation

For the better part of the year, Melbourne Park is rather desolate. Rod Laver Arena becomes a central hub for concerts, but the outside tennis courts of the complex remain relatively lonely.

Of course, people are able to hire out the plexicushioned surfaces; however, in terms of gross usage of the facilities and offices, it’s barren.

Then January comes around. The tennis season has once again kicked off, and preparations begin to take place to ensure that the coming year’s Australian Open is the best ever.

The number of staff working around the clock swells to over 7,500 – that include contractors, ground staff, security and volunteers. In effect, Melbourne Park becomes a city within a city.

Work on the grounds is undertaken, as is refurbishment of the courts and seating areas. Drivers are organised, public relations managers begin to spread the word, and catering and cleaning staff are hired.

It’s amazing to think that so much work goes into finding the two best players in men’s and women’s tennis, and watching them play off for a record $2,430,000.

It’s big business.

Sponsors are everywhere; they pay huge amounts of money to have their product featured in some way. They donate marquees, buy out rights to sell their product exclusively at the Open, and in Kia’s case, have drivers that transport players, officials and the media in 100 cars.

Interestingly, the drivers are happy to rave about how good the Kia cars are. By no means are they obliged to, they’re employees of Tennis Australia. But it just shows how word of mouth, clever product placement and major sponsorship will have huge impact both on and off the courts.

Since 2002, when Kia first sponsored the Australian Open, they sold 12,000 cars. In 2011, they more than doubled that to 25,000. So by being a part of the Open, Kia grow, and by having Kia on board, the Open can run.

This mini-economy and mini-city is only around for a month out of every year, but the figures are astounding.

Over the two weeks of competition last year, over 50,000 Wilson balls were used; after the competition they were all sold on to local tennis clubs and willing fans. 30,000 towels were laundered. An average of 22,000 ice-creams were sold daily – nearly double the capacity of seats in Rod Laver Arena.

295 journalists came from 41 different countries to cover the action; Asia represented 21% of international accredited media, a rise of 11% on the year before.

Billions of people in more than 200 countries received television coverage of the Open, and from that stemmed an incredible 764,197 downloads of the official Open app – nearly 100,000 more downloads than people through the gates.

The effect of such a short tournament is nearly unprecedented. From humble workings with a skeleton staff in winter, to the biggest event on the world’s sporting calendar in summer, the vibrant mini-city that is Melbourne Park truly comes alive.

Find Matt Walsh on Twitter, he has media accreditation to the Open, so you know he is legit. @MattWalshMedia

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