More seats planned for Rod Laver Arena
Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena could become the world's premier tennis venue, with a capacity exceeding New York's 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Tennis Australia, which today will announce another record-breaking attendance total for Melbourne Park this January, believes the Australian Open could become the best-attended of the four grand slam events.
The enlargement of centre-court, which currently has a capacity of 15,000, is one aspect of the master plan that Australian Open organisers are working on, which was revealed in The Age yesterday.
Tennis Australia's chief executive Steve Wood said that until the working party had completed its proposal for the large-scale renovation of the larger Melbourne Park facility - due be presented to the State Government later this year - it was impossible to say just how big Rod Laver Arena could become.
But he added that it was not unrealistic that the Australian's Open's attendance figures could top those of the US Open.
"At the US Open, they handle 670,000 at their event, we're at 550 (thousand). We're going to break that record this year. Who's to say we couldn't go even further and think that maybe we could overtake them at some point?" Wood told The Sunday Age last night. "The facility (Melbourne Park) is 20 years old and we'd like to take it through to the next 20 years and we need to keep investing. From my perspective I really don't want to say too much more . . . other than we want to keep bettering a world-class event."
Wood said it was possible that the capacity of Rod Laver Arena might one day rival, and even exceed, that of the Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows.
"It's possible," Wood said. "But we just really need to make sure that we're delivering what customers want and sometimes stadiums can get too big. But we're going to analyse that as we look forward . . . I'd prefer to say that the principles of what we're talking about here is that we're on a good thing and we want to make it even better and to make things better, you have to continually invest.
"We have very significant demand for the experience we deliver for our customers, and potentially we could handle more people. In fact, the whole tournament demand is at record-setting levels and we would expect the growth to continue.
"We've got an icon of international sport in Australia that is big, it's real, it's growing and I want to be sitting here in 20 years saying we're still there, it's still going."
The expansion will be a long-term project. "Nothing's going to happen between now and next year because doing a remodelling would be a pretty big job, and you'd have to be well under way," Wood said. "If you look at Wimbledon, they're putting a translucent roof over their stadium and that's a three-year project."
The capacity of centre court at Wimbledon was increased from 13,800 to 15,000. Centre court at Roland Garros holds 15,059.
The proposed large-scale renovation of Melbourne Park would include the construction of more practice courts, extensive landscaping, increased public seating and more outdoor screens.
Tennis Australia will be working closely with governing body of the venue, Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust, as it develops its proposal. "They're very supportive of our desires for growth and continuing to drive the tournament and together with them, we're going to figure out how we can take the next step," Wood said.