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WTA Finals raise the bar for Chinese sports hospitality experience

The inaugural edition of the Women’s Tennis Association’s WTA Finals will draw to a close in Shenzhen this weekend having set a first for the hospitality experience at a Chinese sports event.

In January 2018, Shenzhen signed a 10-year hosting deal with the WTA for the rights to stage the Finals from 2019 until 2028. Shenzhen took over hosting rights from Singapore, whose five-year agreement with the WTA expired after the 2018 edition of its showpiece end-of-season tournament.

Shenzhen saw off competition from Manchester, England; Prague, Czech Republic and St Petersburg, Russia to land the event, with the 2019 Finals having commenced on October 27. Shenzhen’s winning bid was submitted by Chinese real estate developer Gemdale Corporation, with the tournament looked upon as an anchor point for the city’s event calendar.

The WTA Finals are being held at Shenzhen Bay Sports Center for the first two years before they will move to a new home in Futian district, in the heart of the city. This project encompasses the development of a 16,000-seat multi-function arena, along with the redevelopment of a 40,000-seat football stadium.

However, at Shenzhen Bay Sports Center most of the support facilities for the tournament are temporary builds solely for the event, including the hospitality area, practice courts, media centre, and the players’ physio and fitness centre.

It is on the hospitality side that Swiss company DAIMANI, exclusive sales agent for the WTA Finals VIP hospitality programme, has sought to innovate. Shenzhen Bay Sports Center has a ticketing capacity of around 6,500 across Premium, Inner Ring, Lower Grandstand and Upper Grandstand categories, with the hospitality area being able to hold 650 people.

Owing to the lack of suites around the court, two sections of courtside VIP boxes have been built for the Finals. The hospitality area itself includes a centre stage for evening performances of traditional Chinese music and a string quartet.

Commenting on how the WTA Finals have sought to raise the bar for the hospitality experience at a Chinese sports event, Max Müller, CEO of DAIMANI, told TheStadiumBusiness.com: “Too often a VIP ticket to a Chinese sport event was not a ‘must-have’ moment but a ‘brace, brace!’ moment. If they came, invitees would go straight to their seat, suite-holders would often not even use the F&B option and take the ‘dry’ ticket instead.

“Against that background, this feels like a real game-changer. There’s a wow factor we’re seeing from client feedback and measured clearly across social media and online word of mouth. One hundred per cent of the credit must go to the leadership of the WTA and Gemdale, the event promoters, Gemdale Group chairman Kevin Ling and Gemdale Sports CEO Eddy Liu, and WTA’s Asia-Pacific head Fabrice Chouquet.

“Their goal was to achieve something extraordinary in this first year and to do that they needed to reach beyond the status quo to select Perfect Match and Kofler Kompanie to provide the hospitality solution.

“It was that combined clarity of vision that made it possible to lift the tide, not just in terms of VIP hospitality, but to ensure that all the boats rose, right across the staging of the whole tournament.”

Images: Greg Turner