Sunday, September 9, 2012

I wish to register a complaint!

Most people my age will remember the classic 'Dead Parrot' sketch from the first Monty Python series in I think 1969.  It starts off with the immortal words from John Cleese to Michael Palin in full pet shop owner mode: "I wish to register a complaint".

 "Now I know a dead parrot when I see one and this one is dead." "No its not, its resting..."
It is a favorite of mine but sometimes like John Cleese you have to pull out all the stops.

We'd been to the Toronto Rogers Cup a month or so back and the weather was spasmodically awful, rather like the US Open that's currently on.  So a couple of days were rain affected and that means getting your money back.  Not of course what the organizers want to do, they want to give credits against future tickets.  

I don't believe they have the interests of the paying public first and foremost, which is what it should be as it is us, the public, that keeps these events going, sponsors interested and the players very well paid indeed for hitting a little ball over a net to actually very little purpose other than fun.  By my back of the envelope calculations given the $215 ticket price on final's day, they are looking at 15,000 times $200 = $3 million per day in ticket sales (earlier days have more tickets sold as there are more courts in use albeit at lower prices but this is just my guess, it could be inflated though).  $3 million times 7 days = lots and lots of money in takings from punters like me.  OK sponsors pay up for the privilege of being seen and heard on top of that but absent we, the public, events like this would fold.  So would sport in general in fact.  Organisers should remember this.

I think that the paying public come pretty much at the end of the list of priorities.  TV scheduling is all important so the prime time evening slots are sacrosanct.  This meant that the daytime sessions (which was what we had) would always be interrupted if there was even the slightest chance of matches spilling over to the 7pm start time slot for the evening -- and they were unerringly.  Next come the sponsors and players before finally poor old Joe Public who stumps up the most cash of all.

Rogers Cup Toronto 2012 was pretty well attended even though there were empty seats aplenty on all days.  Even with Canada doing pretty well economically, people aren't spending crazily on discretionary events like this.  Also the Olympics the previous week saw off Federer and Monfils, Murray found a mystery injury after his first match (he's in the final of the US Open, by the way completely recovered now you'll all be pleased to know), Tsonga, Dolgopolov and del Potro basically gave up in their first round matches and Nadal is in the middle of a long term injury which cut down on the number of stars unfortunately.  I can't think the organizers were that happy about things and were probably praying for good weather but even that went all blooey.

Organising a major event like this is a tough thing to do, I realize, but I don't think they covered themselves in glory as on the first major rain day, there wasn't a single PA announcement about what was going on and the poor guy in the Information Booth I kept going back to told me he hadn't heard a thing from the organizers so couldn't tell me what was going on.  He was a volunteer like many others just trying to do his best which was hindered by being kept in the dark.  We only found out what was going on by seeing a steady stream of others leaving and lining up outside the ticket booths for replacement tickets which didn't work for us as we had bought tickets pretty much for all the sessions up to and including the final.  In fact, Jordan (an employee who had helped us get tickets both by email and phone) suggested we could have been one of the best customers at this year's event given the fact that on several of the days there were 7 of us attending.

Anyway, this was my chance to do the full John Cleese and complain to my utmost extent.  Where John Cleese did it face to face, I have to do it by letter:

Dear Sir or Madam:

Rogers Cup Toronto 2012

I am writing as requested in the official rain day policy note to seek redress for the 2 days materially affected by rain for which I and my party had tickets, namely Thursday 9th August and Saturday 11th August 2012.

I have included the tickets for the two days as requested.

At the same time as I do this I wish to register complaints about how the tournament was run, or at least how I perceived it to have been run particularly with respect to events on the Thursday that was finally abandoned altogether.

Rains came early and stayed throughout the day yet there was not one single announcement over the PA systems.  The only way that I was able to determine around 6pm that play had been officially abandoned was from other patrons leaving the stadium.  I had asked the official Information booths (in three different places on multiple occasions) whether they knew anything about play and on each and every occasion, and it must be said in good spirit but increasingly frustrated, that they had had no word from organisers, referee or any other person able to dispense information about play that they could then pass onto the patrons.

I have attended tennis tournaments the world over, including all four majors, and understand that weather and unforeseen events happen.  However in each case there is always a Plan B and more importantly as someone who spent $4,249 on tickets for myself and my party of 5, organisers make official statements.  

We would have left the Rexall Centre far earlier and made something more of our holiday in Toronto which wasn’t affected by rain as it was clear to me that there was little chance of play even if the rain stopped as from experience in running tournaments elsewhere I know that it always takes a while to squeegee the courts, dry the lines and wait for the surrounds to dry.  One of the people at the official information stand said it would take an hour to get the courts ready, which I believe.

Incidentally, Novak Djokovic made a comment a couple of days back at the US Open about rain at the Rogers Cup which I thought most appropriate (from the US Open website):

Q.  When you have asked about these covers, you said they have said it's a good idea.  Have they given you any explanation why they haven't done it?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC:  The explanation back in Toronto I remember couple weeks ago where we had really terrible weather conditions ‑ we had to stay two days to play two matches in a row in one day ‑ so the explanation there was the humidity is a concern for those hard courts.  If you put the covers down and then it's too humid and, you know, it's not good for the surface itself.  But then, you know, I said, Okay, so why don't you just inflate it like they do in Wimbledon?  Oh, it's a good idea.  Okay.  (Laughter.)  So that's all I got.  I really hope they will seriously do something about it.  There is no reason not to.  I mean, not just here but in Toronto, big hard court tournaments, Washington.  Everywhere, they have the rain at this time of the year.  So, you know, you have to try to change something in order to benefit from it.  I mean, it's definitely frustrating not just for players but for the tournament that they are losing people coming to the courts, you know, they have to refund the tickets.  There's a lot of different angles that you have to, you know, try to cover after the rain.
So even the players aren’t that happy about the way the tournament is run in respect to the rain issue.

The other issue that I take exception to is the treatment of the daytime session patrons.  It seemed to me that priority always was with the night session and presumably the TV prime time session.  

On the Thursday, it was clear that every effort was made not necessarily to get the court ready for afternoon play (as for decent periods the rain did stop but no effort was made to clear the courts) for as the afternoon wore on beyond 3pm, a long match would have encroached on the evening session and therefore the TV coverage.  So it seemed to me that little to no effort was placed on readying the court once this situation became a possibility.

This was underscored on the Saturday when there was early day rain and the first of the only two matches scheduled for that day on the stadium court was rearranged to another court, ironically at the same time as the winner of that match would have had to play their 2nd match of the day, so that when the singles game between Gasquet and Isner took place and was over in 1 hour 20 minutes (see photo below), there was no other game scheduled and the session costing $140 per ticket for my party of 5 was over by 4pm.

Gasquet beat Isner very easily so having read the 90-minute rain policy thought it sensible to take a picture to record the event just in case there was some argument later.  The match clock clearly shows 1 hour 20 minutes.

Again I understand that you cannot legislate for quick matches but there was plenty of time for a doubles match as given the current scoring structure of 2 no-ad sets plus super tie-break for the 3rd set, no doubles match goes beyond 90 minutes.  Plenty of time in fact before the night session was due to start.  Plenty of time to give your patrons value for money.  And you would have even exceeded the minimum 90-minute requirement on your official rain policy for play, meaning you would not have to make refunds on tickets.

My exasperation comes from the lack of consideration for patrons who, certainly in our case, had traveled thousands of miles, spent thousands of dollars and took time out from work to visit Toronto and the Rogers Cup because we considered it to be a well run event.  In actual fact we encouraged two other friends to drive up from Boston at the last moment on our recommendation to join us but they bought their own tickets at the last moment, so in fact our party amounted to 7 of us whose sole reason for being in Toronto was the Rogers Cup.  

Being treated with such disregard is really disappointing.  I really did expect better.

I see the rain policy is either replacement tickets or a credit against 2013 tickets.  This really doesn’t help very much as given our experience this year, we have little enthusiasm to return again next year.  In addition, the men’s event is being held in Montreal which for us is even further away and more difficult to get to.  And finally, at the present time we have very little enthusiasm for watching the women’s event in Toronto.

Accordingly I would ask that you issue a refund of the ticket prices for the days in question; namely $480 for the Thursday and $700 for the Saturday, plus associated taxes and the service charges incurred.  

We will make our decision about returning to the Rogers Cup when we are less upset and disappointed than now.

I think the thing that makes the least sense is the decision to move away a match from the stadium court on the Saturday thereby falling foul of the 90-minute rain policy rule (printed on the back of all tickets).  Had they not done this, we the punters would have had some value and been content AND they would not have to pay out under their own rain delay policy.  Now let's see that is 15,000 people at $100 a head on average -- that's more than $1 million needlessly lost.

How can that be smart?

 Anyway the ball is now firmly in their court! Let's see what happens next.

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