SBD/September 5, 2012/Events and Attractions

U.S. Open Drawing Record Crowds, But Fan Experience Could Suffer With Expansion

USTA looking to add more seats to already crowded Billie Jean King Tennis Center
With U.S. Open organizers planning "to add as many as 10,000 seats in coming years," some fans and officials are left "examining the relationship between the quantity of spectators and the quality of their experience," according to Pilon & Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Attendance on Friday "was a tournament-best 62,362, with a record 37,688 people attending the day session and 24,674 for the night session." The crowds this year are "on track to outpace last year’s daily average of 27,768 fans." This year’s record attendance has been "fueled by increased bleacher seating on the outer courts." USTA officials are "happy to announce record attendance figures, but they are aware that the tennis center in its current form is too confined for the tens of thousands of fans who attend each session during the two-week tournament." USTA Exec Dir & COO Gordon Smith said, “There are times during the day when it can be uncomfortably crowded, and we’ll change that because we want our fans to have a great experience.” The USTA "has approval from the city to allow thousands more fans on the site now." But Smith said, “We self-limit ourselves because we know it’s not comfortable if we were to do that.” Renovations will "allow an additional 10,000 fans to attend day sessions during the first week of the tournament and relieve the crowding around the East Entrance and the main thoroughfare to Arthur Ashe Stadium." The plans include "knocking down the 6,000-seat grandstand court near the busy East Entrance and building a new 8,000-seat grandstand court with a food court in the little-used southwest corner of the property." If all goes well, the USTA "will not get final approval to start construction" until the fourth quarter of '13 (N.Y. TIMES, 9/4).

ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE: SI.com's Bruce Jenkins wrote, "Whenever a riveting night match goes down at the Open, Arthur Ashe Stadium is a pretty cool place to be." It is an "awesome spectacle when the place is packed, with all the high-powered energy you'd expect from a New York setting." But the scene is "entirely different on weekdays." Jenkins: "How many big matches have been played this year in a half-filled (or worse) stadium?" It is a "total embarrassment, and it happens routinely, especially for matches involving the women's elite." Meanwhile, Jenkins writes, "For all the fears about Wimbledon's Centre Court roof and its assault on tradition, the indoor atmosphere has proved to be excellent. I can't even imagine a roof on the mini-planet that is Ashe Stadium. It would be like watching baseball in the old Houston Astrodome -- entirely too weird unless you're right up close to the action. Barring a decision to downsize Ashe and then consider a roof, this project is doomed" (SI.com, 9/2).

COMPARE & CONTRAST
: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Carl Bialik reviews the U.S. Open under the header, "How The Open Compares To The World." The French Open "has outgrown its home, and the congestion overrides all other aspects of the fan experience." Wimbledon "was the most enjoyable, but more expensive, and tickets are scarce." U.S. Open tickets, however, are "available to the masses." Unlike the French Open, the U.S. Open has "floodlights on several of the general-admission courts," so tickets "can be good for 11 or 12 hours of tennis, albeit with a few very long waits on bathroom lines" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/5).
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