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Mixed summer for men's tennis
Published August 31, 1998
Heading into today's start of the U.S. Open, the men's ATP Tour has seen mixed attendance and television results for this summer's North American tournaments.
While tennis ratings on ESPN are up dramatically this year, high-profile national-broadcast matches did not fare as well. And overall attendance for the North American tour, excluding last week's Boston and Commack, N.Y., events, was down 20,000 from last year to 630,000.
"As far as the ATP Tour is concerned, we are pleased with the upswing in ratings even though we realize there were blips," said Graeme Agers, a spokesman for the ATP. "Overall it was a very positive summer for the Americas."
The Legg Mason Classic in Washington almost halved the number of sessions from the previous year, Agers added, so the cumulative attendance figure is deceptive. Overall attendance, not counting the Legg Mason factor, has risen to date in 1998, Agers said.
Attendance was not up at the RCA Championships in Indianapolis, however, where 87,154 fans attended the mid-August event, down from 94,830 last year. The Aug. 23 final between Andre Agassi and Alex Correjta drew an overnight 1.5 rating, compared with a 2.4 overnight rating the prior year, a 38 percent fall.
The RCA event had several factors going against it. An NFL preseason game that ran opposite the final on Fox drew a 7 rating, the highest preseason afternoon rating for an NFL game since 1996. Perhaps more important, No. 1-ranked Pete Sampras did not play in the tennis event.
Sampras instead went to New Haven, Conn., and the Pilot Pen Championships that week. Despite his early ouster, attendance at that event was 91,625, up 13,474 from last year's all-time low. The CBS final drew an overnight 1.3 rating.
At the du Maurier Open in Toronto, 119,688 fans attended, breaking the record by more than 10,000. The women's du Maurier Open last year, held in the same site, attracted over 20,000 more fans. And this year's women's du Maurier Open in Montreal attracted 144,063.
At the men's Great American Insurance ATP Championships in Cincinnati Aug. 6-16, which included a seniors tournament, 165,643 people attended, up slightly from the previous year.
The greatest cause for celebration for the ATP, however, was surging ratings on ESPN. ESPN's tennis rating for the year rose 41 percent from 1997. That marked the largest increase for any sport broadcast on the cable network.
"There had been a downward trend with tennis on ESPN the last few years, and hopefully we are seeing that reverse," said an ESPN spokesman.
The men's du Maurier average rating rose to .53 from .35 in 1997, the Great American average rating rose from .47 to .55, and the Pilot Pen average rating rose to .41 from .31.