SBJ/September 21 - 27, 1998/No Topic Name

Ratings down, revenue up at U.S. Open

The U.S. Tennis Association expects this year's recently completed U.S. Open to generate $125 million in revenue — 9 percent higher than the previous year.

Sponsorships, television and merchandising revenues all rose as the USTA hosted its most economically successful Open to date.

Despite the bottom-line success, however, television ratings and attendance were significantly off last year's pace.

The rating for the men's final on CBS Sports in major markets dropped 25 percent, and the women's final dropped 12 percent. Ratings were down or flat throughout the entire tournament as the Mark McGwire home run chase and the Clinton sex scandal drew viewers away from tennis.

"McGwire grabbed a lot of the headlines from the sports pages," said Rob Correa, vice president of programming for CBS Sports. "We really did have some things conspire against us: rain the first weekend, news interruption on the women's semifinals, and matches the final weekend that were really not as close as some of the scores indicated."

The numbers on the USA Network were not much better. Despite a lot of promise surrounding the women's tour, the network's rating for its 99 hours of coverage matched last year's 1.0 average rating.

USA did see an uptick during the day, when baseball was not a distraction. But the evening figures dropped from last year.

For CBS, the final weekend was a worst-case scenario. First, breaking news surrounding the Clinton sex scandal pre-empted much of the two women's semifinals on Sept. 11. That meant that few viewers saw Venus Williams get knocked out, which was doubly painful for CBS because it meant the dynamic teen would not play in the final the next day.

Star attraction Pete Sampras was eliminated in the semifinals, and the Sept. 13 final between two Australians had little popular appeal in the United States. The finals overnight rating, which tracks viewership in major markets, fell to 3.0 from last year's 4.0 when Patrick Rafter beat Greg Rusdeski.

The Corel Women's Tennis Association was quick to point out that the women's final again outdrew the men's, the fifth time in the last six Grand Slam finals that has happened. The final on Sept. 12 in which top seed Martina Hingis fell to Lindsay Davenport, sandwiched in between the two men's semifinals, drew an overnight rating of 3.6, down from the 4.1 rating of last year. The women's 1997 final was on a Sunday.

Attendance at the Open was also down from a year ago. Total paid attendance was 545,155, off last year's record 559,544, a 3 percent drop.

"We lost our first full session to weather since 1992 and got hit by that almost tornado on Labor Day," said Jay Snyder, the U.S. Open tournament director. "That iffy weather did cut into the attendance."

Nonetheless, the USTA took in $30 million from its 21 sponsors, a record level, and nearly double the amount from just a few years ago. The next biggest categories were ticket sales, followed by TV revenues, which rose between 2 and 4 percent from 1997, and then food concessions. The Open also expected to get $6 million to $7 million from merchandising and sales.

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