The WTA Tour is moving its season-ending finals to Shenzhen, China, next year in a 10-year deal that the circuit described as a $1B transaction and the largest one ever in women’s sports. Shenzhen and Chinese real estate firm Gemdale Corp. will build a $450M indoor tennis venue, with prize money starting at $14M annually, nearly double the amount to be awarded this November in Singapore. The main venue will hold up to 15,000 fans. “This is a major infusion of new capital, and that is huge for us because it gives us the chance to really grow the sport,” said WTA President Micky Lawler, who negotiated the contract. Many of the details remain to be sorted out, Lawler said, like how much the WTA will receive for promotional and marketing purposes. The WTA also will open an office in Shenzhen. It is uncertain if that means the WTA would close its Beijing office. The WTA currently has nine events in China, including one in Shenzhen in January. The fate of that event is unclear. Lawler said there are no outs in the 10-year deal because Gemdale needed that commitment to justify the capital spend (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).
APPEALING TO THE MASSES: In N.Y., Christopher Clarey writes the deal "deepens the tour’s emphasis on China." Clarey notes WTA CEO Steve Simon "declined to divulge the amount of the WTA’s rights fee but said it was a major increase on the existing five-year deal with Singapore." Simon said that going to Shenzhen is a "huge deal,” but added it was "not simply a case of chasing the highest offer." He said that the move also "had to make sense strategically." Simon: "Shenzhen and the Delta region down there is the new Silicon Valley of Asia." Simon also confirmed that Singapore was "one of five finalists in the bidding" for the event, along with Prague (Czech Republic), Manchester (England) and St. Petersburg (Russia). He said that there were "no North American finalists" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18). The AP's Justin Bergman wrote the move "represents a significant investment in the China market at a time when the sport is aggressively expanding its reach in the country, with the addition of a number of new tournaments in recent years." But attendance has "been a concern at ATP and WTA events in China in recent years, particularly at tournaments in cities such as Wuhan and Tianjin." However, Simon believes the WTA Finals will "attract a sizable audience in a major metropolitan region like the Pearl River Delta." Simon: "You have 20 million people in that downtown district, plus 68 million in the entire delta region" (AP, 1/17).
Temperatures hit 104 degrees as the “start of an expected heat wave hit the Australian Open on Thursday, bringing misery to players unfortunate enough to have their matches scheduled during the day session and keeping many spectators away,” according to Justin Bergman of the AP. Matches were not halted as part of the event’s extreme heat policy, but the weather caused “issues for the players.” Gael Monfils “staggered through a good portion of his second-round match against Novak Djokovic,” though there were “no retirements due to the heat on Day 4” (AP, 1/18). Monfils said, “I played two sets out of breath for nothing, just to please the officials. At the end it's a bit risky" (Melbourne AGE, 1/19). In Sydney, Scott Spits notes the “brutally hot day at Melbourne Park” resulted in Garbine Muguruza receiving “treatment for blisters caused by the hot court surface” during her second-round loss to Su-Wei Hsieh. Muguruza said, “It's terrible, very, very hot, and it's easy to get blister and red" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 1/19). The crowd of 38,072 “was down about 10,000 people on the two previous day-time totals” (Melbourne AGE, 1/19).
THE HAPPY SLAM: ESPN's Patrick McEnroe noted there is a "lot of buzz" in Melbourne and throughout Australia for the tournament, and the event "just seems to get bigger and better" every year. ESPN's Brad Gilbert said, "It's an incredible sporting event. It's like the Super Bowl here for a couple of weeks. The country is alive and they love their tennis here" ("Australian Open," ESPN2, 1/17). ESPN's Chris Fowler noted it seemed like a "massive party" earlier in the week at Melbourne Park. Fowler: "Folks from all over Australia who'd never been to this tournament are here. ... All over the world -- there's Americans, Asians, Europeans." He said attending the Australian Open should be a "true bucket list" item for fans ("Australian Open," ESPN2, 1/16).
An IAAF delegation looking to "connect with local organizing committee TrackTown USA" arrived in Oregon on Monday for the "first of what will be many site visits" in advance of the '21 World Outdoor Track & Field Championship at Hayward Field, according to Chris Hansen of the Eugene REGISTER-GUARD. IAAF CEO Olivier Gers also "came looking for assurances that Hayward Field will be ready to host the meet, scheduled for Aug. 6-15, 2021." A "massive renovation to the nearly 100-year-old stadium was promised when Eugene was awarded the meet" in '15. Hayward Field "must be able to accommodate a minimum of 30,000 fans a day during the meet," which will mark the first time the U.S. will host the World Outdoor Championship. The venue currently has a "listed capacity of 10,500 permanent seats but has reached close to 25,000 when temporary seating was installed for the Olympic Trials" in '08, '12 and '16. Univ. of Oregon Foundation President & CEO Paul Weinhold said that construction is "expected to begin this summer, sometime after the NCAA Outdoor championship meet in June, and last through 2019 with no break." Gers yesterday met with Weinhold and "came away confident the renovation is still on track." Gers: "All I can tell you is on a global basis, we’re not worried." Hansen notes even an "expanded Hayward Field will be the smallest venue to host the world championships" (Eugene REGISTER-GUARD, 1/18).
ISSUES REMAIN: In Portland, Ken Goe notes the championships are more than three years away, but there are "unresolved issues, such as repeated delays to required renovations of Hayward Field, and a reported FBI investigation into how the championships were awarded." Getting fans in and out of an event at Hayward is a "problem." There also is "little adjacent parking and arterial access is limited." Gers "begged off a question" about the reported FBI investigation (Portland OREGONIAN, 1/18).
Fenway Park will host the "Army-Navy baseball rivalry" this season for the opener of the schools' "annual three-game series," according to Bill Wagner of the Annapolis CAPITAL GAZETTE. The service academies will "kick off the weekend series with a Friday night game" at Fenway on April 20 at 6:00pm ET. Army will then "host the remainder of the series with a doubleheader" at West Point. Navy AD Chet Gladchuk, who was "born and raised in Massachusetts and played football at Boston College," credited Fenway Sports Management Managing Dir Mark Lev with "broaching the idea of Navy considering other sporting events in the Boston area." Both academies have "decided to donate all proceeds" from the game to the Home Base Program, a "partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation that helps veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." Gladchuk said that there is a chance Fenway could host a future Navy-Notre Dame football game and mentioned that Gillette Stadium "remains in the running for an Army-Navy football game down the road" (Annapolis CAPITAL GAZETTE, 1/18). The Army-Navy game at Fenway will come exactly 106 years after the ballpark's "first official Red Sox game" (ARMYTIMES.com, 1/17).
DOUBLE DOWN: In Boston, Nate Weitzer notes Army-Navy will be "followed by" Florida State-Boston College on April 21 at 3:00pm. BC will be hosting its "seventh ALS Awareness game, created to honor former captain Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS" in '12. The ALS Awareness game was "held on BC's campus before moving to Fenway last April." Ticket sales from the game will "benefit the Pete Frates Home Health Initiative, a pilot program of the ALS Association and its Massachusetts chapter that provides in-home caregiving assistance for individuals living with ALS" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/18).