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Volume 20 No. 42
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USTA says Open beats Super Bowl as economic boost

Does the U.S. Open pump more money into the local New York economy than the Super Bowl will when it comes to town in 2014?

According to a new estimate from the U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the Open, the answer is yes.

The Open generates three-quarters of a billion dollars in annual economic impact, a new USTA-commissioned report has concluded. That compares to the $550 million projected by the local organizers for the 2014 NFL title game.

The USTA hired AKRF Inc., an engineering and planning consultant, to produce the report.

Any economic impact figures, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt — in tennis, football or any other sport. Most economists scoff at the numbers, in part because they tend not to reflect the economic activity replaced by attending fans. In other words, regarding all those hotel rooms filled with Open fans: Economists want to know whether they would have been filled, anyway.

U.S. Open attendance is expected to top 700,000 again, a third of those visitors from out of town.
Nevertheless, something is afoot with the USTA figure. It’s a dramatic increase from the association’s last report a decade ago, which pegged the economic impact at $420 million. At that time, annual attendance at the Open was about 600,000, whereas this year’s tournament is expected, like recent ones, to top 700,000.

Two decades ago, the USTA’s estimate stood at $145 million.

Gordon Smith, the USTA’s executive director, said 34 percent of the U.S. Open’s visitors are from outside of New York, and just more than one in 10 fans came from outside the country. The point is that these are people, in theory, who would not be visiting New York other than for the tournament.

Economic impact reports are commonly used as leverage with municipalities to gain more funding, and while the new USTA estimate has been shared with New York authorities, Smith said there are no plans to use it to gain funding from the city for renovations to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“It shows our importance to the city,” Smith said during an interview in his office in Arthur Ashe Stadium. USTA Chairman and President Jon Vegosen, who is marking his first Open in that role, was also part of the interview.

CHALLENGES OUT WEST: Could Los Angeles be the next U.S. city to lose a tennis tournament?

The Farmers Classic, an ATP stop played at UCLA, has run through half its reserves in the last four years as new ATP player rules and a poor economy have significantly hampered the event’s bottom line. The long-tenured tournament touts itself as the longest-running annual professional sporting event in Los Angeles.

While the event will occur next year, tournament director Bob Kramer said the owner, the Southern California Tennis Association, will take a hard look at the event after that. “Any responsible organization would do that,” he said.

In recent years, Indianapolis, Las Vegas and New Haven, Conn., have lost men’s events. All these events are known as ATP 250s, the lowest rung on the ATP ladder. Of the 12 U.S. men’s events, seven are 250s.

Since the ATP put new rules in place several years ago giving less weight to results at 250s in player rankings, these events have strugged to attract the stars who drive interest. The chances of getting a top player are so low, in fact, that the Southern California Tennis Association this year did not pay financial guarantees. Even with a title sponsor and no guarantees, the event lost money.

The tennis association’s mission is to promote tennis, so if the event is losing money, Kramer said, the group could pull the plug. He hopes the ATP will tweak its rules to encourage more top players to compete at the 250s, but for now, the trend has been to motivate them to play the top events.

AZARENKA IN PLAY: Representatives for world No. 5 ranked Victoria Azarenka were fielding offers from sneaker and racket companies here. Azarenka’s deals with Nike and Head expire in December. Azarenka, 22, who is represented by Lagardère Unlimited, wants more than $1 million annually for her sneaker deal, with accelerators that would push that to at least $4 million annually if she were to reach No. 1 in the rankings. Nike’s endorsement head, John Slusher, was meeting with Lagardère reps last week. Under Armour and Yonex were also making a run.

AFTER THE STORM: Hurricane Irene had little affect on the Open. While some tickets on StubHub could be had quite cheaply in the tournament’s early days this year — likely because of fans whose travel was interrupted — the National Tennis Center grounds were teeming at the start of the week. The Open dismantled much of the site the weekend before the event in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, but on the first morning of the tournament, other than a newly scheduled late start on the main court, it was hard to tell that every screen, table, chair and flower pot had been put away and then brought back out in the preceding days.