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Volume 21 No. 6

Events and Attractions

The long-standing ATP stop in Los Angeles appears close to leaving the country, the latest in a line of midtier pro tennis events in the United States on the move.

The tournament, the Farmers Classic, has struggled financially in recent years after eight decades in Los Angeles. Numerous sources said organizers now are close to a deal to sell the event’s sanction to a group in Bogota, Colombia.

The Farmers Classic has struggled in recent years after eight decades in Los Angeles.
While the ATP board of directors at its meeting last week did not address the possible sale, that consideration might come soon via conference call.

Lower and midlevel ATP events have struggled mightily since the tour five years ago instituted new playing rules that significantly reduced the opportunities for elite players to compete at the lowest rung of the tour. The Los Angeles stop now struggles to get marquee players in its field whereas a decade ago it would routinely get stars such as Andre Agassi — players lured in part through the event paying large appearance fees.

Bob Kramer, the tournament director, did not respond to calls for comment. The Southern California Tennis Association, a section of the U.S. Tennis Association, owns the tournament.

According to the most recently available tax returns for the Southern California Tennis Association, the group lost $989,689 in 2010 and $1.2 million in 2009 after earning $377,675 in 2008. The sources said subsequent losses in 2011 and 2012 were steep, and the organization did not want to continue burning through its declining reserves.

At the end of 2010, the association’s assets were at $3.2 million, whereas at the start of 2008 its assets were $5.2 million, according to the group’s tax returns.

On the ATP calendar, February 2013 will mark the last year of San Jose’s ATP stop; that event sanction is moving to Memphis. The Tennessee city has had a higher-level tour event of its own, but that tournament is moving to Rio de Janeiro. In addition, in recent years, Indianapolis’ sanction for an ATP event was poised to leave the country before it was sold to a group in Atlanta, where the event has struggled to find an audience.

While the lower-level events struggle, some upper-level ATP events are having problems of a different kind. Last week, the combined ATP and WTA stop in Indian Wells, Calif., one of each tour’s elite events, offered to raise prize money $1.6 million, but the ATP did not approve, saying the proposal did not comport with internal rules on how money should be distributed by round.

The ATP board was split 3-3 on the vote, with its three player reps voting yes and its three tournament reps voting no; ATP Chief Executive Officer Brad Drewett abstained. It is believed the tournament representatives were concerned about the ability of other events to match the move.

Meanwhile, the Sony Ericsson Open won a big victory at the ballot box last week and will get $50 million in government funding for a new tennis stadium in Miami.

Putting a horse racing event on prime-time television was an experiment for NBC, but based on the better-than-expected ratings for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic, there’s a good chance it will air in prime time again next year, said Jon Miller, NBC Sports president of programming.

“My strong recommendation would be to continue based on the tremendous success we had this year,” Miller said last week.

The one-hour show, which featured long shot Fort Larned winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, aired live on NBC from 8 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 3. It earned a 2.0 rating and was watched by 3.1 million viewers. The rating was up 100 percent and the viewership number up 94 percent from last year, when the Classic was on ESPN and earned a 1.0 rating and was watched by 1.6 million viewers.

Miller said NBC’s average Saturday night rating has been below 2.0, in the range of 1.6 to 1.7.

“Anything that was in that range, we would have been happy with,” he said. “We didn’t want to put the network in jeopardy. We didn’t want them to regret the decision that they worked with us on. We were just hoping to stay kind of flat. So the fact that we exceeded what the network normally does was a great discovery and surprise for everybody.”

Horse racing’s Triple Crown, and particularly the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes when a Triple Crown is at stake, historically has done well in terms of ratings. But not so for the Breeders’ Cup, which features more than a dozen races for different types of horses — fillies, grass runners, 2-year-olds, etc. — and culminates with the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

This year, in particular, NBC didn’t have a good reason to hope for a high rating because there was no “super horse,” like Zenyatta, running in the Classic. This year’s Triple Crown race winners, I’ll Have Another and Union Rags, didn’t run in the Classic.

Before the broadcast, Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and founder of Pilson Communications, which consults with sports leagues and sports properties about TV deals, expressed skepticism that the event would work. But after the Breeders’ Cup, Pilson said in an email to SportsBusiness Journal that the rating was better than he expected it to be. “Actually, not a bad rating for a Saturday night against four very good college football games on CBS, Fox, ABC and ESPN,” Pilson said.

Miller said that NBC will have a meeting with Breeders’ Cup officials before making a final decision on whether to broadcast it in prime time again in 2013.

Miller also said that having the event at Santa Anita Park, in the Los Angeles area, may have helped viewership because of the presence of celebrities and the warm, sunny weather for people looking for some escapism on the East Coast. The Breeders’ Cup is scheduled to be held there in 2013, but a site has not been named beyond that. There has been debate in recent years about making Santa Anita the permanent home for the event.

“That is not up to me, that is a decision for the Breeders’ Cup board,” Miller said, “but certainly having a permanent destination and a permanent home for a property like this can only help it and make it an even bigger event.”

Breeders’ Cup CEO Craig Fravel said a decision on where to hold the 2014 Breeders’ Cup would come before the first quarter of next year. “We are very pleased with the rating,” Fravel said.