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Volume 20 No. 42
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Open establishes marks for session sellouts, ticket revenue

Before the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the story was about who wasn’t playing: defending champion Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, all injured, and a pregnant Serena Williams, and the list of top players went on.

Fans, however, didn’t seem to care. The event sold out 20 of 24 sessions, a record high, up from even 2015, when Williams unsuccessfully tried to win her fourth Slam in a row. That year 19 out of the 24 sold out.

In all, more than 690,000 fans were set to stream through the gates the last two weeks. That is still off highs above 700,000, set before 2015 when the event had two more sessions. But even with two fewer sessions, the U.S. Tennis Association took in roughly $125 million in ticket revenue, up 8 percent to 9 percent from the year before and again a record.

Even with top players out, favorites like Rafael Nadal kept Arthur Ashe Stadium packed.
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Some of the gain the USTA attributes to the ticket landscaping that the Open undertook: increasing premium-seat prices on average 25 percent, but cutting them for 53 percent of the 23,771 seats in the main stadium (a ticket to the stadium also provides access to other matches on other courts). The USTA cut those ticket prices in part to keep the event affordable.

To further that effort, the event launched a two-day free festival the week before the Open in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, which attracted 100,000 people. An additional 75,000 attended the free annual qualifying tournaments and Arthur Ashe Kids Day. The Open probably could charge for some of those events and make more than the $300 million the fortnight accrues, but the USTA must balance its mission of raising funds for its core mission of growing tennis and, well, growing tennis.

In other words, what is more valuable to the mission: the money that could come in from charging for the qualifying tournament, or the new players and fans it might generate by getting them in for free? And the qualifying tournament in no slouch: On its own it is the fourth-most attended U.S. tourney behind the Open, BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open.

MIAMI MOVE?: Speaking of the Miami Open, the WME-IMG event is set for 2018 in Key Biscayne, but beyond that its site is an open question. The tournament has been blocked from expanding by Bruce Matheson, one of four board members of a charity that governs the park in which the event is played. He has essentially vetoed the expansion, but the tournament has been hoping it could pressure some of his family members to turn on him. That has not succeeded, at least so far, so a discussion now continues on moving the event, sources said. Hard Rock Stadium, owned by the Miami Dolphins, is proposing bringing the event there starting in 2019 or 2020.

A decision is still months away, at least, but staying on scenic Key Biscayne remains in doubt. A spokesman for WME-IMG declined to comment.

AUSSIE BID: The ATP Tour now has two offers to run the proposed World Team Cup, an Olympic-style tournament that would offer ranking points and significant prize money. The tour has been considering an offer from CMC Capital of China to pay $50 million annually over 10 to 20 years for the rights to run the event. But at the ATP Tour meeting during the Open, Tennis Australia, which runs the Australian Open, made an offer to restructure the January tournaments before its Slam to fold into its own Team Cup competition. Events in Brisbane and Perth would become part of the 24-country Team Cup.

Sources said the prize money offered by the Aussies is far less than the Chinese, and the plan is not as formal as the one from CMC. A Tennis Australia spokesman did not reply for comment.

The TA is worried about the Team Cup because, as it now stands, it would occur in early January. If run by CMC in Asia, it would detract from Tennis Australia’s summer swing before the Aussie Open. So, proponents of taking the CMC plan see the TA offer as smokescreen intended to scuttle the Chinese play. The ATP is expected to make a decision in November.

LOBS: The ATP is in talks with JPMorgan Chase to sponsor the season-ending Tour Championships, now that Barclays is out as title sponsor. … Top men’s player Grigor Dimitrov is thought to be leaving the Roger Federer-affiliated Team8 agency when his contract expires at the end of the year. … The women’s semifinals and final occurred too late for this deadline, but if Sloane Stephens were to win, she chose a good time: Her Under Armour contract expires at the end of next year, and negotiations are already underway.