The US Open has one of the most electric atmospheres in professional tennis. If the event can’t be held with fans, should the USTA consider canceling the tournament?
The US Open has been discussed to remain on schedule for the 2020 season. Since the beginning of the season shutdown (March 8th), events have slowly been suspended, all getting closer to the New York Grand Slam set to begin August 31st.
While the Wimbledon Championships were cancelled for the first time since World War II and the French Open was (controversially) postponed until September, the US Open has stayed put in its original timeframe. If the event is going to be played, there will have to be major precautions, most importantly the event being held without fans.
Now that the US Open venue has officially transitioned back from a temporary hospital to a tennis facility, many people have begun to speak up on the matter of whether or not the event should be held.
As arguably the most electric event in the tennis season, the fans make up the backbone of the tournament, literally and figuratively. Should the US Open, an event headlined by its incredible atmosphere and moments between players and fans, still be held if fans aren’t allowed in?
At many events, this is a no-brainer. While players stress how important fans are in a given tournament, no event relies on its fans more so than the US Open. Sitting right in the heart of Queens, NY, players have embraced how the tournament has such a unique feel.
“The changeovers were like a party scene on the court, (with) the loud music, the fans,” Genie Bouchard said in 2014. “It was definitely an entertainment type of experience. I think that’s really cool for the fans to get into it.”
One aspect of the US Open feel is the interactions between players and fans. Who can forget the crowd’s delight when Roger Federer’s all-black outfit in 2014 was paired with Darth Vader’s “Imperial March”? What about the unrivaled night match that almost feels like soccer matches instead of tennis?
Marin Cilic summed it up with his recent interview with Reuters: “I just feel that it’s going to more or less feel like practice matches,” he said. “I believe that there won’t be any tournaments without fans.”
In most tournaments, this isn’t a big deal, but as Cilic said, the US Open’s atmosphere is critical to the success of the events and the enjoyment of both players and fans.
Thinking about it statistically, the US Open’s fans are crucial in terms of revenue each year. According to figures presented by Forbes in 2017, ticket sales accounted for 36 percent ($120 million) of the total tournament revenue for the year ($335 million), with an additional 9 percent ($30 million) coming from concessions and merchandise. Once again, it’s shown that fans are the most important aspect of the tournament.
“All of us want the US Open to happen and we are ready to help with increased testing and to help players get in and out of the country,” USTA director Michael Dowse said.
“We have three priorities: 1) the health and well-being of the players, staff, fans, and all those involved; 2) what’s good for tennis; and 3) the financial impact.”
“Everything is still on the table and we’ll be going forward based on the three-phase approach noted in the federal guidelines.”
Dowse has posed many options for the US Open. The first is to postpone the event to November so fans can attend the tournament with little to no issues. The second is to play the tournament as scheduled without fans. The final possibility is to relocate the event to Indian Wells in California and hope that fans will be able to attend the event.
What’s the answer to the question?
The best option is to postpone the tournament until November. While Indian Wells is one of the largest tennis venues in the world and would be a smooth transition to play the Grand Slam event, New York is the US Open, no questions about it. Although it’s not the best option in terms of the proposed ATP schedule in November (most notably the ATP Finals), the US Open’s best chance to still have success in 2020 is to keep it in New York.
Playing it without fans isn’t going to bring the same success. In terms of merchandise and ticket sales, Indian Wells will come close, but it isn’t the same US Open without it being played at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.
The music, the rowdy fans, and the overall excitement of players and fans cannot be found anywhere else, and it’s worth mixing up the 2020 schedule to make it happen.