Tennis counts the cost of empty stands: ‘we can’t survive’



The professional circuit was closed for five months in 2020 before tournament organizers implemented biosecurity bubbles for players and support staff while keeping fans away from stadiums.

The disruption was less severe in 2021, but tournaments, with the exception of swing in Australia in February, continue to play out in front of a handful of fans at best.

The lack of spectators has not only stripped tournaments of atmosphere and sapped the energy of the players who thrive there, but has also had a savage impact on finances.

ATP tournaments suffered losses of between $ 60 million and $ 80 million last year, due to last-minute cancellations, a wiping out of ticketing revenue in the absence of spectators and a drop of 30 % of sponsorship revenue.

And, with the added burden of spending on health protocols, it has led to a reduction in cash prices to 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

“With all the estimations we have made, we think we can maintain this year,” ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi told Reuters.

Gaudenzi said sponsorship revenue has fallen by about 30% on average since the start of the pandemic, with Masters 1000 events – the lower level than Grand Slams – relying on ticket sales for 45% of their revenue.

Herwig Straka, one of three ATP board members representing tournament owners, said the call to continue hosting fanless events could revert to a business decision.

“It’s about finding the right balance between enough cash prizes for players, especially the lower ranked players, to survive, and also for tournaments to continue,” said Straka.

“And obviously for smaller tournaments that challenge is higher. So not only as a business, but also as a sport, we really need the spectators to come back sooner or later … we can’t survive without having spectators.

‘Required and appropriate’

The men’s governing body will spend up to $ 5.2 million – mostly taken from the bonus pool of the top 12 eligible players at the end of the season – to raise prices at its events up to Wimbledon.

The WTA had to fund the full price of $ 565,530 for its season opener in Abu Dhabi out of its own funds.

“The reduction in price levels in place for 2021 is not something that no one wants to see,” WTA CEO Steve Simon told Reuters.

“However, with the compromised revenue streams from ticketing and sponsorship being addressed, the discounts are necessary and appropriate.”

Ahead of her early exit from this week’s WTA 1000 event in Dubai, world No.5 Elina Svitolina said the cut in scholarships could potentially have an impact on motivation.

Americans John Isner and Reilly Opelka were less diplomatic when they recently criticized ATP leadership for not agreeing to pay cuts when the players did.

Gaudenzi said that even in the worst-case scenario, ATP is still looking to offer 2021 cash prizes of around $ 180 million, 23% lower than in 2019.

“It’s still not a terrible result, given the challenges we face,” said the Italian, adding that most tournaments would be happy to break even in 2021.

With vaccines against the virus starting to roll out, tennis bosses were hoping spectator restrictions would start to ease.

“A crowd-free formula that spreads into the future would require a restructuring of the way the sport in general plays out,” said Simon of the WTA.

“We’re starting to see a path for fans to start returning to squeezed levels as 2021 progresses and hopefully a significant move to full stadiums in 2022.”

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