A US Open In New York City? Maybe, But …

WASHINGTON, May 20 ,2020 (by Michael Dickens)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed his support for a return of major pro sports – including the United States Open – in his state following its shutdown from the coronavirus outbreak on Monday. “New York State is ready and willing to partner with major sports teams that are interested in playing games safely, without fans. If our professional sports teams can make it work (and be safe) on their end, we’re supportive,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter.

There’s a catch, however. It would be a US Open with no spectators present.

Nevertheless, Governor Cuomo’s support of the return of pro sports could mean a possibility there will be a US Open played in New York City. The Grand Slam is scheduled at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows from August 31 to September 13. If the US Open goes ahead as scheduled, it would be just the second Grand Slam played this year due to the Covid-19 shutdown of tennis, which resulted in the unilateral move of Roland Garros from May to September and the cancellation of this year’s Wimbledon Championships for the first time since World War II.

“Hockey, basketball, baseball, football, whoever can reopen. We’re a ready, willing and able partner,” Governor Cuomo said, quoted by The New York Times.

Last month, portions of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center were retrofitted into a temporary 350-bed hospital and Louis Armstrong Stadium was used as a staging and distribution area for up to 25,000 daily packages of meals that were earmarked for patients, workers and local disadvantaged school children. As of the end of last week, the final patients admitted to the temporary hospital were discharged.

While alternative sites have been mentioned if New York City is not available, such as Indian Wells in the southern California palm desert (site of the BNP Paribas Open) and the USTA National Training Center in Orlando, Fla., it’s been the wish of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the governing body of tennis in the U.S., to keep the US Open in New York City. Only recently has USTA chief executive Mike Dowse been receptive to exploring a US Open without fans.

What ever the final decision is, there are several essential factors Dowse must consider front and center: First and foremost, there is the health, safety and wellbeing of the players, staff, fans and volunteers involved in putting on the Grand Slam tournament. Second, is it in the best interest of tennis to play at all costs – even in an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is the largest stadium in the sport? Third, what will the financial impact be without any fans attending? After all, a Grand Slam event  such as the US Open generates revenue from a variety of sources, including ticket sales, corporate hospitality and media rights. According to a story last week in the The New York Times, the US Open generates $400 million annually, which represents more than 80 percent of the USTA’s annual revenues, and last year, more than $57 million in prize money was awarded.