Strict Protocols, No Fans, US Open Is Officially On

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The 2020 US Open is officially on – albeit with strict protocols and without fans.

At 11:49 a.m. EDT (5:59 p.m. CEST) Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted: “The US Open will be held in Queens, NY, without fans from August 31 to September 13.

“The USTA will take extraordinary precautions to protect players and staff, including robust testing, additional cleaning, extra locker room space, and dedicated housing & transportation.”

The United States Tennis Association has decided to go ahead with its annual marquee event, the US Open, which will take place on schedule from August 31 to September 13 at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., its home since 1978.

During his daily briefing in Albany, New York’s state capital city, Cuomo said: “We’re excited about the U.S. Open. … It will be held without fans, but you can watch it on TV – and I’ll take that. The tennis authorities are going to be taking extraordinary precautions, but that’s going to take place.”

The pro tennis tours have been suspended since March due to the global coronavirus pandemic, which has wiped out more than 40 events worldwide. Normally, the US Open would be the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year. Because of the lockdown of pro tennis, the US Open will be just the second major and first since the Australian Open ended in early February. The French Open, which normally starts in late May, was unilaterally moved to a late September starting date, and the Wimbledon Championships were cancelled in April for the first time since 1945.

Following Cuomo’s press conference, USTA chief executive Mike Dowse released a statement in which he confirmed that not only would the US Open be held on schedule but also the Western & Southern Open, an ATP/WTA combined event normally held in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati, as a hard-court tuneup, would move to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, too. Thus, paired together, the two tournaments create a unique doubleheader of tennis spread over three weeks.

“We recognize the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times,” Dowse said, “and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential risks.

“We now can give fans around the world the chance to watch tennis’ top athletes compete for a US Open title, and we can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport. Being able to hold these events in 2020 is a boost for the City of New York and the entire tennis landscape.”

The USTA is expected to outline details in an official announcement on Wednesday. Among the strict protocols that the USTA will implement for this year’s US Open: limited player entourages, assigned hotels near the tournament site, increased cleaning of the tournament grounds, extra locker room space such as using luxury suites inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, daily temperature checks, and a testing regimen for Covid-19.

While it remains to be seen which players will commit to play in this extraordinary US Open, many are asking: Why have a US Open this year with the contagious Covid-19 virus still lurking without a vaccine, plus the difficulty and uncertainty of international travel, and without spectators? A big answer is a simple one: money.

There is a huge financial incentive to stage the US Open this year. There are international TV contracts at stake – which includes ESPN’s annual average of $70 million for the primary North American broadcast rights to the US Open. This will help to offset the tremendous loss of revenue generated from ticket receipts, food and beverage and merchandise sales, and assorted on-site sponsorships deals and arrangements. Last year, with both day and night sessions filling up some of the biggest venues in tennis throughout the fortnight, the US Open brought nearly 800,000 spectators to the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center and generated an estimated $370 million in revenue.