April 14, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

USTA lays out $50 million support plan

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The U.S. Tennis Association stepped up to the service line in a significant way Thursday as it announced some $50 million in financial assistance for U.S. clubs, facilities and teaching pros.

The first Grand Slam nation to step up to offer support to the game in its nation was Wimbledon, well-sourced via a pandemic insurance clause in the wake of the cancellation of the 2020 edition.

Next up was Roland Garros, even though the French Tennis Federation still does not know if the 2020 edition of its tournament will be held.

In his first widely-disseminated interview since he officially took over from Gordon Smith Jan. 1, CEO Mike Dowse had a pretty tough subject to tackle.

Some of the details of the financing were revealed in the New York Times Wednesday, including a 20 per cent salary cut for the very well-remunerated USTA senior management for the rest of 2020, and cuts of 15 per cent and 10 percent at the lower management levels.

“Health and well-being the driving factor”

The first caveat was that the conference call was not going to be about the status of the US Open. There are no answers at this point, anyway. But Dowse did address it in his opening remarks.

“In one sense we’re very fortunate that we’re the fourth Grand Slam to go, so time is on our side at this point. Obviously our ambition is to run the tournament. It’s the engine that drives our organization, our governing body. Having said that, that won’t be the driving factor. The driving factor will be the health and well-being of the players, the fans and our staff,” Dowse said.

“To that we just don’ have enough information that we can run the tournament safely. We’ve set a time frame around June to make that decision. The way we’re approaching it is through a medical advisory group. We have five or six doctors that are consulting with us on a regular basis. Based off that information, we’ll ultimately make the decision if it’s safe to play the tournament or not. 

“Fanless” US Open unlikely

With all the chatter recently about starting up professional sports quickly – even without fans, if necessary – Dowse said that while nothing’s off the table, it’s highly unlikely.

“That’s not really in the spirit of the celebration of tennis. It also goes
back to the health and well-being of not just the spectators but of our players and support staff that help run the tournament. Unless the medical industry or medical experts come up with a solution that truly is foolproof and safe, we don’t see that as an option,” Dowse said. “Having said that, things are fluid. If the medical experts come back and say here is a foolproof way of running a very safe tournament, unfortunately it has to be without fans, we may reconsider and look at it at this point. Today it’s just too early to kind of speculate on what the exact specifics will be at that time.”

Dowse added that there likely wouldn’t be much more news about this until June.

Three-phased support plan

There will be three phases to the USTA’s support plan. The first was relief for American tennis facilities, teaching pros and community associations.

To that end, the USTA, along with partners, put together a survey sent out March 23 that received more than 3,200 answers within 24 hours. Dowse estimated the percentage of clubs and facilities currently closed for business at about 90 per cent.

Information on what might be available to these facilities in terms of government financial aid was quickly made available shortly after the results of the survey was compiled.

The second phase, which they call the “rebuild” phase, will include financial assistance to the facilities and pros to get operational whenever that time is.

Of the $50 million that will be dedicated to this, $15 million will be in new programs for “resource fluidity”. The USTA has put together this amount from salary reductions, and cuts to the player development, marketing and operations.

Travel expenses repurposed to aid

Some of that, per Dowse, comes from savings because of expenses not incurred via the cancellation of various events. The fact that the major national facility in Lake Nona, Fla. has been closed since March 13 adds to that. So does the fact that the expenses incurred by coaches and players and support staff to travel to the French Open, Wimbledon and other ITF events around the world have been rendered moot.

The massive national training facility in Florida has been closed since March 13, resulting in a costs savings in both operations and travel that will be repurposed to help clubs and teaching professionals across the country.

The full-time employees at the USTA centre and elsewhere remain on the payroll, Dowse said. But he added that many are among those who are seeing salary reductions.

Another chunk of the funds have come from the financing of what Dowse calls “consumer facing initiatives” like Net Generation. The logic there is there isn’t much point in continuing to develop and promote initiatives to grow the game, if the facilities and pros who will implement them can’t be up and operational.

The other $35 million will be committed to the 17 regional sections that make up the USTA  – in other words, they’re decentralizing the help so that each section can help the facilities and pros in its area.

Weekly calls with ATP, WTA

Phase III, the guts of which obviously remain to be determined, will involve cooperation with the other major organizations in tennis to “put a package together for lower-ranked tennis professionals on both the ATP and WTA Tour.”

The early word on what this might look like is delivering $10,000 to every player ranked between No. 250 and No. 700. We’ll see if that materializes.

As a start, the USTA has committed to continuing to fund the Challenger Series and related ITF tournaments, when they begin playing again. It’s an investment Dowse put at about $7.5 million.

The USTA also is committing to support the initiatives being put together by the ATP and WTA to help struggling players. But, notably, the USTA won’t step in to help its own American players specifically; rather, it will contribute to the overall package.

Dowse said that there have been weekly calls with the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Grand Slam Board, as all try to work together for the best interests of the game.

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