In news that was not unexpected but potentially rather devastating for the WTA Tour’s bottom line, the Chinese sports media website lanxiongsports.com got ahead of an announcement that the tour’s Chinese events will not be held in 2020.
The website said the WTA planned to break the bad news Friday (doesn’t all bad news happen on Fridays?)
Late Thursday evening, North America time, the WTA sent a press statement confirming it – two minutes after the ATP did the same for its own events in that country.
“Our approach throughout this pandemic has been to always follow local guidance when staging events. We respect the Chinese government’s decision to do what’s best for the country in response to the unprecedented global situation,” was the quote from ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi about the news.
The WTA press release was virtually identical to the one published by Lanxiong Sports (minus the Chinese characters).
“We are extremely disappointed that our world-class events in China will not take place this year,” stated Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO. “Unfortunately, this decision also includes the cancellation of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen and as result, the corresponding Porsche Race to Shenzhen. We do however respect the decision that has been made and are eager to return to China as soon as possible next season.”
There’s … not much left.
News from the Chinese sporting authorities a few weeks ago indicated this was likely, although the WTA Tour said at the time that it had received no confirmation that its tournaments were officially off the grid.
Several top-shelf events are held in China during the fall, as the WTA Tour in recent years has pivoted its focus towards that country.
That’s where the money has been in recent years, as the various levels of the Chinese government have been keen to infuse the women’s tour with sponsorship money despite the abject lack of actual fans at many of the events.
The Lanxiong website indicates that the China Open in Beijing, the Wuhan Open and – most notably – the newly relocated WTA Tour Finals in Shenzhen are among the cancellations.
Also: smaller tournaments in Nanchang, Jiangxi and Guangzhou, and the second-tier “finals” in Zhuhai.
Already cancelled were tournaments in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Tianjin (China) and Hong Kong.
Major financial consequences
ATP Tour also cancels China
The men are not as fully entrenched in that country – nor are they as dependant on it. Still, a number of ATP Tour events take place there in the fall – including the 500-level tournament in Beijing held the week before the women’s event, and the Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai the week after that.
Both are now officially cancelled, along with 250-level tournaments scheduled in Chengdu and Zhuhai in September.
But for the WTA, which moved its Tour finals to Shenzhen in 2019 after a five-year run in Singapore, the news is devastating.
The deal with Shenzhen, good for 10 years, was a very lucrative upgrade for the Tour as it offered $14 million in prize money annually (double what it was in Singapore).
That gave the women’s tour the opportunity to brag about having the “biggest purse” – at least for a year, as the ATP Tour’s move to Turin, Italy in 2021 would have bumped the prize money for its crown jewel event significantly.
But the first year already proved challenging. A promised bespoke, 12,000-seat, $450 million arena built specifically for the event was way behind schedule on construction.
And so the first edition was held at a temporary location, the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. That venue, unlike the new planned one, was not in the downtown district but a fair drive out of town.
The pandemic, obviously, would have kiboshed even the most ambitious plan to move in for the 2020 edition.
But that’s a moot point now.
Also, as is the case with so many of the women’s events in that country (but unlike the first year of the Tour Finals in its previous locations in Singapore and Turkey), attendance was sparse in 2019.
As it was, the WTA Tour’s finances were basically at a break-even (or slight deficit) situation the last few years. The Tour finals, depending on which source you listen to, brings in somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the Tour’s total revenues – perhaps as much as $50 million a year into the Tour’s coffers.
So this is a big blow, with an even bigger potential impact than the cancellation of the ATP Tour Finals would be for the men’s side.
That event, at this point, is scheduled to go ahead in London, where it will be in its final season before its move to Turin, Italy.
But it’s a long way to November.
As well, the other ATP-owned event – the ATP Cup – is scheduled for January 2021 in Australia. As we know, that country is no sure bet even next year; the nation’s biggest airline, Qantas, has cancelled all international flights all the way through to March 2021 at this stage.