R.I.P. Memphis Open. Long Live The Slightly Pricier New York Open
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
Last year’s news of the Memphis Open’s move to Long Island was bittersweet to me. There’s very little in the way of higher level tour tournaments in America’s Heartland, and with the demise of Memphis, that leaves just Houston, Cincinnati and a lot of America in between. The Memphis Open had been around since 1975 and finally threw in the towel due to money and a “lack of stars”. On the other hand, I thought, the New York Open: an indoor event in New York: a place for East Coast tennis junkies to get their fix in the dead of winter and a full six months away from the US Open. That has potential.
The bittersweet turned slightly more bitter than sweet when I saw the ticket prices for the newly repackaged Memphis Open. Gone are the cheap bleachers in the Volunteer State. The Big Apple has decided that fans should pay over $500 to sit in premier seating for the final rounds of the New York Open.
Perhaps we’re expecting Spike Lee, Ben Stiller and Jay-Z to show up? That would be fun.
What seemed every bit as funny as a Ben Stiller film was seeing the prices on Ticketmaster for Sunday’s qualifying opener: $148.50 (plus fees) for a front row seat at first round qualifying for an ATP 250, part of the tournament’s touted “Diamond Priority Seating”.
The last time I checked, a qualifying field for an ATP 250 is akin to a first or second round match at an ATP Challenger. The last time I checked, you could attend an ATP Challenger for free or for a very reasonable price, like $10.00. And qualifying at larger tournaments involves open seating. The US Open draws thousands to its qualifying rounds with open seating and doesn’t charge a penny in admission.
The New York Open will be doing things a little differently. All front row seats for Center Court qualifying on Sunday are $148.50 and all 2nd row seats are $73.50. Let me put that in perspective: I bought decent tickets to a Taylor Swift concert in July for less than the price of a front row ticket to qualifying at an ATP 250. And I bought front row tickets to the final performance of Ringling Brother’s “Greatest Show on Earth” last year for less than NYO qualifying.
The New York Open has a deal where kids can get in free with a paid adult admission for some of the week with good intentions, but when Mom and Dad are paying over $50 a seat after service charges for upper level seats and piling the family onto the Long Island Railroad, it still looks to be a $200+ afternoon. In all honesty, Memphis organizers were pretty generous too, giving thousands of free and reduced bleacher tickets away over the years to youth organizations.
Since we’re talking New York, let’s talk about Wall Street’s favorite term: return on investment. If you were smart enough to buy a weekend-long ticket to this weekend’s Fed Cup tie in Asheville, North Carolina, your $100 ticket is now going for $900 on resale sites. If you were lucky enough to buy a $348.50 front row ticket to Tuesday night’s New York Open which lasts 4 hours and was widely advertised for Hyeon Chung before his withdrawal, your return on investment is, well, makes Bitcoin look like a solid investment.
The NYCB Live event is an indoor venue and from the looks of things, a beautiful one at that. The black courts should sparkle on television. As an indoor event, however, it might appear to lack the personal touch of even larger tournaments and thus the value to fans. You’re up here and the players are down there. You’re not going to use the same walking paths that the players use and bump into them for autographs. Luckily, there are line-up autograph sessions planned. And yes, there is a second court where seating is announced as general admission, but I’m sure you’ll find the first row reserved for someone with a coat and a friend guarding their seat, just like Grandstand at the U.S. Open. If you really want to be at court level, you can buy one of 28 on-court seats on Stadium Court. But yes, that’ll be $181 for qualifying, for effectively the same experience you get at Charlottesville or Binghamton for nothing.
Tournament organizers know all about the US Open 19 miles away and know that fans will pay beaucoup bucks for a lower level seat in Arthur Ashe. And the organizers, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, manage operations for the New York Islanders and the Brooklyn Nets where they understand their NHL and NBA fans, but this isn’t the NHL or the NBA and this isn’t the US Open. It’s only close as the crow flies. It’s a 250 level tournament. It’s the player field of Newport or Houston in the middle of the winter. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe New Yorkers will empty their smart wallets US Open-style for this player field and tournament, but I don’t know. New Yorkers are used to spending a little more for everything, but the vast majority of the seats I’ve described remain unsold. Hopefully, if the seats don’t sell, they’ll allow folks to move down to the front row.
Pricing aside, the whole Memphis-to-New York move is truly a double-edged sword, as Memphis lost its tournament once to Rio only to bring in the San Jose, California tournament to save Memphis (and ostensibly save San Jose, for that matter). The Memphis Open also moved the WTA Oklahoma City event under its shield and, quite possibly, saved that American tournament as well.
I’m glad that the New York Open “rescued” this tournament from becoming the bauble of an oligarch or a potentate far from American shores. A loss of any US tournament is a loss for US tennis and cheers to those who didn’t let this one get away. I just don’t want the fans to have to be oligarchs to afford a great seat.
Tennys Sandgren once mused, among other strange things, that the US Open should be moved to the South where fans are more appreciative (tweet deleted). I don’t know about that, but I do believe that a 250 is a people’s tournament, and I’d like to see good seats priced within the reach of most fans. The loss of Memphis was a powerful, crushing blow to tennis in the America far from the coastlines, and it’s hard to decide whether to celebrate the saving of an American tournament or mourning the loss of the last 250 in the Heartland. I’m sure I’ll feel better about the whole thing as soon as they start playing tennis, because here’s the kicker: I will be there through qualifying and the first round and I can’t wait to see some great ATP action in a beautifully remodeled historic arena, halfway to the U.S. Open and the unofficial kickoff to the American pro tennis year.