In the wake of rumors that a mini offseason for players could interrupt the RCA Championships’ calendar slot, the ATP-the association representing men’s professionals tennis players-has come out in strong support of the local tournament.
“There’s no uncertainty about the future of this tournament from the ATP’s perspective,” said Mark V. Young, ATP’s CEO for the Americas.
Young confirmed that ATP officials, who set the men’s professional calendar, have discussed shortening the schedule at the behest of players, who claim the quickening game and lengthy schedule leave them prone to injuries and burnout.
But Young said no calendar changes would be probable until 2009, and he added it is extremely unlikely any changes would affect the RCA Championships, which are set for July 21-29, 2007. He said if there is a break, it would likely be only two weeks.
“The RCA Championships is a very important part of the U.S. Open Series, and the series is one of the important tools being used to promote this sport in the U.S.,” Young said. “The RCA Championships in Indianapolis has a long, successful history, and we expect it to be around a long time.”
The RCA Championships kicks off the U.S. Open Series, which is composed of 10 events nationwide. Players earn points during the series, allowing top point winners to significantly boost earnings during the U.S. Open each September in New York.
RCA Championships officials are feeling particularly good about the tournament’s future despite facing several immediate challenges. Tournament officials are in the midst of negotiating with NBC for a new television deal and RCA for a new title sponsorship agreement.
Tournament officials hope to have the TV and title sponsorship deals finalized by year’s end. RCA officials said a national broadcast TV deal is paramount to its continuation as title sponsor.
Given an ATP mandate to increase prize money, tournament sponsorships are especially important. The ATP is calling for prize increases of 6 percent to 10 percent.
RCA Championships Director Kevin Martin is confident that sponsors will be signed to cover the extra cost. Since the RCA Championships is already above the minimum prize required by the ATP, increases for next year’s tournament are not a concern, Martin said. The RCA Championships currently has a players’ purse of $575,000.
One thing that might lure sponsors is increased corporate activity at the tournament.
“With all sporting events, business-tobusiness networking is extremely important for all sponsors and corporate partners involved,” said David Carter, principal of Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group.
While attendance remained just above 70,000 for the nine-day event this year, Martin said box-office revenue hit an alltime high due to income from premium seating and corporate entertaining. RCA officials this year reduced the total number of seats at the Indianapolis Tennis Center on the IUPUI campus from 8,400 to 6,800 and added several high-dollar courtside champagne tables.
“We’re trying to get the right combination of seating,” Martin said. “We want to create an intimate feel.”
Martin said this year’s revenue was enough to meet the tournament’s $3 million budget and make a significant sixfigure donation to its affiliated charities.
Despite its rock-solid place on the ATP’s calendar, there could be major changes coming to the local tournament. ATP spokesman Greg Sharko said the association is asking tournaments to consider a round-robin format to assure fans have more opportunities to see star players.
Sharko said the round-robin format would be tested in some tournaments in 2007, with a fuller schedule of round-robin events in 2008. “We’re not looking to force tournaments into this; we want to work in cooperation with tournament promoters,” Sharko said.
Tournaments are also being asked to consider bumping up their tournament start dates from Monday to Sunday and adding more entertainment options, such as pro-am events.
“We’re considering the round-robin format and we’ll make a decision on that late this year,” Martin said. “We support having more entertainment options. We’re looking at having celebrity clinics and other events.”
With all that’s on Martin’s plate, it’s easy to lose sight of long-term issues, such as the future home of the event. But Martin said tournament officials have been diligently working on that issue as well. They have secured a contract with IUPUI, which owns the tennis center, to hold the event there through 2008, with a possible extension through 2010.
RCA Championships officials have discussed buying the facility from IUPUI, but there are no current plans to do so, Martin said.
“We have a terrific relationship with IUPUI,” Martin said. “As in any relationship, we have to determine what’s best for us, and what’s best for them.”