Friday, September 19
USTA's financial forecast
has yet to flood in


ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- It's noon Thursday and thousands of fans were supposed to be at the National Tennis Center. There's supposed to be long lines at the shops and at the food kiosks and plenty of live tennis is supposed to be going on.

Fan
Only the most dedicated fans hung around Flushing Meadows on Thursday.

But mother nature has taken over. Rain has made umbrellas the most desirable item of the moment at Flushing Meadows and a gaze across the grounds proves that four days of on-and-off tennis clearly weakened the optimism that existed just a couple days before.

This isn't just a nuisance for the United States Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open. It was yet another day of financial chaos, the extent of which is not fully known.

As of 5 p.m. ET Thursday, only five matches were completed throughout a four-day period, thanks to the fact that anything more than a light mist makes tournament officials deem the hard courts unplayable. And while the USTA has a weather insurance policy, sources say it's impossible that weather insurance alone can save the Grand Slam tournament from all the losses associated with the lack of tennis this week -- from the promises made to television partners including CBS and USA, the guarantees to tournament sponsors, not to mention the lost revenue that comes with a smaller gate and concession sales as a result of the sparse crowds.

USTA chief executive Arlen Kantarian used just two words in assessing the tournament's losses: "A lot."

"I don't think we really want to know," one USTA official said, perhaps only half jokingly.

From a business standpoint, four sessions already have been significantly affected. Monday's night session as well as Tuesday and Wednesday's day sessions were canceled due to rain. Although Monday's day session was deemed completed -- with only one match completed that day -- USTA officials, in a goodwill gesture, said they would honor those tickets for another upcoming session. All this comes on the heels of the largest first-week crowds in U.S. Open history.

"We tried to be as flexible as we can to provide the fan with as many different ways to be able to see the tournament live," USTA spokesman David Newman said.

The USA network, which has been broadcasting the tournament for the past 20 years, is in the first year of a six-year extension reportedly worth more than $100 million. The network was supposed to show 26 hours of live tennis coverage from Monday through Wednesday, but due to the inclement weather, it was only able to show four hours of live coverage. To help fill the void, the network invited viewers to call in and ask questions of John McEnroe, the tennis great and network's analyst, on Wednesday night's broadcast.

"We're unfortunately going to lose viewers if there is a lack of tennis action," USA spokesman Tom Caraccioli said.

Caraccioli would not comment as to how the USTA plans to make up the ratings losses sustained by the network. Ratings data from this week's broadcasts have not yet been compiled by Nielsen. USA's primetime ratings for last week -- before the rain -- already were down 19 percent from 2002. At one point, fears were that even more losses would be incurred if the rain pushed back CBS' primetime broadcast of the women's final on Saturday night or the men's final to Monday.

The USTA does have insurance. Weather insurance only became an option for events in 1997 and over the past year covered $4.2 billion worth of assets, according to the Weather Risk Management Association. The policies differ depending on what it takes to halt or cancel an event. Since any amount of rain halts play at the U.S. Open, the USTA can collect on its current policy if 1/100th of an inch is measured at nearby LaGuardia Airport for four of six hours during the day session and three of five hours during the night session. Last year, the USTA collected in the high six-figures in weather insurance claims, according to sources with knowledge of the deal.

"What they would collect from this policy is probably not enough to cover everything because based on their previous history, there would be no reason to buy that much coverage," said Jim Chippendale, president of CSI Entertainment Insurance, who is not privy to the particulars of the USTA's deal but is familiar with such policies.

"If they had a tough time getting insurance this year, it's going to be even tougher to get it next year," Chippendale said. "And they're going to have to pay a lot of money for whatever coverage they can get."

Newman would not comment on specifics of the weather insurance policy, but he acknowledged that the rain has put a financial strain on the organization.

"In a situation where you have rain affecting a number of different sessions, affecting dozens of players and affecting tens of thousands of fans, there's going to be losses, no question about it," Newman said.

Those losses could affect the USTA's grass-roots and player development program since the proceeds from the U.S. Open are the primary funding mechanism for the USTA budget.

The USTA has now hired an architectural firm, MBBJ, to look into the feasibility of building a roof that would cover one of the larger courts.

"If you look at the 122-year history of this event, and trace the weather -- and I'm more familiar with the 12-year history where this is only the second year in 12 years we've ever had any canceled sessions -- it certainly would not make sense based on that history," Kantarian said.

While the USTA has been criticized for not building a retractable roof over one of its stadium courts, the USTA is rarely applauded for the fact that the National Tennis Center is a privately-funded facility that used no taxpayer money. The Australian Open, which does have a retractable roof, used public funds. The roof also has another financial benefit.

"A byproduct of us having the roof if the fact that we don't have to pay for (weather) insurance," said Paul McNamee, Australian Open tournament director. "It saves us money in that sense."

That brings up another cost not yet assessed for the USTA.

"If they had a tough time getting insurance this year, it's going to be even tougher to get it next year," Chippendale said. "And they're going to have to pay a lot of money for whatever coverage they can get."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com