The impact of no tournaments taking place in China for the rest of the year, including the lucrative WTA Championships, on the women’s tour organisation is massive, but CEO Steve Simon says there is a strategy in place to cope with the financial strain caused by COVID-19.
I don’t think that we will be back to what we used to take as ‘normalcy’ probably until 2022. So we’re now also looking at how are we going to manage 2021, because I don’t think this goes away as of January. There’s a tremendous amount of planning and scenarios going in as to what that year might look like. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO
“The WTA is no different than any other business in this world, and everybody’s been affected financially by this,” Simon told Reuters from the United States.
“And we’ve been hit hard, just as many other companies have been as well.
“If we’re not operating and you’re losing 50 to 60% of your year, your financials and your revenues are going to drop significantly.
“Do we have some big challenges financially? Absolutely. But we do have a strategy, we do have a plan in place that’s going to allow us to operate.”
The WTA was forced to cancel all events scheduled to take place in China on Thursday as a result of China’s General Administration of Sport’s ruling that the country will not be hosting any international sporting events in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In total, 7 WTA events have been cancelled, which is is a big hit on the WTA because the $14 million season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen is one of the organisation’s most lucrative events.
China has ‘rapidly become one the tour’s major markets and a key source of revenue’, the New York Times reported.
“We are extremely disappointed that our world-class events in China will not take place this year,” Simon said in a statement last week. “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.”
The release also stated that the WTA is ‘committed to moving forward with the return to play plan which provides for operating as many tournaments’.
Simon, however, thinks the elite women’s Tour will not return to any semblance of normality before 2022.
The WTA Tour, which has been shutdown since early March, will finally resume after the 5-month suspension with the Palermo Open starting on 3 August.
Simon, who took over as the WTA’s Chairman and Chief Executive in 2015, said the organisation’s strategic plans would evolve over the remainder of the year, but it has ensured that the body would survive the economic crisis.
“And from a good news standpoint, our tournaments seem to be strong and stable as well, and are weathering it,” Simon said.
“You never know where you might lose one. But it appears that most of our calendar will stay intact if obviously the conditions allow for sporting events to be held going forward.”
China featured prominently in the provisional calendar for the remainder of 2020 and is a great loss to the WTA’s financial viability.
With some 200,000 new COVID-19 cases being reported globally every day, however, and international travel restrictions still in place, Simon said plans are changing on an hourly basis and visibility for the rest of the year remains clouded.
“I don’t think that we will be back to what we used to take as ‘normalcy’ probably until 2022,” Simon added. “So we’re now also looking at how are we going to manage 2021, because I don’t think this goes away as of January.
“There’s a tremendous amount of planning and scenarios going in as to what that year might look like.
“But it is watching and monitoring and working with the health experts to get their opinions, and then try to put our plans in place as best as we can so that we can operate as efficiently and as healthy as we possibly can.”
Meanwhile, all eyes remain on the US Open, which reportedly has until the end of the week to decide whether it will go ahead or not on 31 August, and the odds are not looking good as many top players look unlikely to be willing to participate, preferring to opt for European clay court events ahead of the French Open at the end of September.
It seems the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Ashleigh Barty or Simona Halep don’t relish the prospect of quarantine restrictions, jet lag and surface switches.
Cancelling the US Open would cost the USTA an estimated $120m in worldwide television rights because, unlike Wimbledon, the organisation was not insured against the impact of pandemics.
On Friday, the US Department for Homeland Security scrapped quarantine for golfers, tennis players and some other athletes from China and Europe arriving in the country but there is no such assurance as yet for when they return home.
Even the French Open, cannily rescheduled at the height of the pandemic for a late-September slot, is not safe, especially after the cancellation of the China swing and the Citi Open in Washington due to precede the US Open.
“This decision in no way impacts the US Open or the Western & Southern [on the same site, from 22 August],” the ATP stated, but on Thursday night a 2am bulletin confirmed ‘the cancellation of the 2020 China tournament swing … in continued response to the Covid-19 pandemic’.
The WTA added its statement within a few minutes that stripped it of 7 of its biggest tournaments in China.
Now, with just 62 events or so left on the men’s and women’s calendars between now and Christmas, only a handful have any prospect of taking place.
As for the first Grand Slam of the coming year, the Australian Open hopes to proceed as normal but things could change.
Craig Tiley, Tennis Australia’s CEO, says they too are facing challenges moving forward, and confirm players will have to quarantine upon arrival in Australia, stay at ‘bio-secure hotels,’ undergo regular Covid-19 testing, and travel in sealed transport.
There will also be restrictions on spectators, with overseas fans ‘unlikely’ to be there.
“We made that decision this week, to go with that scenario from a number of options,” Tiley said. “We will not hit the numbers we had last year, a record 821,000 through the gates.
“Our fans will be from Melbourne and Victoria state, interstate, as well as, potentially, New Zealanders, if they lift border restrictions, but the 15 per cent we get from overseas will likely not be here.
“There is no question with the current lockdown in Melbourne as not ideal for people today, but positive for the future,” Tiley added. “If we get on top of the infection rate, we will all have learnt some good lessons.”
The US Open and French Open will set the trail for major international events in the coronavirus era, and Tiley believes their success may be crucial to both the sport and the Australian Open, moving forward.
“They are both exploring mandatory testing, varying levels of quarantine and limited entourages,” Tiley said.
“Of course we are looking at all these options, and more, as part of our scenario planning.
“If conditions improve and the US Open and French Open go well and they have positive events, it will build the confidence of the players and help us here in Melbourne next year.”
Simon can’t wait for the women’s Tour to get back up and running in Sicily next month and hopes the Palermo Open will provide a blueprint for tournament operations amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The women’s clay court tournament will be the first across both the WTA or ATP tours since they were suspended in early March.
“I’d say there’s definitely an excitement to get back to doing what we love,” Simon told Reuters by video call from the United States on Saturday.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of hard work that’s been done by the tournament promoters as well as the team to get us to this stage. So we’re going into this with great hopes.
“And hopefully we’ve found a solution that will allow tennis to operate in this environment.
“I think our first three events – Palermo, Prague and Lexington – will certainly create that pathway for us.
“Those three tournaments are going to happen unless we should receive a last-minute issue from the government or local medical officials.”