The thoughts expressed in this blog are that of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Long Island Tennis Magazine
A storied, well-established ATP tournament came to Long Island and it seemed to have it all: a major venue (the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum), world-class players, an intimate environment, a void of major sports to compete with (football season had ended, basketball and hockey are in the middle of a long season, baseball hadn't started), affordable tickets, a tennis expo that addded to the buzz, and the most knowledgeable tennis fans in the world who revel in pro tennis at the U.S. Open each year.
This should have been a can't-fail event, but it did. The New York Open never gained traction in the local area and established a fan base. Attendance was sparse, to be kind, and sponsorship was spotty.
Let's explore why.
1. The Nassau Coliseum is No MSG
Let's face it, the Nassau Coliseum was rundown before its 20-month, 160 million dollar renovation.
The building was way nicer, but the reputation that it had garnered as a subpar venue is not easily overcome, even with great tennis. Madison Square Garden on the other hand can fill its seats with a tennis exhibition of senior tour players and celebrities because it is the greatest sports venue in the world.
2. Long Islanders are not enthused to travel out of the house in mid-February
No need to elaborate here. It's cold, dark, damp and a long walk from the parking lot.
The lack of public transportation is also not a great help.
3. The tournament was held in February during school vacation week
Again, the timing of the event, with day matches in the dead of winter, is not ideal.
4. Many of the most high profile players didn't play or they dropped out
The New York Open had some great players but tennis is a game of stars. Rafa, Roger or Novak would have sold the building out. Reilly Opelka and Jack Sock are exciting American tennis players, but they don’t put butts in the seats
5. The event failed to make inroads into the local tennis community
The Long Island tennis community is unique, and to understand it you need to be a local.
The New York Open marketing team just didn't understand the community’s likes and dislikes, or its wants and needs. Many clubs, pros, players, local organizations and media outlets bent over backwards to help see this event succeed. I'm not sure that those who helped out were as valued as they should have been.
6. The marketing was not successful
Ticket prices were steep in the first year and attendance was scarce so to fill the stands, ticket give-a-ways were common. The next year, many did not purchase tickets expecting to score a last minute freebie. They were not disappointed and once this pattern had been established it's very difficult to escape. Additionally, many in the area did not even know of the event, and those who attended or watched on television were witnesses to empty seats and a “black” court that did not look good live or on TV. With such sparse attendance and a lack of "major" network television coverage, the New York Open failed to land a major sponsor.
The pandemic might have accelerated the demise of this tournament, but it was already on very shaky ground prior to it, and it was just a matter of time before it closed shop. Maybe Long Islanders are satiated with the once a year U.S. Open and they just don't want to support another event? While it might be partially true that the stars would need to line up for a New York Open-type event to take off, I think that the right event, with the right players at the right time and place would work, as long as it tapped into the pulse of the local community and was marketed well.
I hope that a future event organizer will see the potential and not give up on the Long Island market.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.