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Coronavirus forces fan-less US Open format, prize money shrinks

Thomas Barrabi

Tennis stars will compete for a reduced prize pool when the 2020 U.S. Open commences without fans this August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Open will be held as originally scheduled from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., after the U.S. Tennis Association received approval from state government officials. Aside from lacking a crowd, the major tournament will proceed with a reduced format of play, smaller staff headcount and a host of strict safety measures in place.

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The total player compensation pool for the modified U.S. Open is $53 million, down from roughly $57 million at last year’s tournament, a USTA representative told FOX Business. Officials said the decision to hold the U.S. Open without fans was made after they determined it could be done in a “financially viable manner.”

“The decision to hold the 2020 US Open without fans was not an easy one, but ultimately it was the correct one,” said US Open Tournament Director Stacey Allaster. “To mitigate risk, we must minimize numbers on-site. Though we will not have fans on our site, we will engage with tennis fans around the world in new and exciting ways with the help of our global broadcast partners, and all our US Open sponsors.”

Under normal circumstances, ticket sales comprise a significant portion of revenue at the U.S. Open. The 2017 tournament earned $120 million from ticket sales, according to Forbes.

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The U.S. Open ranks among the most lucrative tournaments in tennis. Last year’s $57 million prize pool was a record. The men’s and women’s singles tournament winners each earned $3.85 million at the 2019 event.

The USTA committed a combined $60 million in player compensation for this year’s U.S. Open and the 2020 Western & Southern Open. The latter event will also be played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, rather than its typical venue outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

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The USTA pledged an additional $6.6 million in subsidies to the ATP and WTA Tours to compensate for the cancellation of qualifying events and part of the doubles tournament draw. The governing body also contributed $1 million to an international relief fund for pro tennis players earlier this year.

The U.S. Open will mark tennis’ first major tournament since play was suspended in March.

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