New York is a hell of a town, but in particular it’s a hell of a sports town. Between the Mets and Yankees, Jets and Giants, Knicks and Nets, Rangers and Islanders, rarely a day goes by without one team or another in action. And yet for two weeks at the end of August another sport dominates both the headlines and the box office as the U.S. Open Tennis Championships bursts into the Big Apple, bringing with it over seven hundred thousand fans and three hundred and fifty million dollars in revenue.
According to the PBS documentary ‘Treasures of New York: The U.S. Open” it is the most attended annual sporting event in the world. The $350 million in revenue is an increase of $124 million from just 2011 which shows the sport is increasing in popularity at a tremendous rate. It is the largest and loudest of the four Grand Slams, outdrawing and outspending the French, the Australian or Wimbledon. The prize money totals $57 million, with each of the winners in men’s and women’s single taking in $3.85 million.
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Pound for pound, the U.S. Open is New York’s biggest money maker when it comes to sports. The Mets and Yankees each play 81 games in the Big Apple but they only have one stadium apiece. By contrast, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows (home to the U.S. Open) has 22 courts, with 11 in the adjoining park. The Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world, seating more than 23,000. (This is not a hit with everyone, the Guardian has called it ‘the worst sports venue in America’, pointing out that if you are situated in the top row you are more than 120 feet from the action). Still, that’s a lot of seats to watch tennis.
Thirty seven percent of the revenue for the U.S. Open comes from ticket sales, another thirty four percent from Broadcasting. Twenty percent comes via Corporate sponsorships with the rest from concessions and merchandise. The prices at the U.S. Open for food are not outrageous by New York standards, or even New York sports standards. A burger will run you $15, a filet mignon steak sandwich a relative bargain at $17. Pizzas are $10-$18, depending on toppings. Then there is the more exotic fare, such as the Vietnamese Banh Mi Bacon Dog, which is basically a hot dog wrapped in bacon but with spicy mayo, green sauce and banh mi fixings.
More than 275,000 melon balls are sacrificed each year to make the Open’s signature cocktail, the Grey Goose Honey Deuce. Concessions are huge at the U.S. Open, generating almost $30 million. Compare that to the New York Yankees, which ‘only’ bring in $10 million.
But the real reason the Open makes so much dough for the Big Apple is not so much the ‘who’ as it is the ‘where’. People who go to New York Rangers and New York Knicks games and New York Mets games tend to come from….you know…..New York. That’s not the case with the U.S. Open. More than forty percent of the attendees there are from out of town. And we’re not talking out of town like Brooklyn or Jersey. We’re talking WAY out of town, like Tokyo, and Sydney, and Berlin, and Madrid. Paris and Brazil. Los Angeles and Miami. Tennis is an international affair, more so than any other major sport, and it’s not hard to see why. The greatest players in the game hail from such distant shores as Switzerland (Roger Federer); Spain (Rafael Nadal) and Serbia (Novak Djokovic). While Serena Williams is a home grown product here in the States, and arguably the best there ever was in ANY sport, her opponents come from all over the globe, including Japan (Naomi Osaka); Romania (Simona Halep) and Bianca Andreescu, who is Canadian and more importantly, this year’s winner of the Women’s Championship at the U.S. Open. Andreescu broke Serena six times to pull off one of the biggest upsets in sports and deny Williams her 24th Grand Slam title. In the Men’s Final, Rafael Nadal outlasted a determined Daniil Medvedev in five sets to win his fourth U.S. Open and nineteenth Grand Slam overall, putting him one behind Roger Federer.
The point is that the people who come to the U.S. Open don’t buy Metrocards, they buy airline tickets. And hotel rooms. They buy expensive dinners in expensive restaurants and purchase expensive seats to expensive Broadway shows. According to Forbes, the median household income for someone attending the U.S. Open is $182,000. Which means that even if they DO come from New York, they’re most likely not taking the bus or worried about the price of a U.S. Open ball girl navy polo shirt. ($148 in case you were wondering).
So much money comes into New York City that in 1990 then Mayor David Dinkins convinced La Guardia Airport to re-route their planes for the two weeks of the tournament so as not to disrupt the players.
When you think of synergy in sports, most people don’t immediately connect the U.S. Open and Manhattan. But they should. When it comes to a mutually beneficial relationship, tennis in New York is Game. Set. Match.