Australian Open hit with more revenue losses after five-day lockdown
Craig Tiley, chief executive of Tennis Australia, has revealed the snap lockdown in the state of Victoria, which prevented fans attending the Australian Open for five days, has cost the organiser more than A$20 million ($15.73 million) in lost revenue on top of losses it expects from staging the event in the middle of a pandemic.
The tournament, which started on 8 February and ended yesterday at Melbourne Park, was played behind closed doors from 13 to 17 February after the state government enforced a five-day lockdown after 13 coronavirus cases were found stemming from a quarantine worker who became infected at a Melbourne hotel.
Before the lockdown, up to 30,000 spectators – around 50 per cent of the usual attendance – could attend per day.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Tiley said each of the six sessions between Saturday and Monday during the lockdown had been sold out and the revenue lost from ticket sales, premium hospitality and merchandise sales would be significant.
He said: “We lose revenue. It is hard to quantify, but it’s … north of A$20 million at least. Lost ticket sales is the big one – particularly it’s our middle weekend. We were sold out under the [crowd] cap.
“For each arena we were sold out for Saturday and Sunday and Monday. Those are our biggest three days. It’s ticketing, it’s premium hospitality, it’s partner not being able to activate, so there will be partner impairment.”
Tiley’s comments come after he told international sports broadcaster ESPN the tournament is expecting a loss of more than A$100 million for hosting the grand slam amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the biggest reasons for the losses were the lack of fans during the two-week event, as well as the cost to quarantine all players and their staff in hotels for two weeks upon their arrival into the state.
He said: “It’s going to be tough. We’re going to lose multi-millions of dollars on this event.
“We have A$80 million in reserve and we will exhaust that, and we will take anywhere from a A$40 million to A$60 million loan. It’s a big loss but we haven’t finalised the number yet.
“We’ve still got to see what our receipts are.”
The event was given the all clear from health authorities in December to go head after negotiations between various bodies, including the men’s ATP tour and women’s WTA, for more than 1,000 players and officials to undertake pre-tournament quarantine.
However, there have been several setbacks along the way, including more than 70 players forced into a ‘hard quarantine’ after cases of coronavirus were found on three of the charter planes that arrived in Melbourne.
TA was also forced to delay several lead-in tournaments for a day after a staff member working at a hotel the players were staying at tested positive for the virus.
Addressing whether it would have been better to cancel this year’s grand slam, Tiley said it was vital to stage the tournament as other cities and events, including Shanghai, Madrid and Indian Wells in California, were ready to steal the Australian Open’s grand slam status.
He said: “There’s no contract to say that if you don’t have it [for a year], you’re going to lose it, although there is an agreement with the four slams that there’s certain levels that you need to maintain to maintain slam status.
“If we decided not to have it, or if we decided to do something – from an integrity point of view – against the other three grand slams, you start to have some issues.
“How you lose it through the inability to bring in the sponsors, the broadcast partners and, more importantly, the players.”
Asked which city represented the biggest threat, Tiley said: “All of them. We have a very close relationship with Indian Wells, but they’ve built that event up.
“That’s a big event now, they’ve done a good job. Miami has done a good job there. Shanghai are doing a good job there. It could be other European cities that are big enough for a grand slam.
“Madrid is a good example. Madrid’s done a good job; they’ve built a beautiful [complex] with three courts with retractable roofs. It’s a big city – bigger than Melbourne. They’re all bigger cities than Melbourne.
“My job in the leadership role is to protect this event and protect the history of this event and protect its viability and protect its position in the global calendar.”
The 2021 Australian Open ended with wins for Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka in the men's and women's singles, respectively.