Some of the discussions around resuming sports amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are about how sports owners and players can minimize their losses (often with some debate over how those losses should be shared), but there are some cases where the future of the league (or at least some of its teams or events) seems more in question. The XFL went from ending its season in March to laying off its employees and announcing no plans to return in April, the CFL asked for government help to continue (although it may not get that), and now tennis’ ATP Tour is seeing some speculation about its future (perhaps especially when it comes to smaller events). The U.S. Open is trying to press ahead for its planned event in New York in August, but there are still lots of questions there from players. And smaller events may have it even tougher.
Feliciano López has an interesting perspective on everything that’s going on with the ATP. He’s both a player (who currently holds a record of 72 consecutive main-draw appearances at Grand Slam events, and who won both singles and doubles (with Andy Murray) titles at last year’s Queen’s Club Championships) and a tournament director (with the Madrid Open). And his comments to Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian for a piece published Sunday certainly seem pretty dire for the future of the sport (or at least, for some of its less prominent tournaments). Here are some of the key things López had to say:
“I’m talking as a player now – but I’m also a tournament director and I am able to see the reality, to see how tough it is to survive in this crisis. It is hitting everyone. It’s tough to break even. This is what the players need to understand. It is really urgent that everybody plays. But, if we don’t have tournaments, it’s possible the ATP is not going to survive either. We need to stay together. It is the only way to survive.”
López revealed those running events are in crisis talks with the ATP, and the WTA, and will have to resolve their dilemma within the next two weeks. “There are different scenarios. One, where you don’t have spectators at all, so the reduction [in prize money] is going to be more significant; the other is where you can have 30% or 40% of spectators, and then the reduction would be less.” López believes Madrid could “break even” with a 40% crowd – and reduced prize money.
Of course, López has a clear bias as someone who’s involved in running a tournament, and his comments may not be wholly accurate for either the wider situation of the Tour or for its players. But at the same time, it’s certainly notable to see him speaking out on this in such strong terms. And it’s particularly interesting to hear him say that the Madrid Open (where he obviously is involved with the finances) would need both a 40 percent crowd and reduced prize money to “break even.”
If that really is the case, and if that’s the case for other smaller tournaments as well, there may be a whole lot of challenges ahead for the ATP Tour. Even trying to achieve a 40 percent capacity at this point seems awfully risky. And a determination to offer reduced prize money may not go over well with the players. There’s obviously a lot still to happen here, starting with if the U.S. Open will in fact go on as planned, and if not, what a fall schedule of European tournaments might look like. But it’s definitely notable to see López speaking out in such strong terms, and suggesting such dire consequences for the ATP Tour if it does wind up on a pause. We’ll see what happens in the days ahead.