Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Two tourneys pose planning challenges

Waning ticket sales may doom Seniors

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - Western & Southern Financial Group Masters officials won't get much of an "offseason" this year. Adding a WTA event in 2004, they will attend twice as many meetings - beginning next week at the U.S. Open - to stay versed on both brands of tennis.

They also will have an internal decision to make: What to do with their annual Seniors tournament.

The Seniors event has seen a slight but gradual decline in attendance the past several years. Tournament chairman Paul Flory said the event will at least be scaled back next year and can't guarantee it will return.

"There are aspects of it we'd like to continue, and we're going to try to continue it," he said. "But we don't want to over-tennis our fans.

"Players like Kathy Rinaldi, Mansour Bahrami, Mark Woodforde and Luke Jensen are particularly popular. It's going to be hard, but we'll see if we can't continue."

The Seniors tournament here began in 1991. It is played for the benefit of Tennis for City Youth, a program which funds lessons and provides equipment for inner-city children. Donations entering this year's tournament had totaled $326,633 in 12 years.

This year's total attendance for the three-day, mixed-doubles Seniors competition was 17,707. Attendance has slipped a bit since 1999, when it totaled 19,449.

It was a men-only event until women joined in 1999.

In 1998, the last men-only year, the event drew 20,237 fans. It had been a four-night event before '98, with a record attendance of 28,150 in '96 - an average of 7,038 per night, compared to 5,902 this year.

"We have a lot of full-series buyers that really enjoy it," tournament director Bruce Flory said. "It adds to the overall experience.

"But it's whether we can afford the cost. We don't generate a lot of additional ticket revenue. ... I don't see us doing three days, now that we have the women's tourney."

Bruce Flory said the compensation for the six-man, six-woman Seniors field is usually around $100,000. He said an event with fewer players could be a solution.

Seniors tennis was popular in the early 1990s because of the novelty of seeing long-retired stars. In its early years, this event attracted such big names as Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Ilie Nastase, Ken Rosewall, Fred Stolle, Dick Stockton and Harold Solomon.

The biggest-name Seniors now are John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, but they reportedly earn in the neighborhood of $350,000 each per appearance. The Florys say they wouldn't want to detract from their main events by overemphasizing the Seniors with such players.

Meanwhile, the Florys are enjoying the early buzz about the WTA event, to be called the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open. Steve Ransom, chairman of future ticket sales for the tournaments, said his booth was busy last week with inquiries.

"There's been a tremendous response and lots of positive comments about the women's tournament, and word is still getting out," he said.

Bruce Flory said the schedule for the Aug. 14-22 women's event is still to be determined. With a 32-player draw, it likely will have one session per day - beginning at 4 p.m. - until switching to two sessions the final three days.

Tennis in 2004

MEN: July 31-Aug. 8, 2004

Full series: $234

Monday/Tuesday package (four sessions): $96 adults, $72 children 14 and under

Wednesday/Thursday package (four sessions): $96

Friday/Saturday/Sunday package (five sessions): $164

WOMEN: Aug. 14-22, 2004

Full series loge: $149 Full series terrace: $99

TICKETS: 513-651-0303 or masters-series.com/cincinnati)


E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com

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