Saturday along the track at a qualifying match, the realization only really dawned on tournament director Richard Krajicek. This is what the whole week will look like: no audience, no surprise after a brilliant point. Only a coach who applauds and shrill soles. For the rest: dead silence in a spooky Ahoy.
That evening he saw in the hotel lobby Jolanda Jansen, director of Ahoy, who is the licensee and ‘owner’ of the tennis tournament. “I have to go to my room now, I can’t take it for a while,” Krajicek said to her. For ten minutes he was “really sad,” he says. “Then I thought: so many events and people are having a hard time, and that feeling disappeared.”
It has been a year of financial survival for the ABN Amro tournament. The event is normally an “economically profitable project” for Ahoy, says Jansen, who had to lay off a hundred people as a result of the crisis, almost half of the workforce. “Now we hope to more or less break even. Although this does not yet include our own personnel costs. But we just do it, also to be able to continue the tournament. ”
Where the budget in a regular year is about ten million euros, it is about three million euros for this edition. Sponsorship, hospitality and receipts normally account for a third of the income each, with a small portion of media money in addition. Because spectators are prohibited, income from tickets and business arrangements is lost. The event attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually, at least 45,000 of which are business.
In a large hall at the back of Ahoy, where the VIP village is normally located with many catering establishments, including food from star restaurants, a rapid test street has now been set up for accredited press and staff employees. No access to the bubble of the Rotterdam sports palace without a negative test.
Prize money halved
The tournament is financially supported by title sponsor ABN Amro, normally good for an annual contribution of about 3 million euros. In August, the bank gave its blessing, while left and right events were canceled or postponed. “We wanted to make a clear statement: we are going to play,” says Ernst Boekhorst, responsible for the sponsorship portfolio at ABN Amro.
The tournament is their flagship sponsorship, with 15,000 corporate visitors annually. “But you can organize many things around it even without an audience,” says Boekhorst. This week they are holding ten webinars from a TV studio, with a view of the center court. For example, Anita Elberse, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, will give a presentation on how (sports) companies can anticipate the corona crisis.
The investment that the bank is making in the tournament this year is thirty to forty percent lower, Boekhorst expects, because there are also fewer costs. The total prize money has been halved – over 1.1 million euros against almost 2.2 million last year. This is in line with the regulations of tour organizer ATP: no visitors means a higher reduction on the prize money than at tournaments where (partly) public is welcome.
The winner in Rotterdam will be hit hardest financially. Where it received 407,000 euros last year, it is now 89,000 euros. A player who loses in the first round feels it relatively less in the wallet: he now gets 11,500 against 15,500 euros last year. The fact that ‘lesser’ players hand in relatively less is because they can use the money harder. The tournament’s motto is through the crisis together, Krajicek said earlier.
The new support measures that were announced on Wednesday should also be seen in that light. Players and tournaments will receive extra support in the coming months, with an increase in the prize money. This through a redistribution of the so-called ‘ATP bonus pool’, a pot of money that normally goes to the best twelve players in the world.
Another cost item that is considerably lower in Rotterdam is the ‘starting money’, which popular players receive to come to a tournament. This year there was “almost no budget for that,” says Krajicek. He could only offer top players a little money and possibly an extra room for a coach or physiotherapist. Starting fees for top players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic often amount to at least one million at tournaments.
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In conversations with players and managers, Krajicek noticed that there was understanding for the financial situation. “There was actually no negotiation.” Many top players also wanted to come to Rotterdam themselves, which is partly because the big tournament of Indian Wells in mid-March is canceled. “It was nice not to be the requesting party for once,” says Krajicek, who only proactively approached the Greek Stéfanos Tsitsipás.
Carlos Costa, Nadal’s manager, contacted him himself. Krajicek: “What I offered was a fraction of what he is worth and normally gets. He had to think about that for one or two days, and he agreed. He understood how difficult it is. ” However, Nadal had to cancel shortly before the tournament due to an injury. Tony Godsick, Federer’s manager, also contacted Krajicek. But Federer, recovered from a knee injury, still preferred to make his return to Doha next week.
To Zuidplein for hand gel
Last year the tournament, which normally takes place in mid-February but has now been moved due to the relocation of the Australian Open, just before the corona outbreak in the Netherlands. After earlier reports of infections in Italy and France, another employee was sent headlong to the Zuidplein shopping center across the street to buy pump bottles with disinfectant hand gel for the players counter. Jansen: “That was the level of measures last year”.
Now they are organizing a tournament that is completely aimed at the TV viewer. The center court, with ten cameras, has in fact been converted into a large TV studio. Jansen says that they have deliberately kept their production budget, for the decor and lighting, afloat to turn it into an “innovative television product”.
The boarding behind the track now prominently features the Rotterdam skyline, an idea that Jansen and her team picked up at the Next Gen Finals in Milan, where the opera house was depicted. “We had a difficult year with a lot of hassle, many canceled events, a lot of uncertainty, tension,” says Jansen. “But this is what we like, thinking things up.”
The winner of the ABN Amro tournament will be hit hardest financially
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