The 50th edition of the U.S. Open will kick off later this morning at the “reimagined” Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (BJK NTC). The facility recently underwent a 5-year $600 million renovation (fully financed by the USTA) to expand capacity and rebuild Louis Armstrong Stadium. JohnWallStreet had a chance to connect with Danny Zausner, COO of the USTA BJK NTC to discuss the U.S. Open’s mission, why the BJK NTC doesn’t have a naming rights sponsor and the difference between an “expansion” and “reimagination”.
JWS: The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet (AELTAC) Club has chosen tradition over profits, turning down sponsorship opportunities to maintain its “clean court philosophy”. What is the U.S. Open’s mission?
Danny: The models between Wimbledon and U.S. Open are very different. Our model is much more like the Australian Open and French Open, because those events are owned and operated by their respective federations. In the case of Wimbledon, they’re a private club; more like The Masters. In our case, we’re the United States national governing body and our sole mission is to grow the sport in this country; we use the funds generated by the U.S. Open to fund that mission. In the case of AELTAC, they use the revenue generated to fund the Club and then they can donate whatever they’d like to the tennis federation.
JWS: So, then how come the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and Arthur Ashe Stadium don’t have naming rights sponsors?
Danny: We always look for the balance. The USTA determined that it was more important to honor individuals who meant so much to the sport. From a sponsorship model, this is not Fenway Park; there are not hundreds of sponsors with signs all over the place. We’re more about quality over quantity. Many of our partners have been with us for 20-30+ years, we have some who been here for 40+ years.
JWS: The organization put $600 million into this project but has dubbed it a “strategic transformation”, not an expansion. What’s the difference?
Danny: We are in a public park in NYC and there’s not a lot of opportunity for land expansion. Whether you need .5 acre or 10 acres, it’s the same approval process and it’s not easy; public parks are precious commodities. So, this project was really about how to reimagine the 42 acres that we had, how to make better usage of the land; it had to be vertical (added 12,000 seats). It was about transforming what we had here (retractable roof on Louis Armstrong now enables night sessions), as opposed to what the USTA was able to do in ’97 when they went from 20 acres to 40 acres; that was an expansion.
Howie Long-Short: J.P. Morgan Chase, American Express, Mercedes Benz, Emirates Airlines, Tiffany and IBM are long-time sponsors, but Rolex is on board for the 1st time in 2018. Did you know the Swiss watch manufacturer (worth an estimated $8 billion) is owned and operated by a private trust (Hans Wilsdorf Foundation)? Upon the death of his wife (in ’44), Hans Wilsdorf (co-founder) assigned all outstanding shares of the company to the trust ensuring a portion of future profits would go to charity. The Foundation, which has been in control of the company since his death in 1960, operates as a charity and does not pay corporate income taxes.
Fan: I’m going to check out some first-round action later today. Now that the “reimagination” is complete, what is the first thing fans should take notice of?
Danny: Well, the first thing you must notice is the new Louis Armstrong Stadium. It’s our new 14,000 seat, retractable roof tennis stadium; it’s our #2 court. You can’t miss it, it’s spectacular. Gorgeous glass frontage, with our retail partners from Polo, Adidas, U.S. Open Collection and Wilson. It has 2 concourse levels of seating, with all the fan amenities missing in the old stadium.
Editor Note: I’ll be attending the day session. The plan is to catch American John Isner (11) at 12:15 on the Grandstand. If you’re going to be out there and would like to say hello, please reach out via Twitter (@HowieLongShort) or email (JWS@JohnWallStreet.com).
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