Miami Open Tennis: Grading The Tournament Experience

Spread the love

Tennis super-agent and IMG vice president of tennis Max Eisenbud walked around the grounds of the Miami Open this week working up a sweat and asking friends what they thought of the new location. It was an important question for the Masters 1000/WTA Premier Mandatory event, which had been essentially kicked out of its dog-eared but picturesque old digs in Crandon Park.

Tournament organizers, including IMG, went outside the box by going right back in it– meaning inside Hard Rock Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins play football. There, a temporary stadium court was constructed, while permanent courts were added in and around a giant parking lot outside the stadium.

Longtime tennis tournament-goers had sniffed at this entire notion, wondering if any such setup would confer the same lush charm of the old place, especially on a (believe it or not) shoestring budget of $72 million.

Did it work? In short– It’s a total mixed bag. Grade it A for effort, but there are major kinks to fix. As a level-just-below-a-Slam experience, it’s a C+. That averages to an overall grade of B. Under the circumstances:  respectable as all get-out, but needs improvement.

The tournament organizers were stuck– they absolutely had to appeal to the “old guard” Key Biscayne loyalists– the well-off over-50 crowd accustomed to a high-end Miami experience. Those folks are the bread-and-butter ticket holders.

But the event also needed to bring a fresh and sleek Miami vibe to attract younger fans and give the tournament a distinct look.

So much is made of comparisons to Indian Wells– the other half of the Sunshine Double, which immediately precedes Miami. But a more apt comparison might be the same-level Cincinnati, which has a similar concrete feel and blue color scheme.

What worked and what didn’t?

  1. The Players Liked It.  Grade = A  Behind the stadium court, also in the confines of Hard Rock, is an open area similar to Indian Wells for players to warm-up, relax, refresh, even kick around a soccer ball. Tournament organizers went out of their way to spoil players with comforts.

2.  The Court Surfaces. Grade = B-  Although the courts were meticulously poured to match speeds, they are slow. That’s indicative of budget constraints. Since courts get faster over time, starting them out super-slow keeps them from having to be re-surfaced often. Also, the turquoise-on-blue is a little clashy.

3.  Staff. Grade = A  Greeters, ushers and ball kids worked extremely hard. They were not mailing it in. Especially for the high-end ticket holders– the lucky folks with bracelets– the staff was helpful and hospitable.

4.  Stadium Court. Grade = C  This new stadium is going to take some work. First off, there were complaints that the pitch of some of the seating was such that some fans could not see the full court– it was obscured by heads in front of them. Another problem is too much cheap-looking metal framing that looks like high school bleachers. The huge video screens are awesome, but really one is only in full view to a portion of the fans. And finally– a problem which is not unique to this tournament– for big matches, like those for Roger Federer, the upper bowls are fuller and the lower bowls are half empty. This is due to corporate no-shows. It’s a bad deal that the most ardent tennis fans don’t get to see it up close. The great views are completely wasted, and on TV it looks like nobody cares. There must be some way to fix that problem with some tech advances.

5.  The Grounds.  Grade = B  This one is not overly worrisome, but the new Miami Open has not found that vibe to distinguish itself from say, Cincinnati. Walking around, it felt that a fan could’ve been at any-tournament, Planet Earth. (There are some innovative ideas to be had out there, such as the New York Open’s concept of an “overlook” that puts fans almost directly over the court.) Turquoise barcaloungers and lime-green astroturf felt a little like Miami Vice meets Brady Bunch backyard. That being said, the tournament did not seem like it was in a parking lot, as some speculated on Twitter that it would.

Overall, the tournament organizers should feel proud: They pulled it off under very difficult time and money constraints. The Miami Open says attendance is up over last year. But the tournament will need to do more to make sure fans come back after the newness factor wears off.

Main Photo: