The global economy, communities across the globe, and the sporting world have been rocked by the spread of the deadly coronavirus from Wuhan, China to around the globe. Concerns over the rapid spread of the virus have now led to the cancellation of the Indian Wells Masters ATP/WTA Tennis Tournament, one of the marquee events on the tennis calendar. This two week event was cancelled by tournament organizers the day before it was set to publicly start at the request of local California public health officials who are concerned about the virus spreading more rapidly and aggressively due to crowds at sporting events and other public gatherings such as Coachella where human interaction is close and common.
While the health and safety of the public takes precedence, it’s worth noting the significant domino effects cancelling Indian Wells will have on professional men’s and women’s tennis in 2020 and the impact on the regional economy in southern California. Indian Wells kicks off the start of the spring tennis season for most fans, whether they are traveling to the California desert oasis to enjoy matches up close or tuning in to the television/online broadcast around the globe. In 2019 475,000 tennis fans and thousands of players and their teams, volunteers, and support staff for the tournament were present over the course of the two weeks, filling stadiums. Most of these fans are not in the immediate area but rather coming from the San Diego and Los Angeles metro areas, regional cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, and around the US and the world, meaning their travel plans, and their tickets are purchased in advance. The cancellation will have a ripple effect on the hospitality, travel, and food/dining industry in the area, with so much already planned, and the cancellation taking place at the last minute.
Tournament director Tommy Haas, himself a former ATP pro, stated that the tournament could be rescheduled this year if the threat of the virus subsides, it’s also a possibility that the tournament could take place without fans present, but that would present a major loss of revenue for tournament organizers and the community that they would like to avoid.
Coronavirus continues to impact the sports world, including Italy’s Serie A, and the traveling Formula 1 Motorsports series. Both organizations are planning to have major events take place without fans, or have already done so.
Given that ranking points, prize money, and player travel plans are a big deal in pro tennis, the ATP and WTA Tours will have to consider similar measures instead of cancelling tournaments if possible in the weeks and months ahead. If the virus continues into the summer, Roland Garros and Wimbledon may be impacted. While there will be immediate concerns about the Miami Masters among other events on the upcoming tennis calendar. Both tours have tournaments in Italy and China upcoming on the 2020 calendar as well, the two nations hit hardest by Coronavirus at this time. There are also significant commercial pressures to factor in, including the interests of broadcasters who want to provide live tennis content to their customers, and companies that have sponsorship agreements with tennis professionals, the ATP/WTA Tour, or the tournaments directly along with the significant amount of presale tickets and travel that is tied to tennis tournaments around the globe.