Why the Grand Slam Tournaments Risked Playing Hardball With Naomi Osaka

on Jun2
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The pandemic has only accelerated the cycle. A spokesman for the French Open said the tournament had received just 500 requests for writers’ press credentials this year, compared with roughly 800 in 2019. The New York Times was the only major U.S. news outlet to send journalists to the Australian Open this winter.

Widmaier said credential requests for the U.S. Open had dropped to about 1,150 from a high of 1,500 a decade ago. South Florida newspapers used to send three journalists and now often send none. California newspapers used to account for a half-dozen credentials, but now might take one.

ESPN, which began exclusively televising the U.S. Open in 2015, has usually averaged a little more than a million viewers for each telecast. But last year, during a tournament held without spectators that many of the top stars skipped, television ratings for the U.S. Open on ESPN fell 47 percent. Osaka ended up winning the women’s singles championship.

Donald Dell, a founder of the men’s tour, the ATP, and a longtime agent and tournament promoter, said media access to the biggest stars is essential for the promotion of any sport, and vital to engaging its most loyal fans.

“Access creates name recognition, so when you say Osaka or Federer or Nadal is playing in a tournament it enhances the ratings,” Dell said. “When Serena loses a final when she is going for the record for Grand Slams, it’s no fun to go into a news conference, but it is part of the sport and part of trying to build a bigger sport.”

It can also have a direct effect on the bottom line. Sponsors often pay millions of dollars in part to have their names on banners behind top players at news conferences and to have their products, such as a bottle of water or an energy drink, next to the microphones in front of the athletes. If players do not have to attend those news conferences, the value of those deals could drop significantly.

More broadly though, increasing player exposure is at the center of a plan that Andrea Gaudenzi, chief executive of the ATP Tour, has tried to put forward to increase interest in tennis. Gaudenzi, a former player, wants players to become the subjects of documentaries like “The Last Dance,” the recent ESPN series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

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