Dowse on $50 million support package, silver linings for tennis amidst coronavirus impacts

Arthur Kapetanakis | April 16, 2020

The USTA announced Thursday its second phase of support for the tennis industry in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a total of $50 million committed towards grassroots tennis.


In a media conference call, USTA CEO and Executive Director Mike Dowse detailed a three-phased response plan designed to secure the long-term health and viability of tennis in America. Drawing inspiration from FDR’s message of “relief, recovery and reform” during the Great Depression, the USTA’s efforts are modeled around relief, recovery and rebuild.


An industry survey with over 3,200 respondents helped guide these initial plans, with 85 percent of respondents reporting that their tennis facilities were closed as of late March—a number that has undoubtedly gone up in recent weeks.


Amid the far-reaching impacts the coronavirus is having on the tennis industry, Dowse did identify some important silver linings.


From a community tennis standpoint, he touted tennis as a “great social-distancing sport” (once medical advice permits playing) and cited double-digit-percentage spikes in domestic sales of tennis balls and recreational racquets during the early stages of the pandemic’s spread in the U.S. 


“I think once we get through the relief and recovery phase, there's a huge opportunity for community tennis at the parks level to really start growing because people want to work, people want to play,” said Dowse. 


While the decision to open public courts will ultimately be made at local levels, the USTA will facilitate this process by sharing information from its recently commissioned Medical Advisory Group of doctors.


Further positives include the coalescing of the “alphabet soup” of decision-making bodies in tennis. At the grassroots level around the country, many of those organizations have already come together for the Tennis Industry United effort, including the USTA, USPTA, PTR, ITA and TIA. 


This extends to the professional level, as well, where the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Grand Slams are in lockstep like never before.  


“The collaboration… it's been fantastic,” Dowse said. “We're having weekly calls at the global level with our peers at the ATP, WTA, ITF, Grand Slam boards. We're having daily and weekly calls with our peers within the U.S., the USPTA, PTR, TIA, etc.”


Also with regards to the pro game, Dowse reiterated the USTA’s current plans to host the US Open as scheduled. It’s a sentiment that was aided by recent comments from President Trump, both in public and in a Wednesday call with American sports executives, including USTA President and Chairman of the Board Patrick Galbraith.


Dowse shared that a US Open without fans is “highly unlikely,” though nothing is off the table in the ever-changing environment. A major consideration is that, in addition to muting the annual celebration of tennis, a US Open without fans would nonetheless bring together hundreds of people, between players, coaches, officials, event staff and more. The health and safety of all parties remains the driving factor in any decision.


The fate of the US Open will impact the extent of future financial relief efforts, though Dowse noted that, as a fiscally sound organization, the USTA does maintain reserves. A final decision regarding what would be the 52nd edition of the US Open is expected in June.

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