On The Call – United States Tennis Association Media Conference Call on the 2020 US Open
(June 17, 2020) NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The United States Tennis Association held a media conference call to announce the the US Open would be played at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center from August 31- September 13. In addition, the Western & Southern Open, normally played in Mason, Ohio will be played at the US Open site beginning on August 19th with the qualifying tournament, with the main draw beginning on August 21. Both events will be played without fans or media on site.
During the conference call, the USTA played a video of 23-time major champion Serena Williams.
“(I) really cannot wait to return to New York & play the 2020 US Open,” she said.
“I feel the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe. Will certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong”
For more information on the safety plans for the US Open and the Western and Southern Open:
Below is a transcript of the conference call courtesy of ASAP Sports and USTA:
June 17, 2020
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Welcome to this special and historic announcement. I am Chris Widmaier, managing director of communications for the USTA. We’re coming to you live from tennis’ grandest stage, Arthur Ashe Stadium here at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Today we do have a very special announcement. We are joined by USTA’s immediate past president, Katrina Adams. We will also be hearing from USTA CEO and executive director, Mike Dowse. We have with us the chief executive of professional tennis for the USTA and recently named US Open tournament director, Stacey Allaster. And we are joined by the NCAA’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hainline. Dr. Hainline is also a member of the USTA board and has served on our USTA Medical Advisory Group.
At this time I’ll turn it over to Katrina Adams.
KATRINA ADAMS: Thank you. Good morning everyone. I am thrilled to be here today representing the USTA board of directors and the USTA president, Patrick Galbraith, to officially make a long-awaited and exciting announcement.
The 2020 US Open will be played on its regularly scheduled date here at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, right here in New York City.
In this tough and trying year that is not just good news, it’s remarkable news. What’s more, in addition to hosting the US Open, the NTC will also this year host Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open, which will relocate here to be played the week prior to the US Open.
This has been an unprecedented year, racked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustice that has put a global spotlight on the Black Lives Matters movement. I am particularly proud to say that the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center became a center of support during the pandemic, serving as a temporary center of support for a hospital for those that are affected.
I’m equally proud that the USTA not only supports the Black Lives Matter movement, but has long been at the forefront of diversity and inclusion, emphasizing those important elements in all that we do.
Of course, holding the 2020 US Open will be good for our sport at every level of the game. Playing the Open will once again shine a spotlight on tennis, and get people excited about playing our safe and healthy sport for themselves. It will also allow the USTA to generate important income to invest in growing the game’s grassroots efforts in local communities all across the U.S.
For all those reasons we are thrilled that the US Open in 2020 will be happening. That’s fantastic news. Thank you.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you, Katrina. It is fantastic news.
I’m going to turn it over to USTA CEO Mike Dowse.
MIKE DOWSE: Thank you, Chris.
Today what I want to do is share with you the journey we’ve been on since March 11th when we learned that this pandemic was a very big challenge to our society and our sport of tennis.
The first thing we did in mid March was convene a team of many colleagues within the USTA but also the broader tennis community, the ATP, the WTA, ITF, anyone associated with the US Open. We said that we need to look at all the different scenarios. Innovation is one of our values. We wanted to be innovative and look at all possible opportunities to host this tournament.
Having said that, we weren’t going to host it at all costs. We need three guiding principles that we need to check the boxes on to be sure it is the right decision to host the US Open.
The first and most important principle: Can we play the tournament safely, and is it in the best interests of the health and well-being of everyone involved. That includes players, staff and our local community here in New York City.
The second guiding principle we set for ourselves: Will this be in the best interest of tennis. Is this great for tennis.
Our third guiding principle has been around: Does this make financial sense both for the players and for the USTA.
I can say our team looked at a dozen different options on how do we best address these three guiding principles. I can say, and I’m excited to say, the combination of the Western & Southern Open and the US Open here in New York checked all three of those boxes unequivocally.
We have a great medical advisory group that has supported us and consulted for us on the medical side, ultimately being signed off yesterday by Governor Cuomo and the state of New York. Our fans have told us they’re excited to see the best players in the world.
Three, financially, we’ve been essentially able to match last year’s total compensation for the tournaments. We can also take funds now and contribute it to our grassroots and community tennis.
On our first guiding principle of the health and well-being of all, I’m going to hand it off to Dr. Brian Hainline.
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: It is a pleasure to be here with such exciting news. We have been experiencing this pandemic, COVID-19, we haven’t seen the likes of this in over 100 years. It’s been remarkably devastating to society across the world. Within America we’ve seen that people of color have been disproportionately negatively impacted, something that really awakens us to social justice concerns.
Now we’re in the place of reopening society, reopening schools, colleges, universities, high schools. We’re reopening sport. When we do that, we’re able to do it in an evidence-based manner.
We’ve learned so much about this disease in the past few months. We know how we can start doing things in a manner that doesn’t necessarily prevent one person from getting COVID-19, but that can prevent and mitigate against the risk of spread of this disease.
Why are we bringing back sport, and tennis in particular? Well, if you look at tennis, already we’ve known that compared to all of the other sports it may be the best sport for you from a health and well-being point of view. We have data about that. Then in the midst of COVID, tennis is an ideal sport for physically distancing, being able to play the sport safely, to socialize safely.
Then we come to the particulars of the US Open. Mike talked about how this is good for tennis. Well, it’s also good for society because sport is an essential aspect of who we are as human beings. Sport does bring us health and well-being. Even to watch sport, it brings us so much pleasure.
The particulars of bringing back sport for the Western & Southern Open and for the US Open, we really conceptualized that we have different bubbles, we call them tiers. Tier I are the players, all of those who have very, very close contact with the players. They will stay in this protected bubble. Upon arrival they will all be tested, this is with the preliminary chain reaction test. That testing will be repeated at regular intervals.
There are strategies in place. So what if someone does become positive? Well, because we are all physically distancing at this wonderful event, these two events in a period of a few weeks, because we will be universally masking when there’s any possibility of interacting with someone else, that already is the most important strategy we have to prevent this disease from spreading to others.
The plan is really in place, the physical distancing plan is in place, the testing plan is in place. We are confident that we can pull this off not only in a manner that assures the safety of everyone else, but more importantly in a manner that really is going to be an essential aspect of bringing back a physical manifestation of hope for our society.
We’re opening up as a society and we’re ready to go through the Western & Southern Open and the US Open. Thank you.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you, Dr. Hainline.
Now it’s my great pleasure to turn it over to our new US Open tournament director, Stacey Allaster.
STACEY ALLASTER: Dr. Hainline, on behalf of the entire USTA team that I represent, thank you for helping us get to this point. With your expertise, your leadership, the hours you’ve put into this plan, I don’t know where you find the time or when you sleep. You have that little day job you have. We’re most appreciative that with your guidance and leadership we’re all confident that we will implement this plan.
In my first official duty as the US Open tournament director, it is my greatest pleasure to welcome a special guest to our first virtual US Open press conference.
SERENA WILLIAMS: This announcement has been on my mind all day. Ultimately I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020. I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and evening is perfect and everyone is safe.
It’s going to be exciting. It’s been over six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis. I’ll certainly miss the fans, don’t get me wrong. Just being out there in the New York crowd, hearing everyone cheer, I’ll miss that, getting me through some of those tough matches.
This is crazy. I’m excited.
STACEY ALLASTER: Thank you, Serena.
What seemed crazy three or four months ago now has become a reality. Serena, I can assure you that your fans miss you. But how exciting for all fans to see you and your fellow competitors here at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to play and compete in the Western & Southern Open and the US Open.
I’m going to take you through a few of the details about how all of this will work.
As Mike talked about, the first guiding principle has been the mitigation of risk and the health and well-being for all, together with leadership of Dr. Hainline, how we manage the spreading of the virus.
We have to give a shout out to Governor Cuomo and everyone on his team and here in the city, and most importantly to those first responders across the state for their heroism to help with the spreading of the virus decreasing.
The chart that you see on your screen is a value that is used, it’s called the RT value. It is tracked daily across each state. You can see that New York state is the lowest, fifth lowest, in the country as of today. This gives us the confidence that New York state is on the right track, along with New York City and here in Queens.
Total compensation for the two events will be $60 million. The draw sizes for the US Open will be men’s and women’s 128, men’s and women’s doubles 32 draws. This is a change. Specifically also the entry criteria will be a doubles-only ranking.
Within the $60 million of total compensation, we have allocated $6.6 million – $3.3 per tour – to be able to use those funds at their discretion. They may use those funds to compensate the athletes who will not be joining us at this year’s US Open, and/or use the funds to subsidize or stage ATP challengers, WTA international events, the events with the right ranking points, also to help the athletes impacted by not being with us for the qualifying.
We are also going to be part of that solution not just with money where we will help both tours if we’re asked to stage events here in our country.
As it relates to how it’s going to work from a timeline perspective, the official player hotels will open on Saturday, August 15th. I think it’s important to note players can come whenever they like. We’re just opening up the business for them. The NTC will be open on Sunday, August 16th. Yes, the airplanes are flying over us. New York is definitely open and back.
The Western & Southern Open qualifying will be held August 19th to 20th. The main draw for the Western & Southern Open will be August 21st till the 28th. The main draw for the US Open will be, our traditional dates as scheduled, August 31st to September 13th.
How will the Western & Southern Open work? We’ve worked with both tours to design the draws and the field to try and mirror those that will play at the US Open. 56 men’s and women’s singles, 48 qualifying. That has expanded from 32 to 48. And an expanded doubles from 28 to 32 doubles teams. The entry criteria will be doubles best-of ranking.
Before I proceed I think it’s really important to just give a big shout out and thanks to Western & Southern, to all of our partners in Cincinnati for coming along on this journey. We couldn’t have done it without Western & Southern’s support, specifically John Barrett, who is incredibly passionate about this tournament. We thank you, John, and everyone for having the faith in us and the confidence to do this.
The other thing I think that’s important, as you saw in the dates, this will mean that the Winston-Salem Open will sit off the calendar in 2020. Again, thank you to the leadership of Don Flow and everyone involved with the Winston-Salem Open to give us this opportunity for what gives the athletes an opportunity to come back, to train, to have competitive matches here at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center if they want.
I have to tell you, months ago Don Flow was one of the first people to call me. He said, Stace, what needs to happen, the US Open needs to happen. If you need us to step down, we’re there to support you.
So thank you again to Don, John Barrett and everyone involved.
Two official player hotels, this is new for us. Everything for the player housing will be centralized. We have secured one brand-new hotel, the TWA, located at JFK. One of the great things about this hotel, aside from its proximity, is its expansive layout and footprint. It’s almost like it was built for physical distancing and to give the athletes their relaxing space, medical services, fitness centers, physio, et cetera. The hotel has been an important piece of this puzzle as we have built the plan.
In addition on-site one of the benefits of no fans not joining us, they’re certainly going to be with us with over 200 countries around the world, we have world-class facilities we can now use and share with them, whether that’s outdoor cafes, we’ll be able to use these suites sitting here in Arthur Ashe Stadium, lounges, space for the athletes to chill and prepare for their matches.
As well, we will transform the South Plaza into a sports center. We know our international guests love football. Whether it’s football, basketball, golf, movie theaters, gaming, you name it, we will have an expansive experience for the athletes in between their training and their competition.
As Dr. Hainline talked about, testing is an important piece of the mitigation plan. As players arrive in New York, they will come into one of the two official hotels. That’s where the journey will begin as it relates to testing. They will be tested directly at the hotel.
As Katrina said, this is fantastic news for tennis. This is fantastic news for the 2020 Western & Southern Open. An historic moment here at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
On behalf of the USTA and everyone that has put their heart and soul into today’s announcement, I know they will, now the hard work comes, we are officially open. The US Open is open for business. Thank you.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: There you have it, folks. A very special day for us here at the USTA. Again, we really appreciate you joining us.
At this point in time we’re going to be transitioning to the media Q&A for all members of the media. We will take our first question.
Q. To Stacey, how will the US Open field be filled? Is there a deadline for players to commit to it? What about the potential quarantine issues that they face for foreign players?
STACEY ALLASTER: The Western & Southern Open, those entry deadlines will be as per the tour rules. Things are a little in flux, but at the moment we’re looking at I believe July 12th for the Western & Southern Open. Athletes will make their own decisions whether or not they want to play that event. We hope they do.
As it relates to the US Open, again, normally eligible by rank. The athletes are automatically entered. We will go through a process where we’ll work with both tours to garner the interest of the athletes. We know we have a large number of athletes who are training and want to play. Sort of the final, final details of that are not nailed down but will be in the coming weeks.
I know on the quarantine, that’s been a big topic of discussion. Together with federal, New York state, local government and the USTA medical advisory group, we’ve created this centralized US Open world and Western & Southern Open world that in essence brings the athletes into a safe environment for them to train and return ultimately to work.
We have the assurances of the federal government on May 22nd, the president signed a proclamation of national interest with sport being part of that proclamation that all athletes, their entourages, tour officials, would be able to come into our country to participate in the Western & Southern Open and the US Open.
Q. Is there a concern of a lot of big names passing on this event? There have been reports of Roger Federer obviously isn’t going to play with having surgery, but you have Djokovic, Nadal. How much of a concern is that that you could be without some star power?
STACEY ALLASTER: We are going to have incredible star power for the Western & Southern Open and US Open. We know and we respect that all athletes are going to need to make this decision on their own.
There are a lot of questions. We have 59 days when we will open the tournament hotel. There will be ongoing conversations with athletes to help them understand the plan and then some ultimately will make their own decision, just as they always do. We are confident that we do have a lot of players and interest who want to compete.
What we know for certain on this glorious center court here in Arthur Ashe Stadium, we have seen some of the most amazing matches and athletes compete. We’re confident that is what they will share with their fans around the world for the Open and of course for the Western & Southern Open.
Q. How strictly is sort of the bubble going to be enforced? What happens if a players sneaks out of the hotel to go clubbing, if they invite someone they met on a dating app to the hotel? How strict of confines will this be? Will players have to adhere by different behavioral rules in order to stay eligible to be at the US Open?
STACEY ALLASTER: We’ve created this plan, this centralized plan, so our athletes can come back and return to work. I think as we are all returning to work, we all have a responsibility to ourselves, to our families, to our fellow co-workers.
I have a lot of confidence in these professional athletes. Together with the tours, we’ll be working with them, to be comfortable. We want them to stay in the hotels and to then also come here to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
It will be on all of us to do our part to be able to stage this event in the safest and healthiest way. Again, I’m very confident that the athletes who do decide to join us will share in that responsibility.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Dr. Hainline?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: I won’t answer the part of the question about enforcement because I’m not on that side.
If you think about it, we really designed this tournament around a bubble. If someone becomes infected, that’s a possibility, if they go out and they put themselves at a behavior where their behavior is risky, they’re really taking on a responsibility of saying what I’m doing is not that important to my fellow players.
If they do become infected, the way the inner bubble is, they will not be in physical contact with any of the other players. We’re going to be doing the regular testing. If someone does test positive during the tournament, we’re confident that disease won’t spread to the other players because of how everything has been worked out and modeled.
Q. Will wildcards be awarded? There was some discussion about players being allowed to stay nearby at a private home. If that’s the case, are their entourages allowed to be with them? Is that a concern of yours?
STACEY ALLASTER: Around wildcards, for the US Open there will be 120 direct in, and there will be eight wildcards. For the doubles we continue to work with both tours on finalizing the number of wildcards. We anticipate it will be three or four for the doubles.
The Western & Southern Open will be per its usual allocation of wildcards.
As it relates to private homes, we will provide options to the athletes. The athletes are used to, as we know, staying in private homes at Wimbledon or other tournaments around the world. If they want to invest in a private home, we have a Realtor who will be available to them.
These will be residential homes in non-dense locations outside of Manhattan. That then would be an option within their own home, their own bubble group, for them to bring their entourages and family members.
When they come in then to the US Open world, they will be tested, along with those entourage members who will be coming on-site to support them, whether it be coach, physio. They, too, will go through the same testing as all players.
Q. Stacey, you just mentioned entourage members. Has a decision been made on the number of people a player will be able to bring on-site for practice, matches, any other purpose? Separately, what will the setup be in terms of line calling? Will it be just the chair umpire with electronic help? Will you have a normal set of line judges, et cetera?
STACEY ALLASTER: Let me say right now, as part of the plan, each athlete will be provided two hotel rooms, one which we will pay for, one they will. Each athlete will be permitted within those two hotel rooms to bring up to three additional guests at their choice.
We’re going to work with the athletes, with the tours, on how many on-site, timing. There will be a very comprehensive physical distancing movement plan. Again, we understand the needs of the athletes. We just need to make sure that we navigate the physical distancing and ensure that we keep everyone spread out and also everyone gets the proper training and preparation they need for the two events.
As it relates to line calling, a really tough decision for us to make. We will not have a full complement of officials. We will on Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong have lines persons. All other courts we will use technology with Hawk-Eye Live. That will be another first for the US Open. Of course, chair umpires on all courts.
As it relates to ball persons, we will have crews here on Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis. There will be a total of six ball persons, two on each ends, two on the sides of the net. On the outer courts there will be three, one on each end and one at the net to help with retrieving and rolling of balls to the athletes.
Q. Stacey, a question about how you’re going to look after the needs and requirements of the media for the US Open. Obviously very difficult. What do you have in mind?
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I will take that one.
At this present time, as you heard, we will have no spectators on-site. The cornerstone of this plan is to limit the total number of individuals on-site at any one time.
Because of that, we are planning to not have media on-site this year at the 2020 US Open. We will be putting together a plan. We do want to speak with you, Simon, Isabelle, others to put together a comprehensive media plan that works for everybody and brings the US Open around the world in ways we haven’t done it before.
As you see, we’re hosting our first virtual interactive Q&A right now. It’s going pretty smooth. There’s more to follow on that.
Q. Stacey, will the players be required to sign an insurance waiver of some sort absolving the tournament of responsibility if there is a positive test, which let’s be honest, is fairly likely? Further to that, if someone tests positive, they must isolate in a hotel room for a number of weeks, a team member, who is responsible to assume the cost of that?
STACEY ALLASTER: The entire plan is set up to mitigate risk. As Dr. Hainline has said, it is possible that someone may test positive. We have all of the medical doctors under the leadership of our chief medical officer, Dr. Alexis Colvin of Mount Sinai, Dr. Brian Daniels, director of player services. They will be looking after the athletes along with many other medical professionals to help us.
If an athlete has tested positive, we have designed and set up an area where they will be isolated. Our medical professionals will care for them. They will make the determination as to what type of treatment they require, if that is a treatment in the hotel or an alternative location that we determine. If they need to be hospitalized, we will have the hospitals set up for them to be treated. I think we all go into this understanding the risk and our responsibility.
As in every year, the health and well-being of our athletes, their safety, their health is paramount to our medical team. It will be unwavering during this event.
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: Two observations. One is there has been a lot of talk of waivers in different situations. Sometimes universities say they want a waiver signed, sometimes states saying they want to provide waivers to universities. At the board level at the USTA, that has not been discussed.
It really doesn’t make a lot of sense to have players sign that because, look, they’re at risk of developing COVID from many different scenarios. It’s highly unlikely it’s going to happen at the US Open.
If someone does test positive, the other thing that’s very important is we will be working hand-in-hand with the local health department, their contact tracers. This is not just a US Open medical decision, this is also a public health decision in terms of the necessities of quarantining.
The US Open and the Western & Southern Open, we will make certain that the quarantine procedures are provided per protocol. That is a local health decision in conjunction with the medical team.
Q. Stacey, entry deadlines. You said that not everything had been decided on this. Will it be your intention to remain fairly flexible on this? It’s clearly a changing situation around the world. Levels of infection will be changing. Players might want to make very late decisions as to whether they play or not.
STACEY ALLASTER: Without question, this is a journey. Things are evolving. We have the plan today. We’re in daily contact with both tours.
For the Western & Southern Open, I did use the date of July 11th as an entry deadline. We collectively recognize that that may adjust. We’ll take some direction from the tours as it relates to the Western & Southern Open.
For the US Open we know going into this that athletes will most likely decide two to three weeks before. We’ll be ready. We are ready. The plan is ready. If the athletes are ready, we’ll be ready for them to come to New York, to train and compete in both events hopefully, but one or the other.
Everything definitely is flexible. Again, we’re grateful to the tours for their support and feedback for us to be able to stage this centralized plan and bring our sport back to our fans around the world.
Q. Mike, in addition to working hard on the US Open and hosting it as safely as possible, I know and the USTA has been working hard on the Relief and Recover for COVID Rebuild efforts to make sure the sport of tennis is healthy coming out of this pandemic. How will the financials of hosting the US Open and the Western & Southern Open impact those efforts at the grassroots level?
MIKE DOWSE: Great question. How do the financials of the US Open affect our grassroots effort?
We embarked on something called Relief, Recover and Rebuild Tennis coming out of the pandemic. If you go back to our guiding principles on the US Open, our third one, does it make financial sense. Our definition is, can we be competitive with total compensation for the players versus the prior year. Yes, we did that.
The other part, does it make financial sense, can we continue to commit to grassroots tennis, which is ultimately the mission of our governing body. The answer is yes.
By hosting the US Open this year with no fans on-site, we’re able to commit to 91% of our grassroots funding for 2021 and nearly 100% of our grassroots funding for 2020.
Yes, having the US Open and the Western & Southern plays a big part in our ability to fund our mission. Thanks for the very good question.
Q. Stacey, obviously players recently were under the impression that only one guest was allowed. You’re saying today up to three are allowed. How can you justify not running qualifying because you have to limit numbers when you’re now upping the number of player guests from one to three?
STACEY ALLASTER: When we look at the overall picture, again it starts with hotels, the number of rooms that we have within the two centralized player hotels. TWA has 512 rooms. Main draw men’s and women’s singles, 256, that’s 512 ironically enough.
The medical advisers have said they are comfortable with the two rooms, that exposure group sharing. That piece of the puzzle works as it relates to medical and the physical facilities of hotel rooms.
As it relates to on-site, this is evolving. We started putting out this plan three, four weeks ago. Obviously there’s been significant discussion with the athletes on plus one, plus two, et cetera. I think the majority of the athletes understand we have to limit.
When we look at the overall of qualifying, mixed, juniors, wheelchair championship, we had to make the really difficult decision that that extra load of the number of bodies that is in the multiples was outside something we felt we could handle ultimately to mitigate the risk and the health and well-being for all.
This has definitely been challenging and difficult. But as I said in my opening remarks, we recognize the impact this has on the qualifying athletes. With the tours, we have provided each tour with $3.3 million of compensation, the ability to fund and stage replacement jobs for those athletes, for the important ranking points. We’ll be part of that journey if the tours need us to support and stage those events.
Q. I know a number of people who have stayed at the TWA hotel. I was wondering if you’ve had discussions with them about a few changes of their policy. I know they don’t have room service, which is a player ideal situation, nor 24 hour-a-day food availability. While we all hope nobody ends up getting COVID, is there a threshold where if a certain number of people there did end up having it that you’d have to shut down the tournament?
STACEY ALLASTER: TWA, really this is go day. Are we going, not going? We’re comfortable to say today that the TWA is our hotel. TWA will be our hotel, our US Open and Western & Southern Open hotel. We will work with them. They are excited to be able to host our player guests and their guests.
For certain, we know the athletes need fuel, they need food. Whether that is the required services at the hotel or here on-site, breakfast, lunch and dinner, we will have the appropriate food service. We’ll even have our own takeaway where athletes will be able to take their sushi, protein shakes, pasta back to the hotel if they want. We will have food service at the TWA and our other player hotel.
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: One of the advantages when the players come in early, they’re tested right away. That already mitigates a substantial amount of risk that there’s going to be spread within the tournament.
In terms of when you make a decision, are you going to shut down an event, shut down a school, a workplace, it’s not based on an absolute number. There’s a modeling that we do. It’s always done in conjunction, again, with the local health department.
If you have a sense that really there’s a contagion within your microcosm of society, then, yes, that would lead to a shutdown. It’s not an absolute number. It’s really a sense that you either have control, and you can prevent disease spread, or you can’t. Those decisions are always made by the local health departments. That’s not a US Open medical decision alone.
Q. How many times will the players be tested during the tournament, during the US Open? Every other day? Once every four days? Never? Only when they ask? How does it go? I’ve seen in recent days many players didn’t have that much responsibility, the one you’re asking to them, going to parties, everything else. How will you check that, especially if you will give someone permit to stay in a private house and go out, and others to stay in the TWA hotel, once called try walking across, I don’t know now?
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: The minimum that everyone will be tested is upon arrival and once weekly thereafter. You raise a very important point, which was raised before. Really the players are coming and they’re making a pledge to help get this right.
There’s going to be a possibility that either a player makes a choice and puts himself or herself at risk, and therefore others. So any time that happens, there are testing paradigm changes. That’s based upon the knowledge that we have of the virus.
After an infection, the shedding can begin in one or two days. They would then be tested on a very regular basis. It would certainly include in the first two days, then include days five, seven. The final details of the that are still being worked out.
For the most part it would be at least once weekly. Any possibility that the bubble is broken, it goes to a very regular engagement with testing that would be in likelihood an every-other-day event.
Q. Are there still plans, since the 18s Nationals are a go for this year, to give them one of the eight wildcards?
STACEY ALLASTER: Absolutely. We are very excited that Kalamazoo and San Diego are trying for our boys and girls under 18. Those champions will be part of the 2020 US Open.
Q. Basically the reliability of the tests. My understanding is there are incidents of false positives, false negatives. Have you broached the topic of what you’ll do if a player tests positive? Will there be a retest or something analogous to a B sample in performance-enhancing drug testing? It’s being discussed as the tests are definitive, declarative, boom, it settles everything. There seems to be some question about the accuracy.
DR. BRIAN HAINLINE: Great question.
We will be using the preliminary chain reaction test. It looks at the amplification of the nucleic acid profile of the virus. That’s going to be done by way of a nasal-pharyngeal swab. That test really approaches 100% specificity, meaning there won’t be false positives.
It approaches 100% sensitivity. We will not be using the point-of-care test, the antigen test or even the point of care, PCR test, because their sensitivity is less, only at about 80%. There could be false negatives.
You are right, if someone does test positive, they would have a repeat test within 24 hours. That would be a confirmatory test.
Q. If there was a COVID case in the later rounds, would you have a late-round lucky loser? If the tournament were next week, about how many of the top 20 do you think would be playing? What would be success as far as a percentage from your perspective?
STACEY ALLASTER: On the first question as it relates to if we’re in the middle of competition and an athlete tests positive. Again, under the direction of the US Open medical team, Dr. Hainline has said local authorities, and the tours, we will discuss with the tours what is the next step.
It’s so difficult to say today what that’s going to be because it really will be dependent on the athlete and the direction that the medical team provides. We do have in the Grand Slam rule books if an athlete is not eligible to compete for health reasons, the chief medical officer would make that determination. It rarely happens.
Athletes are independent contractors, make their own decisions. But this is one of those unique situations where if the doctors determine that the athlete needs to come out of the competition, that will happen. We have the systems in place for that.
If the tournament was next week, I’m not going to speculate. What I am comfortable saying is that I really believe right now that we have announced the Western & Southern Open, the US Open. I believe the ATP and WTA have released their calendars. Athletes have been training, and now they’re really going to be training to return to play.
As this whole situation with the virus evolves here in New York City, around the world, athletes will make that final determination two to three weeks before. I am confident overall that a lot of athletes want to return to play. These are the best athletes in the world. Maybe I’m a little biased. But they can perform, they’re healthy. It’s going to be great, exciting tennis for our fans around the world.
Q. Players being able to rent house seems less restrictive than some of the initial suggestions. How much have those opinions affected your decisions? Do they come with more risk? And talk about the collaborative process you’ve had with the players and tours.
STACEY ALLASTER: Thank you for your question.
Definitely maybe three to four weeks ago when we started the discussion around private homes with the USTA medical advisory group, we had a full discussion around that. We came to the decision that the athletes themselves do not want to get COVID-19. If they feel more comfortable in a private home setting with their families or the support team that they need, they could then make that choice for themselves. What we have done is given them that option.
There will be protocols and measures that they will need to follow. Again, there’s a leap of faith here, but it’s not a difficult one to make because they don’t want to get COVID.
I think what is important, the athletes have the option, come into the official player hotels where they have everything they need, come and compete and train at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, or elect the private home.
As we said earlier, if they choose the private home option, they won’t get into our US Open world until they’ve been tested and until the doctors say they’re clear.
Again, this is a journey. Everyone takes responsibility for themselves and for their fellow athletes and for all of the staff who are going to be working to ensure their health and well-being and that we can, in fact, stage both these events.
Q. Regarding the tours awarding ranking points at the US Open, is that a final decision or something that might be revisited if something changes, if there’s a large number of withdrawals, et cetera? Is that a final decision to have a guarantee there will be ranking points or from now until the US Open will something change about that?
STACEY ALLASTER: Under each tour, under they’re called the ATP Grand Slam Ranking Agreement and WTA Grand Slam Ranking Agreement. Those ranking agreements are with all four Grand Slams. We’ve had those discussions with the tours, with the $60 million of compensation being provided, that those agreements need to stay in place. That’s where we are today.
Again, we’re super excited. The athletes that want to compete have that ability. I know that both tours, as their tours return to play, with different events around the world, some coming on this journey, waiting for government approvals in their countries, and some that have decided to sit off the calendar, that is a large body of work that both tours are currently undertaking.
Q. When did you get a commitment from Serena? How important is it to have a player of her stature to commit given everything she’s done at the US Open?
STACEY ALLASTER: We have a number of player agents or talk directly to players. We’ve made ourselves available to the athletes to be able to build this plan. We need their input. I can confirm that through Serena’s agent, I had a Zoom call with her probably three to four weeks ago. As she said on the video, Wow, this is crazy. She shook her head, so much for me to comprehend.
Together there’s been ongoing education. I can confirm that the surface provided by Laykold for the 2020 US Open and Western & Southern Open was shipped to Serena’s house. She has a new court in her backyard. So she has been training. Again, she’s training. She will be playing. She’s excited to come back. Like all athletes, they’ll make their decision at a time that makes sense for them.
MIKE DOWSE: It’s clear we’re extremely excited and appreciative she’s committed this early to play the tournament. As we all know, she transcends tennis, she’s so much bigger than our sport. We talked about, is this in the best interest of tennis. Dr. Hainline spoke to it, this is good for society. It shows that our country is opening up again. We’re getting back to some level of normalcy.
Serena is the best ambassador for that. We couldn’t be happier she’s part of it as she pursues her journey for additional Grand Slams. Extremely excited Serena is going to be part of our US Open tournament.
Q. Last year the US Open made approximately $370 million. Any estimate on how much you guys are going to lose in revenue due to the lack of fans in the stands? Have all sponsors, major sponsors, committed to the 2020 US Open?
MIKE DOWSE: I’ll start with the sponsors. I’m very appreciative of our sponsors. We’ve had weekly town halls with them as we’ve gone through this journey. They’re fully committed to supporting our efforts here.
As far as the financials, I will tell you our net operating income looks to be down about 80% this year. That really talks about our commitment to the sport of tennis and the professional players. As I mentioned earlier, we’re committing to 91% of the prize money when our net operating income is going to be down 80%.
We’ve have the financial wherewithal over the years with reserves that we can do that this year. It’s not a model that can continue. I go back to our guiding principles: is the safe for the players to play and everyone involved, yes. Is it in the best interest of tennis, which is key, yes. Financially does it make sense. Through our strong balance sheet, we’ve been able to support it this year and cover that significant gap we’re going to have in overall revenue and net operating income.
It’s the right decision to make for tennis. Again, we’re looking forward to it.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: Thank you so much for joining us. We couldn’t be more pleased to be sharing this fantastic news with everybody. I want to thank everybody here, especially Katrina Adams for pinch hitting for chairman of the board and president Patrick Galbraith. Thank you, Mike, I didn’t think this would be your first press conference being on a center court. Congratulations, Stacey, on your new tournament director title. Dr. Hainline, really appreciate your insights and thoughts around the tournament.
As Stacey said earlier, the US Open is open.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports