U.S.T.A. Plans a $15 Million Bailout for Various Tennis Groups

The funding, intended to help during shutdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic, comes amid uncertainty about whether the association will be able to host the U.S. Open tournament as planned.

Credit…Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Christopher Clarey

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the United States Tennis Association will cut its top executives’ salaries by 20 percent for the remainder of 2020 as part of an effort to provide emergency assistance totaling about $15 million to American tennis facilities, teaching professionals and grassroots tennis organizations.

The relief program, to be announced on Thursday, comes with professional and most recreational tennis shut down in the country and with this year’s United States Open in doubt.

The Open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, is the primary source of funding for the U.S.T.A., which oversees tennis in the United States. The tournament generates revenue approaching $400 million each year and, for now, is still scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 13 in New York.

Unlike Wimbledon, the oldest of the Grand Slam tournaments, which was canceled for the first time since 1945, the U.S. Open does not have pandemic insurance to cover some of its losses.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding its flagship event, the U.S.T.A. and Mike Dowse, its new chief executive, determined that it was necessary to support some of the foundations of the sport during this forced, extended hiatus.

“We’ve got to keep these tennis clubs and teaching pros afloat through this as much as we can,” said Dowse, who estimated that about “85 percent of tennis facilities” in the United States had closed by the end of March.

The U.S.T.A. earmarked about $5 million in grants for tennis facilities that provide access to the general public and that may need financial help to reopen after restrictions related to the virus are lifted.

Another $5 million will go to tennis and education programs that support underserved communities.

The U.S.T.A. also intends to provide some relief to teaching professionals by helping to cover a significant portion of their 2021 membership dues for the United States Professional Tennis Association (U.S.P.T.A.) and the Professional Tennis Registry (P.T.R.), the two primary organizations that certify teaching professionals in the United States.

Those grants are expected to total at least $2.5 million.

The P.T.R. has approximately 9,000 members in the United States; the U.S.P.T.A. has approximately 13,500.

“I have heard from a lot of our coaches who have either been laid off or furloughed and don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from,” said Dan Santorum, the chief executive of the P.T.R., which has annual dues of $159. “So this kind of assistance from the U.S.T.A. is particularly welcome.”

The rest of the funding is expected to go toward support efforts like telephone counseling to cope with emotional effects of the pandemic or legal consulting for those who want to claim government aid provided through the Cares Act.

Even if the U.S. Open is canceled, Dowse said on Wednesday that this relief plan would remain in place, funded by about $20 million in cuts that have been made through salary reductions and by lowering expenses in marketing, player development and operations.

“These plans will hold,” Dowse said of the relief effort. “This was modeled off what we know we can do, and then in theory if we can do more, we will try to do that as well.”

Dowse, a former president of Wilson Sporting Goods, took charge of the U.S.T.A. in January. He said the association’s senior management would take a 20 percent pay cut for the remainder of 2020. Dowse’s salary has not yet been made public, but his predecessor, Gordon Smith, was paid $1.265 million in 2018, according to public filings. Stacey Allaster, the chief executive of he U.S.T.A.’s professional tennis division, was paid $861,232 in 2018.

Dowse said directors and managing directors at the U.S.T.A. would take 15 percent pay cuts, and managers 10 percent cuts.

Dowse said those affected represent “just over 40 percent of our organization.”

“It is in flux,” Dowse said of the U.S. Open’s status, “so we knew we couldn’t wait until that decision was made to act. So we went internal and looked at ways to redeploy money to these initiatives. And ultimately whatever the outcome is on the U.S. Open, we will model it again and see what else we can do.”

Dowse said he expected a decision on the U.S. Open to be made by early summer unless governmental decrees change that timeline. The U.S.T.A. has not ruled out postponing the event to a later date in 2020.

“We don’t have a hard date set yet, just because things are changing so fast,” he said. “You can imagine the runway to ramp up the U.S. Open is not a short runway, so I’m thinking probably the latter part of June, sometime in that June time frame.”

The indoor tennis facility on the U.S. Open grounds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is currently being used as a temporary medical facility with 470 beds. But Dowse said preparations could still be finished for the tournament, which is played at outdoor courts and stadiums elsewhere at the tennis center.

The U.S.T.A.’s relief effort is not as wide reaching as one announced on April 3 by the British Lawn Tennis Association, which committed 20 million pounds, or about $25 million, to supporting tennis venues, coaches, officials and touring pros affected by the crisis. The lawn tennis association also announced executive pay cuts and employee furloughs.

The L.T.A. is funded in part by the profits from Wimbledon, and its announcement came two days after Wimbledon was canceled.

The French Tennis Federation, which stages the French Open, announced a relief plan worth 35 million euros, or $39.2 million, for tennis in that country. The plan, announced on April 10, has not been finalized, but it will include help for lower-ranked professional players.

The U.S.T.A. at this stage has chosen not to provide direct assistance to lower-ranked tour players, many of whom are facing significant economic challenges with no tournament earnings for at least four months.

Dowse said U.S.T.A. executives had been conferring regularly with leaders of the men’s and women’s tours and the other Grand Slam tournaments about their plans to provide some relief to those ranked outside the top 100 in singles. The men’s tour is considering providing grants as well as interest-free loans up to $20,000 that could be linked to future prize money, although those plans are not yet finalized.

“Whatever decision we come to wasn’t ready to go this week,” Dowse said, “but we’ll definitely have something in the coming weeks in collaboration with the other Grand Slams, the I.T.F., the A.T.P. and the W.T.A.”

  • Updated April 11, 2020

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