Prime Time Again
Sanex Championships Could Kick-Off Final On Monday Night
Serena Williams By Richard Pagliaro
The Sanex WTA Tour is ready to tackle the NFL. In a move as bold as a Ray Lewis blindside blitz, the WTA Tour is considering staging the final of the Sanex Championships in prime-time television on November 11th — airing against ABC's Monday Night Football broadcast.
The Sanex Championships, which will debut at Los Angeles' Staples Center this year after a disastrous one-year run in Munich, Germany, will be televised by ESPN. ABC, ESPN's sister station on network television, broadcasts Monday Night Football and ESPN's Gameday is a popular pre-game football show. An ESPN spokesperson told the <I>SportsBusiness Journal's</I> Daniel Kaplan that the network will televise the Sanex Championships final should the WTA Tour schedule the match for Monday night.
WTA Tour CEO Kevin Wulff is confident the Monday night move could succeed and cited the historic U.S. Open women's final between the Williams sisters — which aired in prime time on Saturday night, September 8th and drew higher ratings than a college football game televised in the same time slot — as evidence that a prime-time tennis final could produce a large audience.
"Whether we go up against football on a Monday night, our product is strong," Wulff told Kaplan. "I think our fans will enjoy relaxing on a Monday night. The U.S. Open's Saturday night was phenomenal."
The U.S. Open final between the Williams sisters marked the first time in history a Grand Slam final was staged at night.
The Sanex Championships, formerly known as the Chase Championships, were held at Manhattan's Madison Square Garden for 29 years until the Tour moved the event to Munich last November, but several prominent players including Venus Williams, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles did not attend, media coverage was minimal compared to previous years and attendance was down dramatically as the six-day tournament drew fewer than 37,000 fans. In addition, the 2001 final was not contested as Serena Williams was a walkover winner over Lindsay Davenport, who sustained a knee injury that forced her to withdraw from the final.
The WTA Tour and Anschutz Entertainment Group have a three-year agreement to stage the season-ending event at the Staples Center. While many top players enthusiastically endorsed the move to Los Angeles, some WTA Tour board members and American tournament directors opposed the move, arguing that there are already an abundance of Tour events in California including the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells, the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, the Acura Classic in San Diego and the Los Angeles Open.
"The tournaments in that region are saying that is too much," said Nasdaq-100 chairman Butch Buchholz in an interview with Kaplan. IMG, which owns the Nasdaq-100, also owns two of the Southern California tournaments.
Addressing the complaints, AEG and Sanex Championships co-promoter Octagon have reportedly agreed to spend $250,000 annually to promote the Pacific Life Open. AEG has also agreed to a three-year commitment from the Tour to stage the Sanex Championships in L.A., rather than seeking the original seven-year commitment it sought from the Tour. While AEG reportedly planned to move the tournament to London in 2005, the company reportedly believes the WTA will be so satisfied with the success of the event in L.A. that it will not want to move when the current contract expires.