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September 12, 2009

Jim Curley

Gordon Smith


CHRIS WIDMAIER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us. We're going to be hearing from our USTA executive director, Gordon Smith, and the US Open tournament director Jim Curley. We also are being joined by our president and chairman of the board, Lucy Garvin, who is sitting here.
Before we open it up to questions, I'm going to ask Jim to give everybody a brief overview of what's happening with the schedule today and a quick glimpse of what we understand the weather is.
JIM CURLEY: Thanks, Chris. Basically, the weather forecast is for passing showers. We will get some more play in, we believe. In order to make sure that we get it in priority order, what we've done is moved the men's doubles final out of Ashe for the time being. We've put a "not before 3:00 p.m." on the women's singles semifinal, and a "not before 4:00 p.m." on the men's doubles final on a court to be determined.
It's still spitting out there, but we hope to get play in shortly.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I know that the majority of questions people have here are regarding our scheduling, our approach to scheduling here at the US Open, and questions regarding potential roofs or roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Just so you know, the scheduling portions of the questions will be directed to the tournament director, Jim Curley. Gordon Smith will be handling, and myself, the questions regarding roofs.
So why don't you open it up to questioning at this point. I'd like to start with scheduling first. Neil, why don't you start since you're in the room, since you normally do.

Q. Scheduling. Do you think your scheduling is fair?
JIM CURLEY: I do think our scheduling is fair.

Q. Why does it take three days to play the first round of a Grand Slam when the other three are completed in two?
JIM CURLEY: Well, you know, our scheduling is different from other Grand Slams. There's another Grand Slam that doesn't play tennis on Sunday the middle Sunday.
So, you know, we have a particular finals scenario that we've had in place for several decades, and we're comfortable with that from a player-to-player perspective that it is, in fact, fair.
If you were to ask a player, would they say it's ideal? No, they would not say it's ideal. A player would like to get a day in between the semis and the finals. We all know that.
But from a much larger perspective, from a tournament perspective, we think that being able to have the men's semifinals on network television on Saturday and the women's singles final on network television in primetime in this country followed up by a great slot on Sunday afternoon on network television.
It's important from our USTA perspective to promote and develop the growth of the game. It gets to a much larger audience, and that's one of the reasons why we do it.

Q. A few minutes ago, Nadal said that if he had to play the US Open a hard semifinal the one he played against Verdasco in Australia on Saturday, and then he had to play on Sunday, the final, he wouldn't have a chance to play the final with a chance to win. Don't you think that this is very bad for the sports? Let's think, let's figure out that Nadal had to play the next day after a match like the one he played in Australia, and he couldn't play the final. Then you want to have a broader audience, but people will see a final which is not existing. Don't you think that is very bad?
JIM CURLEY: Well, I can't address whether he would have or not have played the final in that situation, but we've never had a situation where a player has played a long match on Saturday and not posted for the final on Sunday.

Q. Nadal also said that the other night he wished that if there was rain coming, and you guys seemed to know there was rain coming, why he wasn't moved over to Louis or some other court. What was the thinking on that?
JIM CURLEY: Well, you know, we schedule as best we can. The weather is unpredictable. Based on the information we had in hand, we continued to schedule that match at night. We got in over two hours of play.
I would argue that had -- for the 23,000-plus fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium who showed up on Thursday night, if the court were empty and we didn't have rain, which was in fact the case for at least the first hour and a half or whatever it might have been, you'd be asking me a different question, you know. How could you be so stupid not to have tennis out on Ashe?

Q. Is there a financial hit you take from having the men's final on Monday? Is there anything you pay in terms of a price or penalty for that happening?
JIM CURLEY: Well, you know, certainly none of us want to finish the US Open on Monday. It's unfortunate for everyone involved. But I think the short answer to your question is, yes, we do. But our goal is bigger than that.
Our goal is to try to grow the sport. That's the mission of the USTA. In cooperation with our television partners, CBS and ESPN, we've been able to reach an arrangement whereby the women's singles final is now going to be on ESPN2 at 9:00 Sunday night, primetime programming on the most-watched night of the week.
Is that more expensive for us? Yes, it is, but it's, you know, the right thing for us to do?

Q. What kind of rates, fees, would you get with a normal Sunday finish scheduled opposed to the rights fees you get from television if it finishes on Monday? Any way you can give me dollar numbers?
JIM CURLEY: I can't address that, no. Sorry. I mean, the answer is I don't know.

Q. Can you tell me what the...
JIM CURLEY: I don't believe that there is any difference in the rights fees between finishing on Sunday and finishing on Monday.

Q. Can you tell me what the rates fees are from each network?

Q. Just to clarify what you said in the beginning, is that the way it's scheduled at the moment, is that the women's semifinals is going to be played at Ashe Stadium approximately 3:00.
JIM CURLEY: The Wozniacki/Wickmayer semifinal will be played not before 3:00 in Ashe.

Q. Bearing in mind what happened last year, has there ever been any discussion about changing your scheduling to mirror what happens at the other Slams, i.e., men's semis on a Friday, final on a Sunday? Has that ever been talked about, or is it just a given that Super-Saturday will always prevail?
JIM CURLEY: No, look, we're always open to talking about ways to improve the tournament. But in this particular situation, we feel that weighing all of the factors in our efforts to promote the sport, this is the best schedule that we have.
Are we closed to considering in the future? No, we're not.

Q. Gordon, as USTA spokesman, this Super-Saturday idea worked for a lot of people for a long time. But is there a point where maybe it wouldn't be a good idea, to reconsider and say, Gee, maybe we should go back? Maybe we've maxed out on capturing this wide audience, and maybe we could actually go back to the schedule that everyone prefers by consensus in the best of all worlds?
GORDON SMITH: Well, I don't think it's a schedule that everyone wants by consensus, because it's been hugely popular for a long time. I would agree completely with Jim. We have talked about it. We will continue to talk about any option we have that we consider would improve the tournament at the time.
After this tournament we'll go back, as we do, and reassess all of those issues, including that one.

Q. Jim, as a follow-up on that, you must be sitting here thinking, you know, come Thursday and Friday, gee, I wish we had a roof.
JIM CURLEY: Well, look, would I love to have a roof? Absolutely. But it is certainly one of those situations where you have to really look at the practical aspects.
In '07 we didn't have a single session rained out. In '08 we had one, and thus far, knock on wood, hopefully we'll only have one rained out in '09.
Unfortunately, in the last two years, the sessions that were rainouts were late in the tournament. Had they been earlier in the tournament, we wouldn't be in the position where we have to end on Monday.
So you weigh that against the potential costs of a roof on Ashe of $100 million or more, and it's a tough decision, especially -- you know, we're trying to figure out the best ways to utilize the revenues to promote our sport. That's a tough decision for us to make that, you know, nine-figure investment in a roof.
GORDON SMITH: Can I follow up just a little bit on that? I agree with everything Jim said, but beyond that, everybody, would be great to have a roof today. Would be great to have the money to put the roof up.
For the board and our president, Lucy Garvin, it's a much, much more difficult decision than that. The reason is we're nonprofit. Our mission is to grow and develop the game of tennis.
We spend the money we make on the Open on grassroots tennis. The money we make here goes out into grassroots all around the country, including building this tennis center, which 11 months of the year is the nicest public tennis center in New York for New York citizens to use without having spent a penny of taxpayer money. Our money goes out and does that.
So the question is, are you going to spend $100 million or more, we don't know exactly, on a roof that you might use once a year, which would be the average? Or is the money better spent promoting the game that we have been promoting so successfully?
Because over the last five years, grassroots tennis has grown tremendously. Tennis is growing more than any of the traditional sports in our country. So it's a very difficult balance to make.
Lucy Garvin has appointed a master planning group. That balance is under active consideration. There is no timetable for exactly when we're going to go about making that decision, but a roof is a significant component in that calculus.

Q. Can you shed some light on the relationship with broadcasters and the influence that they have on scheduling these matches and on match assignments? I wonder if there was a roof in place, you would get that guaranteed TV time, would that generate the income, more income to spend on grassroots. But first, can you talk about the influence on the broadcasters?
JIM CURLEY: Sure. I think it's important to understand that the scheduling process here in New York, I would argue, is probably one of the most democratic of all the tournaments out there. We seek input from not only the ATP and WTA Tour, but our broadcasters, domestic, domestic cable, domestic network, international broadcasters. We consider the schedule for our fans and Arthur Ashe Stadium and elsewhere on the grounds.
All of these various constituents have input. But at the end of the day, the tournament scheduling rests with the tournament.

Q. Is it a 50/50?
JIM CURLEY: No, is it a 50/50 meaning?

Q. As far as when these networks are going to be able to show the finals? How much weight do they actually have? Obviously you reserve the final decision, but...
JIM CURLEY: Well, clearly our broadcasters are an important part of the tournament, and we take their input very seriously. Oftentimes they get what they need, what they feel they need.
But at the end of the day, when we make our final decisions on the scheduling, it's important to know that the tournament makes those decisions, not the broadcasters.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: But if your point is directed to this specific weekend and what transpired, what happens in that scenario is that Pierce O'Neil, who is our chief business officer who has television under, you know, his area, will work with CBS and ESPN to try to create a schedule that is strong for us but works with them.
The one thing that happens there, is that we're lucky that we have great partners in CBS and ESPN. Our television window for the women's final is in primetime, so it was very important for us in the basis of our goal to expose the sport to as many people as possible to see if we can get a primetime window for the rescheduled women's final.
It's not like an easy thing to do when you have a CBA programming, ESPN programming. But Pierce was able to work with these guys and get it done. That's the good news. Now we are at 9:00 primetime on ESPN, and everybody knows that Sunday nights are the highest hut levels, if you will. More people watch television in the U.S. on Sunday nights than any other nights.
We were able to take a pretty tough situation and make it pretty good.

Q. Can you describe where things stand as far as the roof consideration and efforts, where they were before the economy tanked and where they are now?
GORDON SMITH: Sure. In the past, there had been a few preliminary studies regarding a roof. I would say that in the last six months the consideration of a roof has accelerated. Lucy Garvin, as I said, has appointed a master planning group to consider the infrastructure future of the USTA, Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the long term. A roof is very much a part of that.
We've employed 360 Degree Architects out of Kansas City, Missouri. They have developed preliminary roof plans. We are able to actually do some of that now, because materials and architectural, other architectural things have changed to allow us to do that.
You've got to remember that Arthur Ashe Stadium roof is essentially putting a roof over something about as big as a modern day major league baseball park. It's a very complex thing.
But we have gone past the consideration stage of are we going to at least look at plans to actually developing plans, which at some point in the not-too-distant future will give us some idea of cost.
So we are substantially farther along the road of consideration than we were six months ago.

Q. So to follow up, what was the effect of the poor economy on earlier plans, and what are your expectations for the future?
GORDON SMITH: I don't think that the economy affected the planning process, because the planning process is looking long-term and not short-term.
It will be some time before there's any decision made on whether or not to go forward with the roof. We would be looking at issues some years down the road, and the present economy has not slowed the process at all.
We want to move that process along, looking long-term and not at the current economy.

Q. Before you do make the decision one way or the other on the roof, I think there's still a sense of bemusement here that you can't actually find a cover that can cover a hardcourt. I mean, they can cover grass courts, you can cover clay courts, and yet you've still got these machines and towels and things in the 21st century. There must be someone somewhere who has developed a cover for a hardcourt so at least you can get on in a reasonable time scale when it stops raining.
JIM CURLEY: What was that when we had all the rain? I try to block that out.

Q. Four, five years ago.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: It was after '03.
JIM CURLEY: So after that year, we spent a good two years focusing our efforts on what's the most efficient way for us to tackle that issue. At the end of the day, the difference between the possibility of a tarp versus the process that we have in place was negligible.
Another part of that is with regards to, you know, Arthur Ashe Stadium and how it was built. There's only drainage on one side of the court on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and that was another factor that when we went through all the process, there was no real major benefit for going with a tarp.

Q. Gordon, is it safe to say you're no longer seriously studying or considering putting a roof over anything else on the grounds, only on Ashe?
GORDON SMITH: No, I wouldn't say that. I would say the master planning group is going to consider a wide range of options. Once we understand the cost of the roof over Ashe, it could lead to some consideration of other options. Nothing is out at this point.

Q. Jim, have you thought seriously about the idea of having an Australian Open sort of idea of a twilight session on Friday starting maybe at 5:00 where you could put both men's semifinals there with primetime exposure?
JIM CURLEY: We have had those discussions with CBS. Yes, we have.

Q. What are the pros and cons of that?
JIM CURLEY: I can't go into all of the pros and cons offhand, but, you know, part of it is availability of CBS time on that Friday night.

Q. Is it safe to say that if the commercial interests were in place, that would be an appealing possibility?
JIM CURLEY: We would certainly look at that.

Q. So the plans that you've roughed out to this point give you an idea how long it would take to build this roof?
GORDON SMITH: Not really. I think from start to finish we'd be looking at two years, approximately, but we have not mapped that out with any specificity at this point.

Q. Guys, with all these sellouts and the issue of the roof, has there been any discussion, and especially with all the sellouts, of even doing an entirely new stadium? And secondly, different topic, has there been any discussion with all the rain delays and session changes of having some system of queueing or cheap tickets where people can go above Row P or something so the stadium is not as empty? Is there an appeal?
GORDON SMITH: I'll start. Again, there is nothing off the table at this point. When we look at the design considerations - which would be required to put a roof on Ashe, which is a very large stadium - when we look at that, the cost of that, yes, consideration of another stadium is not off the table. That is not to say that's not where we're going at all, but there is nothing off the table at this point.
I'll comment briefly on the ticket question. I'll let Jim follow up if he'd like. Yes, we're always looking at those kinds of things. In fact, today we'll probably be allowing some open seating in promenade just because it's raining. If people show up, we don't want to turn them away.
So we're always looking at those kinds of things, trying to make sure we get as many of our fans into the stadium as we can depending on what the situation is.
JIM CURLEY: Clearly the tickets were following the session, so when everything gets pushed back by 24 hours, if you have a ticket that says -- has session on it, but also has Saturday on it and you show up, we're going to do our best to try and accommodate you.
And to Gordon's point, that's what's happening for those people who came on-site this afternoon. We're trying to accommodate them in the promenade, while their ticket for Saturday, the day session, will be honored tomorrow, Sunday day session.

Q. No possibility of a walk-up kind of based-on-availability cheaper ticket to the public?
GORDON SMITH: There is no availability. I mean, they're sold, so it's very difficult to do that.

Q. The only kind of roof you're considering would be retractable, or would you even think about a permanent one?
GORDON SMITH: I think it's fair to say this is an outdoor tournament. We want this to be an outdoor tournament. There's not much better weather in the world than around Labor Day in New York City, so it definitely will be retractable.

Q. What are the scheduled plans if the women's semifinals are not completed today?
JIM CURLEY: Well, given the weather forecast that we've received, we are very hopeful that they are going to be finished today.
If in fact that's not the case, then we're going to have to reconvene with our scheduling group and go through that. But those plans are not in place yet.

Q. I hear what you're saying about reinvesting into grassroots, but it's a fact that the reason Wimbledon built their roof was because of encouragement, shall I say, rather than pressure from television companies who wanted value for their revenue. They got fed up with Borg/McEnroe year after year. Have you had any talk with CBS about them getting a little tired of about putting Connors Krickstein on at all?
GORDON SMITH: Well, look, obviously CBS would love to have no rain. They'd love to have a roof. But, again, going back to Jim's point, this is the first time in 40 years that there have been back-to-back rainouts in the US Open.
JIM CURLEY: Where we've gone to Monday.
GORDON SMITH: Where we've gone to Monday. I'm sorry. Where we've had to go to Monday. It's happened two years in a row once in 40 years. Did I get that right that time?
JIM CURLEY: That's it.
GORDON SMITH: We will obviously take our broadcast partners' opinions into account. But let's face it, there's a bigger issue in London than there is here with the rain.

Q. How relieved are you that you were able to get the Nadal match in? Without that, I guess you're looking at Tuesday.
JIM CURLEY: I apologize?

Q. Without the Nadal match getting in today, were you looking at Tuesday? And how relieved are you that that match got done?
JIM CURLEY: Well, I have to admit I'm very pleased that that match is finished. (laughter.)

Q. Just a quick question about ticket holders. Just to be clear, if someone can't make their rescheduled session, are they just out? They don't get to mail in for next year?
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I think what we're going to do is try to you know gauge what level that is at and figure out ways of accommodating our fans. We have a track record of doing that here at the USTA.
Obviously at this point in the tournament it makes it a little bit more difficult. But if you look back in time, if they were open tickets, you'd have the right to get back and get a credit towards the following year's tournament, or if we could get you in the house some way.
So I don't know if we can tell you concretely right now what specifically we're going to do, but we generally look to take care of the ticket holders and our fans.

Q. Gordon, if you had a chance to make a choice between on the one hand having a US Open with a great, appealing breakout star like Melanie and then wretched, terrible weather on the weekend or no star, but great weather on the weekend, which would you choose?
JIM CURLEY: He doesn't answer hypothetical questions.
GORDON SMITH: That's an easy one. I'm from Atlanta and I love Melanie. I'll take Melanie on that one any time.

Q. Have you determined yet which semifinal is going to go first?
JIM CURLEY: Not yet. We have not.

Q. Is it possible that the Sunday night women's final is a better spot? I mean, is that kind of a coup?
GORDON SMITH: You said that, not us.
JIM CURLEY: Well, the fact of the matter is right now we have Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters scheduled at 8:00 on CBS in primetime on Saturday night, followed by the women's singles final at 9:00 p.m. on ESPN2 on Sunday night.
From the standpoint of promoting our sport, yes, this is a coup.

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