Billie Jean King Cup Finals postponed again, costs of Australian Open spelled out

The finals of women’s national team tennis tournament the Billie Jean King Cup have been postponed for a second time, while Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has said organisers are expecting a loss of more than A$100m (£55.8m/€64.4m/$78.1m) from staging this year’s event.

Formerly known as the Fed Cup Finals, the newly baptised Billie Jean King Cup Finals were initially due to have taken place in March 2020 on indoor clay courts at the Laszlo Papp Arena (pictured) in Budapest, Hungary.

In June, the Finals of the largest annual team competition in women’s sport were rescheduled for April 13-18, 2021, with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) stating they were unable to be held later in 2020 due to the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19. The ITF also said hosting the competition without fans was not considered a desirable option, given the “unique atmosphere” created by national supporters.

The ITF and the Hungarian National Sports Agency (NSA) have now announced that the Finals will be rescheduled to later dates in 2021. The ITF said “extensive work” has been undertaken to prepare for the event in April in compliance with national health regulations and with strict COVID-19 protocols in place.

Several scenarios have been under review, which include playing behind closed doors. However, the ITF said continued uncertainty and the challenges due to the pandemic, locally and internationally, have made it “unfeasible” to host a world team competition of this scale indoors in Budapest on the scheduled dates.

ITF president, David Haggerty, said: “Everyone involved in this competition hoped that we would not be in this position, but unfortunately the COVID-19 situation remains serious and restricting. Health and safety comes first.

“Together with the NSA, and in consultation with the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association), we are in the process of finalising new dates. We continue to work our hardest to deliver a spectacular Finals event in 2021 and, like the players and fans, as well as Billie Jean herself, we are all looking forward to a memorable Billie Jean King Cup Finals later in the year.”

The tournament was renamed last year in honour of women’s tennis icon Billie Jean King, who helped the United States win the inaugural Fed Cup in 1963.

Australian Open

Meanwhile, Tiley has said it will take years for Tennis Australia (TA) to recover the cost of staging this year’s Australian Open during COVID-19, but maintains it has been worth it to further strengthen the tournament’s standing on the tennis calendar.

The first grand slam of the year comes to a close at Melbourne Park this weekend, with unprecedented measures having been implemented to ensure its successful staging, and with fans in attendance.

As well as the revenue impact of limited crowds, TA has also had to take on the significant cost of transport and strict quarantine measures for over 1,000 people a fortnight heading into the event. “It’s going to be tough (to look at the bottom line figure),” Tiley told Australian sports radio station SEN.

“It’s not going to be easy – we’re going to lose multi-millions of dollars on this event. We said all along that it’s important to do this because we have to have a platform to grow for 2022, so we’re going to rely on returning to high levels of revenue for 2022- 23-24.”

Australian Open organisers on Wednesday confirmed that fans would return for the conclusion of the tournament after the state of Victoria announced that its short-term COVID-19 lockdown would be lifted. The five-day lockdown ended at midnight on Wednesday, allowing fans to return to Melbourne Park yesterday.

Tiley admitted the lockdown had further hit the Open’s finances, stating: “We have A$80m in reserve and we will exhaust that and we will take anywhere from a A$40m to A$60m loan – it’s a big loss but we haven’t finalised the number yet. We’ve still got to see what our receipts are.

“Obviously we took a big hit with five days with no fans as you don’t sell merchandise, sponsors don’t get activation and you don’t sell tickets or premium hospitality. So five of 14 days, that’s big hit.”

However, Tiley maintained TA would benefit from having laid down a template for how to stage a major international sports event during COVID-19. He added: “Australia’s now got a playbook that we can share with the rest of the world.

“We’ve made Melburnians, Victorians and Australians proud that no-one in the pandemic has brought in this many international stars from that many hot spots around the world and played an international sporting event for A$86m and in front of crowds.

“Maybe there’s a way for us to get sports and entertainment up and going again; we’ve got the model and we’ve learned a lot.”

Image: Hu Totya/CC BY-SA 3.0/Edited for size