Tennis fans at the Western & Southern Open Tournament are not happy about the prospect of moving the event to Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, those fans who buy the tickets and make the tournament an annual pilgrimage to the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason said they are “heartbroken” at the possibility.
Attendance records this week have are expected to be broken and fans were enjoying the new amenities at the facility, including a new fan zone, tournaments officials said. More than 200,000 people are expected to attend this year’s tournament, which continues through Sunday.
While everyone is enjoying the event, the tournament’s future remains unknown. The tournament will be in Mason through 2025, but an announcement on what happens after that is expected to come this fall, according to officials from Beemok Capital Group, which own the tournament.
Tournament tradition, intimacy between fans, players
Among the things tennis fans said they love about the Western & Southern Open are its history and tradition and the intimacy of the facility that brings fans and players closer together.
The afternoon match on Center Court between top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz of Spain and 14th-ranked Tommy Paul had not ended but fans were already lining up at the player entrance hoping to get an autograph from the tennis stars.
Last Monday, superstar Venus Williams said after claiming her first victory in four years over a top 20 ranked player in the world: “I love Cincinnati. It’s like my home away from home.
“I would miss the memories, that’s for sure,” Williams said. “I love Midwest people. Some of the finest people on the planet.”
Those memories that Williams referred to were the same sentiment of a number of tennis fans who have traveled to Mason tournament for years and have blocked off tournament week on their calendars.
Ron and Pat Szymanski of Jackson, Mich., has been coming to the tournament for the past three years and spent two days at this year’s tournament. They usually use the event as a place to meet up with their three grown children who travel in from Indiana, Florida and Boston as an annual event.
“We were shocked to hear it might be moved,” Pat Szymanski said. “It’s wrong to take it away after so many years here. We don’t want it to go to Charlotte.”
David and Jennifer Slicker of Milwaukee, Wisc., have been coming to Mason for the tournament for more than a dozen years. “This is a hidden gem because you’re able to get close,” she said.
Jennifer Slicker said people have to wait in line for 2½-hours in the hot sun to get in the gate at the U.S. Open while it takes five minutes to get in the gate in Mason. While they love to visit New York, she feels the U.S. Open “is too crowded.” David Slicker said being able to sit at a table to eat or enjoy a beverage at the event between sessions is one amenity that Mason has over the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
Joe Maskovyak of Columbus said moving the event from Mason to Charlotte would, “without a doubt be a mistake.”
“On a scale of one to 10 of bad ideas, it’s an 11,” he said.
Nikki Schwieter of Blue Ash has been attending the tournament for the past 16 years. She is active in the Greater Cincinnati tennis community and said, “nobody thinks it’s a good idea (to move the tournament to Charlotte). Everyone is 100% against it. This is a big deal for people in the tennis community.”
“I’m heartbroken and I’m seriously upset about a possible move,” she said. “It would be a tremendous loss.”
Lisa Johnson of Maineville has been coming to the tournament for the past seven years and attends many of the sessions each year. She said it’s also an opportunity for her sons to come back to Cincinnati from their homes in Denver and London, England.
“It’s a bad idea (to move the tournament) for our family and the Cincinnati area,” she said. “After Thanksgiving, this is the highlight of our year.”
Local official ‘cautiously optimistic’
Warren County Commissioner David Young said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the Western & Southern Open will remain in Mason.
Young likened the competition between Mason/Warren County and Charlotte as a tennis match where a player is down early but comes back.
“We’re still at risk and we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s also critically important for people outside of Mason and Deerfield Twp. to understand how important the tournament is to the rest of the county.”
Young said the tournament “is a key global asset we have and that it is worthy of taxpayer investment.” He’s concerned Warren County communities don’t realize they should care about the possible loss of tax revenues. He said the tournament is a global asset that helps attract more companies to come to Warren County and southwest Ohio. Young also said people have a real connection to the tournament.
“We have 35 to 40 international companies in Warren County,” he said. “There is a direct benefit from the people who come to the tournament every year for local residents.”
He said the tournament’s importance to the region’s economy as it generates $70 million a year — and that number could double when the tournament expands to two weeks in 2025. He also said concerns about future expansion have been addressed, adding “there is room to grow here.”
Young also said there is the “business side” to show the new tournament owner and “the Cincinnati business community needs to step up and show their commitment.”
While Young declined to comment on the discussions with new owner Ben Navarro, founder of Beemok Capital Group to keep the tournament in Mason, he said “we have a few Aces up our sleeves.”
“We don’t want anyone taking our global asset away,” Young said. “At the end of the day it’s about winning and losing. And I hate losing.”
To keep the tournament in Mason, the new ownership reportedly asked for $150 million in improvements to the Lindner Family Tennis Center — a third of it from public sources. So far, the state has pledged $22.5 million, with Mason pledging $15 million for a total of $48 million.
Charlotte City Council members voted unanimously in June to move forward on a $400 million tennis complex to house the open, with the public money required nearly fully pledged.
New ownership says community ‘made us feel at home’
Bob Moran, president of Beemok Sports Entertainment, has been in the area for the past several weeks in the lead up to the tournament.
He said he’s spent the time getting to explore southwest Ohio as well as meeting local corporate leaders in the region with Navarro. Moran, who enjoys sports, said he’s used the time to take in a Cincinnati Reds game and an FC Cincinnati match.
“This week has been great seeing all of the fans and volunteers,” Moran said. “I think everyone in Mason and Warren County are doing their part and putting their best effort out. It’s been really great and everyone has made us feel at home.”
Moran said the tournament has “invested a lot to elevate the experience for fans, players and partners.” He said he’s been pleased to hear that fans are enjoying the new amenities.
He said he’s heard from a lot of people who want the tournament to stay in Mason, adding that many volunteers “have not been shy in expressing how important the tournament is to the community.”
When asked what challenges does Mason have to overcome to retain the tournament, Moran said, “it’s not so much challenges. It’s a process. We’ll evaluate both proposals and come to a decision.”
Moran said a decision will be made later this fall.
Western & Southern Open facts
- The Western & Southern Open is an annual outdoor hard court tennis event played annually. Founded in September 1899, the tournament was known for many years as the Cincinnati Open. It is the oldest pro tournament that is still played in the city of its origin.
- The annual tournament is played each August just prior to the U.S. Open.
- 19 of the top 20 men and women in tennis were at the Western & Southern Open in 2022.
- Nearly 200,000 fans attended the Western & Southern Open from all 50 states and 39 nations.
- Total TV and Streaming Audience was 62.7 million for the tournament.
- Since 1974, the tournament in Mason has raised more than $12 million for various charities in the Cincinnati region.
- The tournament provides an economic impact of about $80 million a year.
- More than 1,200 volunteers from the community and the region help to put on the tournament.
SOURCES: Beemok Capital Group; Western & Southern Open.