L.A. owners: We were forced to sell to Colombia group

by: Matt Cronin | November 17, 2012

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The owners of the ATP tournament in Los Angeles decided to sell the event to a group from Bogota, Colombia because it was the only firm offer on the table. Tournament director Bob Kramer told TENNIS.com that the sale of the event will likely be concluded by the end this year, ending an 86-year run and leaving an area that as recently as 2005 hosted three pro tournaments with none.

“We never thought we would come to a point where there were no offers to keep the tournament in Los Angeles," Kramer said. “That was a big surprise.”

The tournament, which was played at UCLA, is owned by the Southern California Tennis Association, which is part of the USTA.

The management team of the Indian Wells Masters told TENNIS.com that after initial talks broke down, they were never given a chance to match the offer from Colombia. But Kramer says he was told that nothing firm that would be coming their way. Indian Wells CEO Ray Moore re-iterated to TENNIS.com that Kramer never called them to match Colombia’s offer.

The Los Angeles tournament has been sustaining losses for the past four years.

“We’ve been in a recession, plus we are in a period where the U.S. isn’t producing new champions, and we are also in a spot where the players who usually participate in American events have stopped participating at many levels,” Kramer said. “Tournaments like Dallas, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Los Angeles, New Haven, and Indianapolis are gone. Atlanta has gone out of business twice. We were trying to avoid that. In four years we invested more than $3 million, and we were convinced after talking to investor groups that they were interested, but none of those meetings and conversations yielded an offer, other than two offers from Colombia. The tennis association had no interest in selling the event at all.”

Kramer said he talked to interested groups in U.S. cities such as Austin, Chicago, St. Louis, and Stowe, (Vermont), but none of them had facilities that would be able to host the tournament in 2013.

U.S. ATP tournament directors outside of the Indian Wells Masters in Miami and Cincinnati have noted that since the retirement of the great American generation of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Michael Chang, it has been difficult to recruit the game’s top players to compete before the Canadian Open in early August. Men’s tennis’ “Big Four” of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray have been consistently winning big tournaments over the past six years and now command huge appearance fees (up to $ 1 million a player) that smaller U.S. tournaments cannot afford. They are also all European players, and aren’t as willing to play smaller tournaments in the United States as Sampras’s generation did.

“That’s the whole crux of the changes is that the tour has become European-based for players and events,” Kramer said. “Clearly Pete, Michael, Jim, and Andre haven’t been replaced. We used to have access to two of the top five or six players and now we have no access to none of those players.”

The ATP still has to approve the sale of the tournament, which in 2013 will be played in late July, but may move to another date in 2014 depending on how the ATP restructures its calendar.

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