Tennis tournament postponement deals economic blow
By BETH HARRIS
(AP) -- The postponement of the BNP Paribas Open in Southern California because of the coronavirus has done more than temporarily idle the men’s and women’s pro tennis tours. It has jolted the Coachella Valley's economy during peak tourist season in the desert.
The two-week tournament's economic impact to the area topped $400 million in the most recent survey done in 2017. It was set to run Monday through March 22. Based on the survey it has attracted upwards of 450,000 people, including 124,000 from outside the region.
“It's one of our biggest events of the year,” Scott White, president and CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, said by phone Monday. “This is a tough one to get through. I think a lot of people were very surprised by the postponement.”
White said the bureau would begin surveying hoteliers and area attractions Tuesday to find out the impact of not holding the tournament at this time after a case of coronavirus was confirmed in the Coachella Valley. He said hotels and restaurants are using enhanced cleaning methods to protect guests and workers.
The Riverside County Public Health Department declared a public health emergency for the desert cities 110 miles east of Los Angeles, including Indian Wells where the ATP and WTA tours were to play the combined event that offers prize money of over $17 million.
Riverside County health officials on Monday announced three new novel coronavirus cases in the Coachella Valley, bringing the area total to six.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser, county public health officer, said the three infections were either the result of travel into areas where COVID-19 has been confirmed or contact with a known case. Two of the individuals have been isolated at home, Kaiser said, while the third is being cared for at a Coachella Valley hospital.
The county said its first locally acquired case involves a patient who is being treated at Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage. Public health investigators have not been able to determine how the individual was infected, Kaiser said.
The county also has a second confirmed case arising from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Both former passengers are receiving treatment at a Northern California hospital, and neither has been to Riverside County since leaving the ship, officials said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
White said he attended three sold-out events last week in the desert and people present expressed no fear of the coronavirus.
“It almost feels like nothing negative is happening, then you turn on the news,” he said. “Everybody I talked to said they're going to wash their hands more, be more preventive in wiping things down. Everybody I spoke to said this is not going to curtail my lifestyle, I'm still going to travel. People are still shaking hands.”
At the same time, the tournament popularly referred to as Indian Wells typically attracts an older crowd and White said that may have been a consideration in calling it off.
Tourism is the No. 1 industry in the Coachella Valley, with over 60,000 workers, White said. Many of them are dependent on tips and they generate the majority of their income for the year during the peak tourism months in the winter.
“We're reminding event groups that the impact on the tourism worker can be devastating,” White said. “We had a strong January and February. Bookings for March were up going into this week compared to last year at the same time.”
The postponement also affects over 130 hours of live television coverage that was to air in the U.S. on Tennis Channel and the ESPN networks. Tennis Channel broadcast an hour-long live daily show during nine days of the tournament from a studio at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
ESPN's coverage was to begin on March 17. The cable network said Monday it was in the process of scheduling replacement programming.
ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said the men's tour schedule remains the same. The next tournament is the Miami Open from March 23-April 5. It also features the combined men's and women's tours.
“We continue to monitor the situation daily, working closely with our player and tournament members with the understanding that direction must be taken from local public health authorities,” Gaudenzi said in a statement.
The WTA Tour has a lower-level $125,000 tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico, set for March 16-21 before the Miami Open begins.
"The 2020 Miami Open is moving forward as scheduled," according to a statement from the tournament issued Monday. "Safety remains a top priority, and we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely with local, state and federal officials and health organizations in the lead up to the tournament."
A tennis official familiar with tournament planning told The Associated Press that both the ATP and WTA want to play the Miami event, but if it doesn't occur it would be because of decisions made by politicians concerned about public safety. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly, said players arriving in Miami could likely be accommodated with housing by early next week.
Many players already in Indian Wells practicing and preparing for the BNP Paribas Open were left scrambling when the postponement was announced. Tournament spokesman Matt Van Tuinen didn't return calls by the AP for comment.
It remains to be seen whether other major sports and entertainment events scheduled for next month in the desert go on as planned.
The LPGA Tour is to play the first women's golf major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, on April 2-5 in Rancho Mirage.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in nearby Indio, featuring headliners Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott and Frank Ocean, is set for April 10-12 and April 17-19. It typically draws 250,000 people over two weekends. The country-flavored Stagecoach Festival, featuring headliner Carrie Underwood, is scheduled for April 24-26 at the same Indio venue.
“As far as we know, everybody is still planning to move forward, but it's a very fluid situation,” White said. “There's many different factors and variables that change for each event.”
BNP Paribas Open tournament director Tommy Haas has said organizers were prepared to stage the tennis on another date and options were being considered.
“Can this event be moved to the fall time frame?” White asked. “We're keeping our fingers crossed that could happen.”
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Updated March 9, 2020