TORONTO — Even though the Canadian men were making history in front of roaring crowds in Montreal, attendance dipped at both the men’s and women’s Rogers Cup tournaments.
Women’s tournament director Karl Hale addressed the media prior to top-ranked American Serena Williams winning her third Rogers Cup title with a straight sets victory over unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea in Sunday’s final.
Although the audience at Rexall Centre for the final was mostly full and somewhat raucous, thanks to a large contingent of Romanian supporters, the scene was not the norm during the week-long tournament.
This year the upper stands, erected above the top-level of the stadium to add seating, were removed to create a more "intimate experience" for fans, according to tournament officials. However, it was not unusual to see swaths of empty seats during centre court matches, including the quarter-finals and semifinals.
"We expect (attendance) to be down based on the fact that the upper stands aren’t there," said Hale. "We knew that going in to make this experience more intimate, which I think everyone can agree has been very successful, so we knew that we were going to take a hit to go forward with our event."
Contributing perhaps to the decline in ticket sales was the loss of star power at the event. World No. 2 and No. 3-ranked players Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, respectively, both pulled out with injuries prior to the tournament. That left Williams to carry most of the load, in terms of marquee status.
"Well, we lost Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. We would have liked to have had them," said Hale. "It definitely impacts our sales, but considering during the week Serena did a fantastic job, all of her matches were well attended and she’s a fan favourite, so we’re very happy to have her."
An early exit from rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard — her image hanging on banners across the stadium — in the second round didn’t help matters.
Besides having the "Rogers Legends Cup" exhibition with former greats like Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Jim Courier, this year the tournament experimented with a men’s invitational held at the women’s draw. Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic travelled from Montreal after being eliminated in the men’s event to take part in the exhibition match.
Hale says the project was made possible by government funding and it’s too early to say if it will be expanded or brought back next year.
"The reviews were definitely mixed, so we will look at it after," he said. "It was basically done because we had government funding for the program. That’s what kind of kicked it off. So we will review it after this event and make a decision going forward."
Surprisingly, attendance was down by more than 13,000 in Montreal, although it would be tough to beat the 213,760 that turned out the last time the men played there in 2011. That was a world record for a one-week tournament.
There were 200,394 this year, which was more like the 2009 attendance of 200,077.
It wasn’t the weather. It only rained once all week, and that was late Wednesday night and it didn’t last long.
Tournament director Eugene Lapierre was at a loss to explain the drop.
"We’ve been asking ourselves the same question," he said. "Maybe it’s the economic situation. I don’t know.
"But in the end we have a great event. We have the world record. Nobody comes close to that in a one week, one sex tournament. We’re very proud of this week and we’ll do better next time, I can tell you that."
— With files from reporter Bill Beacon in Montreal.