Bracing for no Rogers Cup, Tennis Canada cuts go deep

Rain falls on centre court during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/CP)

The national governing body of tennis in this country is the latest sports organization to feel the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Bracing for the expected decision by the ATP Tour that the summer season is cancelled, and already reeling from the announcement that the Coupe Rogers in Montreal won’t happen in August, sources told Sportsnet that Tennis Canada has had a series of layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts across the board for employees.

Sources said nearly 50 people had their jobs terminated on Monday, while another three dozen were laid off with intent to bring them back in the fall. The organization is now down to approximately 35 active staff members, who have accepted a reduction in salary.

The Rogers Cup and Coupe Rogers generates approximately 90 per cent of the revenue for Tennis Canada, and the absence of both tournaments on the calendar will be a devastating financial hit to the organization. Tennis Canada CEO Michael Downey told Sportsnet Tuesday that the loss is expected to be around $17 million. It is believed that it will take three years, at a minimum, to recover from the losses of not holding the 2020 events in Toronto and Montreal.

“We had no choice. When you have these kinds of staggering losses, you have to act like a business and you have to make change,” Downey said. “We had to streamline our employee base. That’s unfortunately what we had to do.”

No facet of the business was immune to the cuts, from ticketing to coaching, not to mention marketing, fundraising, sales, media relations, facilities and operations.

“It’s so deep that every area of our place will be touched one way or another,” Downey said.

No division of the organization will suffer more from this year’s lack of revenue than tennis development. Tennis Canada has made it a priority to support young, up-and-coming players, and built a structure to pave the way for the next generation of stars.

That investment created national programs for juniors in Montreal, Toronto and more recently in British Columbia. The fruits of their labour have paid off. Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard were the first alumni of the program, and each have reached a Wimbledon final. Bianca Andreescu lifted the U.S. Open trophy last September, a product of the development system that received its funding from Rogers Cup monies.

On April 1, both the men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) jointly announced a continued suspension of their tours until July 13. Not long after, the Quebec government declared that no outdoor festivals, concerts or sporting events would be held in the province until September, leading organizers of Coupe Rogers in Montreal to postpone the women’s event until 2021. The ATP in June will make a determination on its outdoor hardcourt swing, with events scheduled in Atlanta, Washington DC, Toronto and Cincinnati in July and August.

Should the ATP even move forward with a modified version of a summer season, it is quite unlikely there would be an event in Toronto without spectators. While other sports have discussed broadcast-only options without fans in seats, the challenges are aplenty for that to happen in Canada. From a financial standpoint, ticket revenues drive the business of the tournament. From a logistical standpoint, the Canadian border remains closed – and should it open by July, the expectation is that a 14-day quarantine will remain for those entering the country, making it a non-starter for top players to come.

Another revenue generator for Tennis Canada had been its share of the pool agreement from global media rights fees. The governing body would get a chunk of television and streaming services money from other top-tier tennis events around the globe. With Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid cancelled, that revenue is another loss for the organization.

The women’s Coupe Rogers event in Montreal is now scheduled for August 6-15, 2021.

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