The BNP Paribas Open, which was the first major American sports event to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, announced its comeback on Thursday.
The prestigious tennis tournament, staged annually in Indian Wells, Calif., was not held in 2020 and was postponed this year from its regular dates in March.
But after extensive negotiations with professional tennis’s numerous stakeholders, the event will be held in October. The precise dates have not been determined because the men’s and women’s tours are not set to finalize their late-season calendars until June. But Tommy Haas, a former player who directs the tournament, said the BNP Paribas Open would be staged with full prize money. The figures for this year aren’t set, but the 2020 prize money was supposed to be $1.36 million for each singles champion.
Many tennis events have reduced prize money during the pandemic because of the loss of ticket and sponsorship revenue. The Miami Open, which was held in March after being canceled in 2020, slashed its compensation. Singles champions earned $1.35 million in 2019 but just $300,000 in 2021. The drastic cuts prompted complaints from John Isner, the 2018 men’s winner, and other players about the transparency of the decision-making process.
But Haas said the BNP Paribas Open was committed to maintaining prize money at its customary levels.
“I think that’s something the players are going to be really, really happy about,” Haas said in a videoconference call on Thursday. “That’s how it should be. They’ve gone through obviously some hard times. Their schedule has been sort of upside down with travel restrictions and trying to be in one bubble after another. I’m hoping that things will be a little easier come October playing for the prize money that we think they deserve.”
The BNP Paribas Open, owned by the American billionaire Larry Ellison, is particularly popular with players because of its desert location, extensive facilities and relaxed atmosphere. It has become the most significant tennis event outside the four Grand Slam tournaments and the season-ending championships for the ATP and the WTA.
“As a German-American citizen, I’m going to call it my own little Oktoberfest this year, which is going to be great, especially since Munich already had to cancel,” said Haas, referring to the annual German festival that will not be staged this year.
The 2020 BNP Paribas Open was canceled just ahead of the qualifying tournament in March after a coronavirus case was detected in the area and Riverside County, Calif., public health officials declared a state of emergency. Many players, including the Spanish star Rafael Nadal, were already on site. The decision came so swiftly that many players and officials found out through social media.
“As soon as we canceled, we went to work the next day to see how we were going to bring this back,” said Philippe Dore, the tournament’s media and marketing director. “I think we’re on our Version 25 of budgets and different scenarios.”
More than 450,000 spectators attended the event in 2019, and Haas said he hoped to have a large number of fans again in October. California has been loosening pandemic-related restrictions in certain counties and is aiming to fully reopen its economy next month. Tickets for the BNP Paribas Open are tentatively scheduled to go on sale June 21.
“We’re going to follow all the guidelines,” Haas said. “Safety is obviously the highest concern. It comes first, and we want to make sure everyone is very, very comfortable.”