After a decade as the venue for the Nitto ATP Finals, London’s O2 Arena will have to sing for its supper after organisers announced a tender process for the next host of the event.
According to the ATP’s announcement this morning, “Any interested parties must submit their official applications to the Sports Business Group at Deloitte by 2 November 2018... with a final decision to come not before March 2019.”
The O2 Arena has already been confirmed at the tournament’s base until 2020, which will be its 12th straight year in London. The city can of course bid to continue its tenure, and the fact that more than 250,000 people usually show up for the eight-day event is a powerful asset.
But the one thing that London cannot offer is a hefty state-funded guarantee. Cities like Beijing or Abu Dhabi could potentially blow it out of the water with a giant pile of cash.
Chris Kermode, the British executive chairman of the ATP, has been a staunch defender of London’s case – perhaps unsurprisingly, as he was the tournament’s first director in 2009 and came up with the bold concept of running two separate sessions per day.
Kermode has argued that the regular presence of sellout crowds gives the event an atmosphere and buzz which would be hard to replicate in the middle-east or Asia. There is also an argument that players do not want an extra long-haul flight at this late stage of the year. (The potential addition of a Davis Cup finals week in late November – which will be voted on at next week’s annual general meeting of the International Tennis Federation – could further complicate the last knockings of the season.)
But the ATP Finals have traditionally been a nomadic tournament. The longest residency in its history came at Madison Square Gardens in New York between 1977 and 1989.
Certain players – notably Novak Djokovic, who now heads the ATP Player Council – have been calling for a shift of venue for years. Meanwhile world No 1 Rafael Nadal has complained that it is unfair to always hold the ATP Finals on hard courts.
The tournament has also tended to follow a path close to the leading stars of the day. Andy Murray has been a consistent factor at the O2 over the last decade, having finally won the event for the first time in 2016 to secure his No 1 status at the end of the year. But his future is hard to predict because of his chronic hip trouble.
The value of the ATP Finals to British tennis is enormous. The event, which is televised live on the BBC, offers a vastly more accessible environment than Wimbledon or Queen’s, the two other male tournaments with comparably strong fields.