U.S. Open ticket prices rise in past 7 years with steady attendance, report shows

Roger Federer of Switzerland plays Novak Djokovic of Roger Federer of Switzerland plays Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the men's semifinal match at the U.S. Open on Sept. 10, 2011 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Henny Ray Abrams

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The average ticket price at the U.S. Open has risen 29 percent in the past seven years, according to the United States Tennis Association's annual financial disclosure documents.

The average price to attend last year's Open was $142, up from $110 in 2007. The USTA defines the average ticket price as the total ticket revenue divided by total paid attendance.

"By no means has it been a very aggressive price increase," said Chris Widmaier, the USTA's managing director for corporate communications.

Despite the rise in ticket prices, paid attendance for the event has remained steady.

The U.S. Open, which begins Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, is the highest-attended annual sporting event in the world.

Paid attendance figures have ranged between 692,134 and 699,773 since 2007. Widmaier said those figures represent from 96 percent to 98 percent capacity.

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The 29 percent ticket increase is more than the average ticket price increase over the same time frame for the four major professional sports.

The NHL's average ticket price went up 26.4 percent; MLB saw a 22 percent increase; the NFL's jumped 21.5 percent while the NBA raised prices only 7.5 percent, according to Team Marketing Report, an industry publication that tracks ticket prices.

Robert Boland, academic chair of New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, said the USTA was able to raise prices because it has done a good job of creating demand by marketing the U.S. Open to out-of-towners. "It's one of the best tourism events in the world," he said.

Widmaier said 45 percent of the tournament's attendees are from outside the metropolitan area and, of those, 15 percent are international.

Total revenue -- which represents all tickets sold, including daily tickets, series tickets and suites -- has jumped 28 percent in the past seven years, topping out at $98.5 million compared with $76.5 million in 2007.

The average ticket price, paid attendance figures and total revenue come from annual financial disclosure documents the USTA National Tennis Center Inc., filed in May with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, a regulatory body that oversees municipal bonds.

The USTA leases the center from the City and operates the championship tournament. It files annual financial reports to demonstrate its ability to fulfill its obligations on the $170 million in "civic facility revenue" bonds issued over the past decade by the New York City Industrial Development Agency for improvements to the stadium and grounds.

The documents reveal revenue streams such as ticket sales and broadcast rights as well as expenses for staff, seasonal workers and security compensation.The documents do not include revenue from sponsorships and concessions.

The U.S. Open generates about $750 million annually for New York City's economy, according to a USTA-commissioned economic impact study in 2011. The study was performed by AKRF Inc., a Manhattan-based engineering and planning consultant.

Peter Liebowitz, the AKRF senior vice president who oversaw the project, said the study was part of the USTA's efforts to determine the feasibility of expansion, including the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is scheduled to be in place for the 2016 Open.

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"It just emphasizes how dramatic of an event that takes place over a two-week period," he said. "It's so stable, it's incredible."

Often the Open's biggest obstacle is the weather.

Ticket revenue decreased only once in the past seven years, when it went from $87.1 million in 2010 to $84.6 million in 2011. But the USTA said ticket revenue would have come in at $90.2 million if not for losing four sessions over two consecutive days to rain, leading many fans to exchange their tickets for the next year. The addition of the roof will allow play to continue during inclement weather.

With 26 sessions spanning two weeks, Widmaier said the tournament has the capability to charge an array of ticket prices on both ends of the spectrum. He said the more expensive tickets have generally seen a greater jump than the less expensive ones.

Widmaier said the cheapest ticket this year is a $27 upper-deck seat for the Tuesday and Wednesday night sessions during the tournament's first week.

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The most expensive tickets are for the men's and women's finals, which are $1,519 at face value."We do a lot of strategizing and analyzing of the market -- strategizing from a pricing and approach point of view and an analysis of what the market can bear," he said. "You do not want to get into that point where you're doing self-inflicted harm."The Open as promo tool

Ticket revenue is an important aspect of the USTA's existence, Widmaier said. "The U.S. Open is the economic engine that helps us promote tennis through the remainder of the year," he said.

Tournament ticket revenue of $98.5 million last year represented almost 40 percent of the Open's overall revenue of $253 million. Broadcasting rights fees and sponsorships represent the other two significant revenue streams.

Scott Rosner, academic director of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Sports Business Academy, said the millions of dollars the USTA makes from the tournament allows it to fulfill the goal of growing the game through other smaller, less-profitable events the rest of the year.

"What is the responsibility of the USTA?" he said. "Is it to run this mega sporting event that generates more than many sports franchises do over the course of the year? Or is it to service the game and grow the game at the grassroots level? I actually think they do both very well -- and it starts with running the Open well."

Based on how well U.S. Open tickets have sold on the secondary market in recent years, some experts said the USTA could raise ticket prices higher without hurting overall attendance.

Chris Matcovich, vice president of data for TiqIQ.com, which monitors secondary market sites, said the average asking price for the most recent three U.S. Opens was around $300. He said those prices didn't typically fluctuate more than a few dollars throughout the two weeks of play.

"What this tells you is just that the demand is there," he said.

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