It seems like every year, talk of the Miami Open’s decline intensifies.
Invariably, the conversation circles back to the power struggle between Key Biscayne’s Matheson family and the tournament, which is owned by a corporation that is part of the big IMG/WME conglomerate.
The owners want a $50 million refurbishment on the dated site, which would be privately financed and also has sailed through a local referendum process. But a special set of restrictions tied to the Matheson family’s land transfer prohibit further expansion of the Crandon Park facility for the for-profit event. So far, the tournament has been out of luck in challenging those restrictions.
If you don’t think facilities matter, just ask Larry Ellison and the 400,000 patrons who flock to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden every March to enjoy professional tennis. As a wise man once said, to sit still is to fall behind. That’s particularly true when it comes to the venues that host professional sporting events.
But I have a different take what ails the once top-shelf Miami Open. More than any other factor, its number-one problem is where it sits in the calendar. To play with an old political line, ‘It’s the scheduling, stupid.’
With the BNP Paribas Open growing into a major international event and a player favorite, March is simply no longer big enough for the two tournaments. It’s like having the Rolling Stones on as your opening band; talk about a tough act to follow – particularly if they play the exact same kind of music.
In the end, what also ails Miami is its sameness. Same surface. Same players. Same broadcasters. The players are all still wearing the same clothes!
As well, anticipation plays a key role in creating the buzz around any major sporting event. It’s no different with tennis. In the current schedule, the five weeks between the end of the Australian Open and the beginning of Indian Wells allows tennis fans to decompress from the first event, then rev it back up for the next.
Within the tournaments themselves, a familiar cycle that plays out. Intensity slowly builds through the early rounds, a feverish few days with intriguing matchups come one after the other during the middle rounds. And then – hopefully, a blockbuster finals weekend to determine the year’s champions.
If you follow a tournament from the first coin toss to the final handshake, events like Indian Wells can be draining. To have to come back and do it all over again – two days later – is just too soon. There’s always a bit of an Indian Wells hangover when Miami comes around. Even the most ardent fan needs to give the tennis pom-poms a little break
The more you experience something, the less impact it has on you. With the exception of a few diehards, a full month of professional hard-court tennis is too much to fully take in.
So here’s the solution: the Miami Open needs to move away from Key Biscayne, but it also needs to be pushed back on the calendar.
The U.S. needs to develop a clay court season of its own. Currently, there are only two American events: the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston for the men, and Volvo Open in Charleston (on Har-Tru) for the women.
What if the U.S. were to host two or three weeks of smaller clay-court events right after Indian Wells, a series culminating in a major coed, two-week clay court event in Miami beginning in mid-April?
It’s been years since American players have traveled well in Europe during the actual clay-court season. The leadup to the French Open is six weeks – too long to be away. Having a month-long American clay-court swing culminating in a marquee event in Miami would give the tennis world enough time decompress from Indian Wells, while allowing enough time to get the fans excited for a new unique event on American soil that still bears the Miami Open name.