Saudi Arabia overdrive to buy tennis shows



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Saudi Arabia to target tennis tournaments Image: La Caja Mágica, JC, CC BY-SA 2.0

Saudi Arabia is pushing to purchase two of the most prestigious tournaments in professional tennis, with representatives of the country’s investment funds making recent pitches to take over events in Miami or Madrid, according to four people with knowledge of the discussions.

‘The Athletic’ stated that the tournaments are owned by the International Management Group (IMG), the sports and entertainment conglomerate that is part of Endeavor, the sprawling representation and live event business. Saudi Arabia’s push to acquire one of the events represents its latest efforts to embed itself into the highest levels of the pro tours. Both Madrid and Miami are so-called 1,000-level events, just below the four Grand Slams (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open) in significance and on par with the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and the Italian Open in Rome. Tournaments of this size have previously sold for several hundred million dollars.

IMG, originally known as the International Management Group, is a global sport, fashion, events, and media company headquartered in New York City, US.

The Endeavor Group Holdings, Inc. is an American holding company for talent and media agencies with its primary offices in Beverly Hills, California, United States. The company was founded in April 2009 after the merger of the William Morris Agency and Endeavor Talent Agency.

The Madrid Open is an annual professional tennis tournament held in Madrid, Spain. It is played on clay courts at the La Caja Mágica in Manzanares Park, San Fermín (Spain), and is held in late April and early May.

The La Caja Mágica is a multipurpose stadium located in Madrid, Spain. Since 2009, it has been the home of the Madrid Open tennis tournament.

The Miami Open is an annual professional tennis tournament held in Miami Gardens, Florida, United States. It is played on outdoor hard courts at the Hard Rock Stadium, and is held in late March and early April.

The 65,326-capacity Hard Rock Stadium is a multipurpose stadium located in Miami Gardens, Florida, United States. The stadium is the home field for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League (NFL).

The Indian Wells Open is an annual professional tennis tournament held in Indian Wells, California, United States. It is played on outdoor hard courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and is held in March.

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden is a tennis facility in Indian Wells, near Palm Springs, California, in the Coachella Valley. The 16,100-capacity Stadium 1 is the largest stadium at the tennis complex, and the second largest outdoor tennis stadium in the world.

The Italian Open is an annual professional tennis tournament held in Rome, Italy. It is played on clay courts at the Foro Italico, and is held during the second week of May.

‘The Athletic’ further stated that according to people with knowledge of the discussions, who requested anonymity so as not to jeopardize their professional relationships, the talks are preliminary and could fall apart amid the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, but they come on the heels of a series of significant wins for Saudi Arabia in its effort to become a major player in international sports.

Saudi Arabia is also continuing to pursue a long-term deal to host the WTA Tour Finals, the leading event in women’s tennis. That effort has been ongoing throughout this year and would represent the next triumph for a country that is determined to become a hub of international sports.

Last month, the country scored its biggest victory yet, putting itself on the cusp of becoming the host of the 2034 World Cup. When Australia pulled out of the running, Saudi Arabia was left as the only candidate for the event, which FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, plans to award late in 2024, even though the event will not take place for 11 years.

Late in the month of October, the country announced it would host two tennis exhibitions in late December, including a match between the Serbian professional tennis player Novak Djokovic and the Spanish tennis player Carlos Alcaraz, the world’s top two men’s players, whose budding rivalry has captivated the sport. In June, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour and its rival, the long-established Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) Tour, agreed to the framework of a deal to merge following more than a year of acrimony and litigation.

Saudi officials have been in talks with top tennis executives for more than a year about multiple potential investments. Tennis officials are eager to placate their Saudi suitors and avoid the aggressive push the country made in golf, where it signed top players to contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars and upended the structure of the sport.

Industry experts see tennis as ripe for disruption because of its fractured management, which includes seven different governing bodies, each pursuing its own interests. Players have long complained about the 11-month season and receiving a lower percentage of revenues than athletes in team sports, in part because so much money goes to covering the costs of the governing bodies that use the players as independent contractors.

Saudi Arabia’s oil riches and its enthusiasm for becoming a major player in professional sports make it a strong candidate to cause the potential disruption.

During the Summer, Saudi Arabia was a leading candidate to become the long-term host of the season-ending Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour Finals.

Saudi Arabia did manage to win the rights to host the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour’s Next Gen Finals, which features the top players under the age of 21 in men’s tennis. That event is scheduled for late December.

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