A Look At Miami Open’s ‘Hard Rock’ Future
MIAMI - Key Biscayne and the Crandon Park Tennis Center are now history for the tennis pro circuit. Let's have a look at the new home for the Miami Open
The IMG (International Management Group) fought tooth and nail to keep and grow the Miami Open in its historic location of Key Biscayne, but in the end they had to concede defeat. Over five years of legal battles, court cases and committee meetings to spend the $50m needed to update the aging Crandon Park venue, build a permanent Grandstand and some other service facilities, they have not managed to curb the determination (coupled with very deep pockets) of Bruce Matheson, the descendant of the Matheson family who owned the island of Key Biscayne until the 1930s, before it was handed over to the County of Miami-Dade in exchange for the construction of the Rickenbacker Causeway. The Mathesons were able to include in the agreement a commitment to maintain Crandon Park a naturalistic oasis, preventing any invasive construction. In 1992 Matheson reluctantly agreed to build the current Stadium on the site, but managed to install a 4-person committee (in which he essentially controlled two votes) in charge of approving any further development. “Our purpose was to invest in Crandon Park and give it back to the people of the Miami-Dade County, so that they can enjoy the beauty of that place – says Adam Barrett, Executive Vice President of IMG Sport and of the Miami Open – This has not been possible, and it’s now the County’s duty to fix this problem, it’s out of our hands now”.
The IMG, the international sports management behemoth that has owned the rights to the Miami Open since 2000, has decided to follow “a vision” in cooperation with Mr. Stephen Ross, real estate mogul and owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team. “One day Mr. Ross got in touch with our CEO Mark Shapiro and presented the idea to move the Miami Open to the Hard Rock Stadium – says Barrett while he is leading the press delegation in a tour of the new venue – building a temporary center court on the pitch. We thought it was a crazy idea, we agreed to listen to him just out of courtesy, but the more he was explaining his vision, the more enticing it became”. This move to Miami North, where the Miami Dolphins stadium is located, about 30 mins from Downtown Miami (when traffic is clear on the I-95, i.e. hardly ever) is intended to be a rebirth for the Miami Open, making this very prestigious tournament into a unique event, able to compete with the best in the world (Indian Wells and Shanghai in particular) in terms of players facilities and spectators experience.
The project aims at creating a synergy between the tennis tournament and all the other event hosted at the Hard Rock Stadium (the Superbowl will be staged there in 2020) allowing the Miami Open to use the existing facilities inside the stadium and to build a permanent tennis center outside the stadium (thanks to the investment dollars committed by the IMG and the Miami-Dade County) open year-round.
It will be a gargantuan leap forward for the Miami Open in terms of player facilities: the dining area will treble in size to reach 2800 square meters; there will be two gyms, one indoor and one outdoor; the locker rooms will be 70% bigger and the players’ lounge will treble as well and will be over 3000 square meters. “There will be 900 dedicated parking spots for players and their guests, all of them on the North Side of the stadium, which will be entirely dedicated to them – explains Barrett – that area is normally used by VIP customers during the Dolphins games and is also served by a ‘black lane’, a reserved lane connecting the freeway junction to the entrance”.
Traffic has always been a sore note for Crandon Park: its location on the island of Key Biscayne forces all people and goods to use the only available road, the Rickenbacker Causeway, which becomes clogged with cars and vans throughout the tournament. General parking is on a different island altogether, Virginia Key, forcing spectators to shuttle back and forth via courtesy buses, which means a 30-40 minute trip from the car to the gate. “This will all disappear once we move to the Hard Rock Stadium – triumphantly states Barrett – here were have 8000 parking spots around the stadium, 3000 of which dedicated to premium customers, and further 9000 spots in the overflow parking, all of them reachable without crossing roads or needing buses”.
Center Court will be built inside the Hard Rock Stadium, using the existing South stands (entirely reserved for premium customers, club seats, mini suites and corporate suites) and using modular stands for the remaining seats. The modular structures will not be entirely dismantled at the end of every tournament but will be disassembled into modules and stored inside the stadium ready for the following year. “We will start building the center court every year as soon as the NFL season is over for the Miami Doplhins, which means at ‘worst’ after the AFC Championship Game, the third week of January – says Barrett jokingly, as he is a lifetime Dolphins supporter and that ‘worst’ scenario would be very welcome to him – During 2020 it will be particularly challenging, since we will host the Superbowl on February 2nd and we will only have six weeks to prepare everything. We won’t have a lot of leeway, but we believe we can do it”.
The new Center Court will have a capacity of around 13,800 seats, roughly the same as Crandon Park’s Stadium Court, while the new permanent Grandstand (which will boast its own players’ lounge, locker room and gym) will be able to seat 5,000 spectators and the new Court 1 and Court 2 will have a capacity of 3,000 and 1,500 seats respectively. The total daily capacity of the venue will increase by about 30% (from 25,000 to over 32,000 people) and there will be 29 permanent courts, 20 of which will be floodlit. The “heart” of the venue will be the Plaza, very similar to the Plaza in front of the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, with a fountain and a giant screen (40 by 90 feet) on one side of the stadium, and a smaller one on the side of Grandstand.
The IMG seems to be intentioned to bring the Miami Open back to the past splendor, when it was considered the “fifth Slam”, singles draws had 128 players and men used to play best of five sets from the first round. The facilities will undoubtedly be world-class, but the location remains a question mark: all official hotels for players and staff will remain in Downtown Miami and Coconut Grove, roughly 20 miles away to be driven on one of the most congested freeways in the United States, the Interstate 95. Shuttles and transportation cars will be able to use express lanes (costing anything between 25 cents and 6-7 dollars or more depending on traffic) allowing to avoid hold-ups and queues. The overwhelming impression is that IMG is mainly concerned about the experience of premium customers, players and staff, with the rest of the patrons representing a somewhat lower priority. “We believe the possibility that are open to us in this venue are endless – explains Barrett – we will be able to create new price points, to attract new fans with new experiences”, adding that the intention is to tap also into the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County catchment area. Which is quite funny, considering that the Miami-Dade County is providing a $2m subsidy to this event under an existing agreement between the County and the Miami Dolphins ownership aiming at keeping a world-class event like the Miami Open (and the $387m it generates annually, according to a study commissioned by the IMG) within the territory of Miami-Dade.
It will be necessary to wait for the completion of the next edition (if not more than one) of the tournament to fully evaluate the effects of this move and how much the distance to downtown Miami will affect patronage. In the meantime we can just admire the suggestive artist renditions of the new grounds, hoping that giant screen, fountains and convenient parking lot will balance the loss of Key Biscayne’s palms, beach and turquoise sea.