Mason, Ohio – The next Western & Southern Open owner says he wants to “write the next chapter” starring Cincinnati.
But his press release did not mention any specific plans for the event, which considers itself the oldest US tennis tournament still held in its home city.
The WCPO 9 I-Team is looking into the potential impact of the sale on the Mason Complex, which hosts the world’s best players each August. The most likely scenario is a major expansion, but a transition cannot be ruled out.
South Carolina billionaire Benjamin Navarro plans to finalize the purchase by the end of September, according to a joint press release issued Friday by the US Tennis Association and Navarro subsidiary Beemok Capital.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“It is an honor to be partnering with the USTA, ATP and WTA to help write the next chapter of the Western and Southern Open, one of the most important tennis events in the world,” Navarro said in the press release. “We welcome the opportunity to become a steward of this important tournament, as well as an ambassador for the USTA’s mission to advance the development and growth of tennis. We are committed to providing the best resources to the world’s best players and look forward to elevating the Western and Southern Open experience for players and fans.”
In an interview ahead of Friday’s announcement, USTA Professional Tennis CEO Stacey Alastair said Navarro is “committed to Cincinnati and plans to make a very significant investment in Cincinnati.”
In an August 5 interview, Katie Haas, CEO of Western & Southern, declined to say whether the sale could move the championship. But, she added, details of future plans will be revealed once the sale documents are signed.
“We want the best for this event,” Haas said. “We have a home here and we hope the new owner’s vision will go along with that.”
After the press release was released, the WCPO asked the USTA, Beemok Capital and Western & Southern Open to clarify what the sale meant for Cincinnati. Nobody has answered the question.
“Going into this sales process, the USTA had clear goals,” USTA CEO Lou Cher said in the press release. “We wanted to locate a potential host who would invest in the event and invest in our sport to ensure more children and communities could access our sport. We wanted to create a structure suitable for American tennis, and finally, we wanted to elevate one of the major events on the tennis calendar to even greater heights. With this sale to Ben Navarro and Beemok Capital , we’d have exceeded those goals. Ben’s track record in Charleston, his commitment to tennis, and most importantly to the communities, made him the perfect new owner in Cincinnati.”
The Tennis Association of America announced in February that it was looking to sell 93.8% of its stake in Cincinnati Tennis LLC, which owns the ATP Tour penalty that enables the Lindner Family Tennis Center to host the Men’s Masters 1000 at Mason each August. Cincinnati Tennis also leases the rights to bring the WTA Tour to Mason at the same time as the men’s tournament. The events collectively operate as Western & Southern Open, under a naming rights partnership that began in 2002 with the Cincinnati-based insurance company.
The USTA paid $18.4 million for the ATP Tour penalty, according to its financial statements. Its February announcement of the sale announced that the USTA was exploring strategic options to “improve the tournament’s long-term growth and take the tournament to the next level.”
Could selling lead to expansion?
The USTA sale coincided with strategic planning initiatives through both rounds that could lead to a major expansion in Cincinnati.
The ATP announced in June that it would add five new “first-class” rounds to its schedule, including Cincinnati, by 2025. That means the men’s tournament at the Western and Southern Open will run from eight days to 12, and attract 96 players. to Mason instead of the current draw of 56.
According to published reports, the WTA is talking to private equity investors about a cash injection that could push the Cincinnati Championships into a mandatory stop on the WTA tour. Tour officials did not respond to questions about those talks.
But Haas said in her August 5 interview that she is optimistic that the two tours will expand in Cincinnati.
“We are really looking forward to the plans the WTA is trying to put together to advance this tournament in the future,” Haas said. “At this height, this high tide will lift all boats.”
Haas also admitted he was somewhat concerned about the pending change of ownership.
“We don’t know yet what the new buyer’s vision will be,” she said. “But I know (USTA) was really looking for the next person, the next host to take the hundreds of years of history and legacy that this tournament has built and take it to the next level.”
Navarro’s press release made his first public statement regarding the purchase since media reports surfaced in late July, stating that he would pay nearly $250 million for the ATP penalty.
The press release confirmed “Advances to Beemok Tennis in the United States” and its investment in Charleston.
“Beemok also brings extensive operational and hospitality experience to the Western and Southern Open, having recently completed a major renovation transforming Charleston Credit One into a world-class tennis and concert venue,” the statement read. Credit One Stadium hosts the largest women’s-only professional tennis tournament in North America, the Credit One Charleston Open, which was acquired by Beemok in 2018.
Navarro is the owner and founder of the SC-based Sherman Financial Group, which started as a debt collector and now owns Credit One Bank, one of the largest credit card issuers in the country. Navarro is the son of former Ivy League soccer coach Frank Navarro. His daughter Emma Navarro competes on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 166The tenth With a career record of 71-55 in singles competitions.
Could the sale lead to a move?
Buyers of sports teams and sporting events often look to transfer those assets after purchase, Adam Bissell, associate professor at the University of Miami who studies and studies sports business.
“We are looking at sports like NASCAR, where conglomerates buy tracks in order to get the rights to race weekend and move it to their other properties,” Bissell said. “One of the things to consider is whether or not there is a contractual clause that requires the championship to remain in Mason. If an investor wants to move the championship, can they do so legally?”
The tournament leases its stadium complex from Tennis for Charity Inc. It is a 20-year lease that expires in 2029, but includes an option for early termination in 2024, according to USTA financial statements. Expanded in 2010, the 19-acre site includes four stadiums with a capacity of 22,000 fans.
“The ATP penalty is subject to termination if (Cincinnati Tennis LLC) fails to follow ATP rules and regulations, according to the USTA financial statement.” Based on past experience, including Cincy’s continued compliance with ATP rules and regulations, the penalty is expected to be effective indefinitely. .”
Alistair said the Cincinnati facility would be hard to match in Charleston.
“The standards are incredibly high for the ATP Masters Series event,” Alastair said. “You need a center court with 10,000 (seats), a minor court with 5,000. You need eight match courts. You need up to 20 courts for training. You need extensive locker rooms.”
Credit One Stadium has 10,000 seats and a total capacity of 11,000 spectators.
“It’s a beautiful stadium,” Alastair said. “He put $60 million into it. But it is still relatively small for the Masters.”
Haas added that there are plenty of reasons to keep the western and southern open in their current habitat.
“We have an incredibly active and enthusiastic fan base,” Haas said. “Box seat carriers, many of them on average have been with us for over 10 years. We have an incredible pool of 1,200 volunteers. The presidents who lead all of those committees have a combined 1,061 years of service.”
The Western & Southern Open generated a regional economic impact of $70 million in 2021 and has raised $11 million for local nonprofits since 1974, according to figures posted on the website of the event’s primary sponsor, Western & Southern Financial Group Inc.