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Mubadala Citi DC Open Could Be Catalyst For More Combined Men’s, Women’s Events

Mubadala Citi DC Open Could Be Catalyst For More Combined Men’s, Women’s Events

July 28, 2023

Editor Note: Adam Grossman takes the controls on Friday mornings. You will find his latest Revenue Above Replacement column below. I'll be back on Monday. Have a great weekend.

Mubadala Citi DC Open Could Be Catalyst For More Combined Men’s, Women’s Events

Supporters of female athletics often criticize the broader sports industry for failing to provide women the same opportunities and platforms male athletes enjoy.

The Mubadala Citi DC Open has taken meaningful steps to address the inequity. This weekend’s tournament is the only event in the world to include 500-level men’s and women’s professional tennis.

"From the very beginning, our goal was to have an equal, high-level men’s and women’s event,” Mark Ein (chairman, Mubadala Citi DC Open and founder, chairman and CEO, Capitol Investment Corp and Venturehouse Group) said. "If you do not have a tournament at the same level for both men and women, then you are not portraying [the] event as equal.”

Founded by Arthur Ashe, the Citi Open has grown to become the

largest pro tennis event in the United States. It is now merging with the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, which was started by Billie Jean King as the first event on the 1971 women’s professional tour that later became the WTA.

"Gender equity in sport is a foundational principle across all our sponsorship decisions, Ryan Djabbarah (managing director for sponsorship and experiential marketing, Citi) said. "We’re excited to [help] bring men’s and women’s tennis closer together and [to] give fans of the sport an unforgettable experience."

The idea of combining men’s and women’s athletic events is not new. The issue surfaced during the ’21 NCAA men’s and women’ basketball tournaments when photos of obvious disparities between weight/training room facilities began appearing on social media.

The outrage spurred the NCAA to initiate a

that would decide whether the men’s and women’s Final Fours should be played at the same location. The organization ultimately decided against the approach, at least for the remainder of the decade, given the difficulties associated with implementing change. 

This includes the pending NCAA media rights negotiations, which include the women’s tournament. It would be difficult to host men’s and women’s Final Four at the same location until that deal is in place. An independent

found that the women's tournament rights could be worth $80-100 million annually.

NWSL teams in several cities, including San Diego, D.C., and Los Angeles share a venue with their MLS counterpart. But rarely do home games occur on the same day.

There are logistical reasons that make shared events challenging for stick and ball sports. For example, soccer fields typically need to be repaired after matches.

“It is not as easy to execute a combined event [as] just adding players,” Ein said. “There is a degree of complexity that increases logarithmically rather than in a straight line for a combined event. There is a lot of learning to do this. Once you have done that learning then you have done something that is really valuable going forward.”

There is an argument to be made, however, that the additional complexity is worth navigating if combined events prove to generate more engaged fans, higher ticket sales, larger media rights revenues and/or increased partnership revenues, than those featuring athletes of just one sex.

The Mubadala Citi DC Open is showing combined events work from a partnership perspective. Ein said that this year’s tournament has generated twice as much partnership revenue as last year’s event. He anticipated sales would have only increased 25-30% had the tournament once again been held as a men’s event.

If the Mubadala Citi DC Open enjoys comparable success with ticket sales and TV viewership, logic suggests it will serve as a catalyst for more combined events inside and out of tennis.

"I have always believed in and supported sports events that co-featured men's and women's competitions,” Neal Pilson (president of Pilson Communications, Inc. (PCI), and the former president of CBS) said. “They have enhanced value for the television audience. Hopefully, golf tournaments and the NCAA basketball championships will be next.”

Ein’s unique insight into the Mubadala Citi DC Open trial balloon could also have an influence on several pro sports franchises. He’s an investor in Monumental Sport & Entertainment, and part of the ownership group that recently closed its acquisition of the Washington Commanders.

“Our passion has been to create a world-class fan experience,” he said. “That has been at the core of our success as a business. That is applicable to all sports and is a really important lesson that can be transferred to other sports properties.”

About the Author: Adam Grossman is the Vice President of Business Insights & Analytics at Excel Sports Management. He works with companies, sports properties, media rights holders, athletes, agencies, and events to determine the value of their most important assets. Grossman is also a professor at Northwestern University Master’s In Sports Administration program and the co-author of The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High-Performance Industry. You can find him at [email protected].