The Solution to the Withdrawal Problem

 

Canadian tennis fans were denied a men’s semi-final in Montreal, after Gael Monfils withdrew ahead of his match with Rafa Nadal, and a proper women’s final in Toronto, which Serena Williams quit down 1-3, citing back spasms. 

Coupe Rogers organizers in Montreal promised refunds for fans. Toronto did not, though Ticketmaster was selling Sunday tickets for $375 and up.

For $375, fans got to see 19 minutes of tennis, plus speeches and the sight of Bianca Andreescu, 19, standing atop the umpire’s chair and parading the Rogers Cup trophy around the court. 

Surely this miffed a lot of tennis fans and customers. Most Canadian media members won’t rise to the defense of ticket buyers. They risk losing accreditation from organizers who have banned this reporter.

Rogers, a major telecomm giant in Canada, owns Canadian sports broadcaster Sportsnet, and they also sponsor the Rogers Cup. Their on-court reporter didn’t even ask Andreescu what Serena told her during their tearful embrace after Serena’s withdrawal. 

It’s not the first time tennis fans are cheated out of matches. Most recently, Nadal pulled out of the Indian Wells semi-final versus Roger Federer. 

Tournament organizers and insurers can lose trust with fans or millions of dollars in refunds. Indian Wells and Coupe Rogers in Montreal still had to pay Rafa and Monfils for reaching their semi-finals, even though they didn’t play. (In other words, they didn’t go to work but still got paid.)

This current system isn’t fair to fans, sponsors, organizers or anybody else who puts money into events. 

 

 

Here’s the solution, which works for Olympics or world cups in other sports such as basketball. 

From the quarter-final stage onward, players play for prize money depending on where they finish 1 through 8. In Montreal, they would each play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

Thus the four losers of quarterfinals on Friday in Montreal would play a “consolation” draw on Saturday. The winners and losers of Saturday matches then play Sunday matches for 3rd, 5th and 7th place. This screenshot of FIBA’s website shows their classification schedule for the world cup in China.

 

In the case of Coupe Rogers in Montreal, the quarter final losers on Friday (Robert Bautista-Agut, Alexander Zverev, Fabio Fognini and Dominic Thiem) would be scheduled to play in the consolation round on Saturday morning. The losers of Saturday’s semi-finals would play for third place on Sunday. 

Tournaments could also use their discretion to fill Monfils vacated semi-final spot with the winner of the consolation matches. Let’s say that RBA beats Zverev, and Thiem beats Fognini in Saturday’s consolation round. Organizers could choose to replace Monfils with Thiem or RBA, meaning that Thiem or RBA, who lost the quarterfinal, could now play Rafa in the semi-final and still have a chance to win the tournament.

Many tennis purists would reject this as unfair. Thiem, after losing his quarter, shouldn’t have a chance to still win the tournament. RBA shouldn’t be able to lose to Monfils in the quarters and then take his place in the semis. 

In that case, Rafa would win the semi-final in a walkover, but organizers could still avoid a total refund by replacing the Rafa-Monfil semi with a consolation match, perhaps Thiem vs Fognini, or RBA vs Zverev. 

This classification system also guarantees ticket buyers a meaningful match on Sunday, in case a player pulls out of a final. Thus in Toronto, fans who paid $400 could see 19 minutes of Andreescu-Serena, and also the match for 3rd place between Sofia Kenin and Marie Bouzkova. They could also opt to see the 5th and 7th place matches on Grandstand. 

 

 

How to pay for these extra matches? The players (who should have unions, as per the wishes of Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil), would have to agree on new ways to split prize money. 

Let’s assume that tournament organizers won’t agree to pay any more total prize money. In that case, tournaments could take some of the prize money from players finishing first and second, and transfer it to the other six players in the consolation side of the event.

While top players might argue against giving up some of their finalist prize money, they might benefit longterm, since they might gain at other tournaments from earning extra cash for finishing third, fifth or seventh. 

 

 

Players already earn money for finishing tied for third (by reaching and losing the semis), or tied for fifth (by reaching and losing the quarters). In this new system, players would have to earn the prize money for finishing third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth. 

This system guarantees more tennis for paying customers, plus a better sharing of prize money among players, since finishing seventh would be better than flying out of a city after losing a quarter-final. 

If tournaments earn more revenue by selling more tickets to consolation matches, players could then have justification to demand a greater share of the purse. Everybody wins. 

What happens if players withdraw before their consolation matches? They forfeit that extra prize money, and another player in the consolation draw can take their place. Thus a player who wins a 5 thru 8 place consolation match on Saturday could play for third place on Sunday. 

All of this works if tournaments also impose something long overdue: medical examinations before big matches. In other words, Serena would have to pass an exam before taking the court before her Rogers Cup final. (She told media that she couldn’t sleep with back spasms the night before the final.) On the other hand, Monfils would also have to receive a doctor’s permission to withdraw ahead of his Coupe Rogers semi-final. He would have to prove to a licensed medical practitioner that he’s not fit to play, since he’s effectively taking the prize money while refusing to work.  

This would help build trust with ticket-buyers, and also protect players who might feel pressured to play through injuries. Moreover, it protects tournament organizers, sponsors, advertisers and insurers from losing millions due to withdrawals and refunds. 

(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)

 

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