The largest crowd in tournament history -- 10,018 -- turned out to see Jimmy Connors beat Lawson Duncan in a third-round match of the D.C. National Bank Tennis Classic Thursday night. But tournament officials confirmed yesterday that 220 general admission ticket holders were left standing outside Rock Creek Tennis Stadium, only able to listen to the ball hit the racket.
Though general admission capacity for the entire complex is 5,600, tournament officials said only 2,000 general admission seats are in the main stadium, where Connors played his match. More than 3,000 general admission ticket holders had to watch matches on outer courts.
(There are 5,150 reserved seats in the main stadium where Connors played and none elsewhere in the complex.)
Tournament officials said the 220 who could not get in at all were the victims of an unexpectedly high percentage of complimentary and promotional tickets redeemed by fans eager to see Connors in action.
Tournament cochairman John Harris said spectators who were unable to get into the matches were given the option of exchanging their tickets for yesterday's afternoon session or sending in for a refund.
General admission tickets priced at $7.50 guarantee admission to one of the playing areas. Officials said they stopped selling general admission tickets when their count reached 4,000.
"We're telling people (general admission ticket holders) they're going to see tennis," said Harris, adding that the ticket specifically says it is good only for available seating in one of several areas. "They don't have a reason to think they have a place in the stadium. A lot who couldn't get into the East grandstand wouldn't take no for an answer. All they wanted was to see Jimmy Connors."
That was of little consequence to Len Benade, a cancer researcher from Herndon, who had left work early to come to the match with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. He estimated the crowd outside the complex at 500, as did Phil Doherty, a real estate agent from Burke.
"I called that morning and said I wanted to see Jimmy Connors, where does he play and what time," Benade said. "I gave them my credit card number and asked them if the seats were good. They said all the seats were good.
"When we got there, we got in the will-call line. There were rumors that it was oversold. I said, 'I'm sure glad I did this (called ahead).' Then to my horror I heard that there was a longer line stretching around the stadium for people who already had tickets. I was one of many. We tried several entrances and my girl almost got trampled."
June Ahrendt, the box office manager, said general admission ticket sales were halted at about 6:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. session. At that point, she said, the count on general admission sales was in the neighborhood of 4,000.
Doherty said he resented being sold a ticket that would only get him onto the sidecourt. "The public address announcer was saying please go watch the doubles, your ticket will admit you to that," Doherty said. "They were saying, 'Don't bother us in the stadium.' "
"We don't intentionally oversell," said Harris. "Sometimes more (promotional) tickets are redeemed than we expect. What we saw last night (Thursday) was the first time that had ever happened. That's not our policy.
"We don't have a perfect situation like a major stadium," he said, adding that some spectators might also have gotten in illegally. Usher Marty Feller said about 40 people broke through one of the general admission gates but that he believed they were ticket holders.
Each of the 1,000 volunteers working at the tournament is allowed one or two vouchers for tickets, and promotions such as the Giant Food two-for-one coupon increased attendance. Each of those vouchers must be redeemed for a ticket and should have been accounted for in running attendance estimates.
Spectators holding tickets distributed to sponsors as part of a paid promotional package were not included in the running count at the box office, however, according to tournament officials. Kathy Yanuck, assistant tournament manager, estimated the number of sponsor tickets handed out for Thursday's evening session at 300, but yesterday the box office did not have a count on how many were redeemed.
"In the past, sponsors have put the tickets in the bottom drawer and forgotten about it," Yanuck said. "All of a sudden, everyone showed up (Thursday)."
"We anticipate a certain percentage of no-shows (on promotional tickets)," said tournament codirector Henry Brehm, adding that the estimate ranges from 25 to 50 percent. "We won't give out as many tickets next year. Hopefully, we'll be forced to stop our promotions by Wednesday or Tuesday."