But as a Washington-area native, as well as a former ball kid at the event, Ein believes the Citi Open can do more to entertain fans and accommodate players when and if rain plays havoc with the schedule — such as providing more hospitality tents for all ticket-holders, a wider range of food and beverage options, additional on-site entertainment and events with tennis personalities.
Those are a few of the ideas on tap as Ein, a Washington-based venture capitalist, assumes management of the event under a complex transaction that was approved by the Association of Tennis Professionals last week following months of negotiations. Details were announced at a news conference at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on Tuesday, with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and players Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla in attendance.
“Our vision for the tournament is, we want this to be the place everyone wants to be, every one of those nine days and nights in Washington for that week,” Ein said in a telephone interview before Tuesday’s announcement. “My goal is for everything about this event to be lifted to a new level, and we’re going to work very hard to make that happen.”
Under the deal, Ein will pay a fee to take over management of the event from the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, which owns the ATP sanction that conveys the right to stage the tournament on the top men’s tour. Ein assumes all financial risk; commits to continue financial support of the WTEF, which provides educational help and tennis instruction to children in underserved areas of the city; and gets a five-year option to buy the ATP sanction. The event will continue to include a women’s tournament, which was launched in 2012.
The deal represents a significant step in the life of a tournament that for a half-century has brought top pros to Washington, with the late Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin del Potro and current world No. 3 Alexander Zverev among its champions.
But like many U.S. tennis tournaments, the Citi Open faced intense financial pressure as the sport’s domestic popularity ebbed in recent decades. As the sport grew more popular overseas, the WTEF received lucrative offers from deep-pocketed investors willing to pay $20 million for the sanction so they could move the tournament to Europe, Asia or South America.
“That’s why these events are jewels and why people want them and why they have left,” Ein said at Tuesday’s news conference. “And once they leave, they never come back. . . . Thanks to a lot of people, we all wanted to make sure this tournament didn’t just leave here now but that it’s going to be here forever.”
In spurning those suitors, the WTEF left millions on the table in exchange for what its board deemed a twofold greater good: securing the tournament’s future in Washington on the public courts that Ashe insisted serve as its home when he and pioneering sports agent Donald Dell founded the event, and continuing the charitable mission that has been at its core since its inception in 1969.
Ein, 53, is an avid tennis enthusiast who said the tournament “has been a huge part of my life from beginning to end.” He founded the Washington Kastles World Team Tennis franchise, served on the U.S. Tennis Association’s board and owns the City Paper and the Washington Justice esports franchise in the Overwatch League.
“I was a ball kid at the tournament for many years, grew up close to the site, served on the WTEF board and have been a supporter and fan to this day," he said. "I’ve seen how much this event has been woven into the fabric of our community and touched and inspired generations of Washingtonians. I thought it was imperative that we kept it here for future generations.”
Manuel Ortiz, chairman of the nonprofit WTEF, stressed that the transaction was a management agreement with an option to buy, motivated by specific goals for the event and foundation.
“We’re hoping to do three things with this new agreement: enhance the branding of the tournament as a community event; upgrade the overall experience for not only our patrons but our sponsors; and create a deeper, wider awareness of the WTEF’s charitable purpose and work,” Ortiz said. “We want to continue to grow and reach more people in the city.”
The Citi Open, the only 500-level ATP event remaining in the United States, is the fifth-biggest tournament in the country, following the U.S. Open and the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Calif.; Miami and Cincinnati.
Ein faces significant constraints in making major, long-range upgrades. Because the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, its traditional home, is on National Park Service land in Rock Creek Park, it’s subject to restrictions on expansion, additional parking, commercial signage and the number of events that may be staged there.
Amid talks with Park Service officials about easing those restrictions, Ein believes the tournament’s existing parking can be better managed, and ride-sharing can be integrated in a fan-friendly way. Other favorable business developments have been brokered or are in the works. Title sponsor Citi has agreed to a one-year extension, and broadcast partner Tennis Channel is expected to extend for five years.
Emily Giambalvo contributed to this report.
Read more from Post Sports: