An early highlight of the tennis calendar for fans and pros alike has been elevated by the billionaire’s willingness to spend
(Bloomberg) — Spring Break for tennis lovers is winding to an end, with two weeks of action culminating in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open this weekend.
Coined “Tennis Paradise,” the tournament is better known as Indian Wells, after the Southern California town that hosts it. Tucked into the Coachella Valley, with mountain views and desert landscapes, Indian Wells is a favorite of players and fans alike.
On its opening Saturday, more than 61,000 people attended, a single-day record, according to tournament organizers. And more than 250,000 people have taken in a match in the past few weeks.
“That first weekend of the tournament has become a de facto spring break for adults,” says Craig Shapiro, filmmaker and host of The Craig Shapiro Tennis Podcast, an avid fan who has attended Indian Wells at least 10 times.
When Larry Ellison bought the tournament in 2009 for $100 million from former player Charlie Pasarell, it transformed the town into a destination. The billionaire has since pumped in at least $100 million more, raising the event’s profile, revamping the 54-acre Tennis Garden, and building the second-largest tennis stadium in the world, replete with large, amenity-rich suites for himself and other wealthy attendees.
This year, the tournament has drawn excitement despite the absence of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who is recovering from injury.
Defending champion and hometown hero Taylor Fritz made it to the quarter-finals before losing to Jannik Sinner. The last American left standing in Saturday’s semi-finals is fan favorite, Frances Tiafoe, who won the hearts of many at last year’s US Open where he made his maiden Grand Slam semi-final, beating Nadal along the way.
On the women’s side, the field is wide open as reigning champion Iga Swiatek vies to defend her title. No female player has won Indian Wells back-to back since Martina Navratilova in 1990 and 1991.
The total prize money pool for the tournament is $17.6 million, to be split evenly between the men’s and women’s tours. The singles champions will take home a little over $1.2 million each. The tournament has been paying all winners equally since 2012.
According to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, Oracle Corp. co-founder Ellison is the seventh-richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $98.3 billion. He owns the Hawaiian island of Lanai, which he bought for $300 million in 2012, and has continued to build out the Indian Wells complex, adding a second stadium with its own Nobu, the famous Japanese restaurant. Ellison also bought a nearby private golf retreat-turned-wellness spa and resort called Sensei Porcupine Creek.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this where the richest man in the world created a tournament for himself,” says Shapiro.
Like other big tennis tournaments, Indian Wells has become a magnet for luxury brands looking to connect with its well-heeled attendees, with sponsors including Rolex, Emirates Airlines and BMW AG. BNP Paribas has been the title sponsor of the event since Ellison’s takeover and its contract is up for renewal after the 2024 tournament, says Philippe Dore, chief marketing officer at Desert Champions, the tournament operator.
“We have been very happy with the growth of the tournament and our partnership over the past 15 years,” says Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA. He didn’t specify whether the French bank intends to extend the deal or not.
Indian Wells reaps an economic windfall from the event. Visitors pack local hotels and restaurants and indulge in pricey extras like rehydration therapies. The tournament has become a vital contributor to the town’s finances, making up about 22% of its annual revenue, according to Mayor Donna Griffith.
The BNP Paribas Open generated $565 million in estimated total gross economic impact on the Coachella Valley region last year, according to a study conducted by the town. It calculated the total gross impact by adding direct spending, like money spent by visitors, vendors, sponsors and the tournament organization to a specific local business, and indirect spending or money that is spent by the regional businesses that gets pumped back into the economy.
“When the tennis tournament is coming, the energy here is just electric,” says Griffith.
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