U.S. Open Off to a Slow Start With Half of Last Year’s Viewers

The U.S. Open tennis tournament, which began Monday, has seen its average audience fall by almost half in the first three days as matches were played in empty stadiums without some of the sport’s biggest stars.

The event averaged 481,000 viewers from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 on ESPN, compared with 883,000 for the first three days a year ago. Last year’s was the most-watched of the five U.S. Opens aired exclusively on ESPN.

The two-week tournament, one of the sport’s four major events, is being played in its usual home, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York. This year, however, there’s no live audience.

Many of the world’s top players chose not to participate due to the risk of a coronavirus outbreak. Stars opting out include Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who’s recovering from a knee injury, as well as Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, the two top-ranked women players. Last year’s first three days included matches by Nadal and Federer, ranked second and fourth in the world for men.

The event this year is also facing more competition for eyeballs as other sports have sought to finish their seasons later in the year. This week’s Open aired at the same time as some of the National Basketball Association playoffs.

College football, which has faced its own Covid-19-related challenges, including multiple leagues deciding not to play, kicked off last week. Separately, ESPN said it expected to air about 250 college football games this season, down from the 338 it put on TV last year, although the schedule is still being worked out.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.