The BNP Paribas Open Story
The BNP Paribas Open, the most-attended WTA Premier and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournament in the world, and the largest two-week combined event outside of the four Majors (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open), is held annually at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, one of the world's most beautiful tennis venues and has the second largest tennis stadium in the world.
The tournament started as an ATP fundraising event in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to Mission Hills Country Club in the Coachella Valley in 1976, where it benefited from a successful five-year run. The event's connections with the Coachella Valley were nearly broken, however, when the ATP considered moving the ATP tennis tournament to a proposed tennis stadium to be built near Disney World in Florida.
Charlie Pasarell, a native of Puerto Rico who had been the No. 1-ranked player in the U.S., was an ATP Board Member and the Director of Tennis for Landmark Land Co. He lobbied the ATP Board to keep the event in the Coachella Valley and convinced the owners of Landmark Land to build new tennis facilities at the famed La Quinta Hotel that were adequate for the event. Pasarell's efforts resulted in the tournament's move to La Quinta Hotel, a new 7,500-seat tennis stadium, and a commitment and vision to make the event one of the best in the world.
When the event moved into its new home in 1981, Pasarell became the tournament director. It enjoyed success in the following years and had several noteworthy finals, the most memorable being the 1982 championship when Yannick Noah ended Ivan Lendl's winning streak of 44 matches, just two short of the men's record and in its’ last year at that site when local Larry Stefanki was given a wild card and won the 1985 title.
It was Pasarell's goal for the tournament to grow into a major tennis event at which both top men's and women's competitions would take place during the same time period. To fulfill this goal, he implemented a plan that was simple in concept but difficult in execution – to build the event's popularity with the players, the fans, the sponsors and the media through great facilities, attention to detail, strong competition, and extensive print and broadcast coverage….despite its destination resort location.
During the six years (1981 - 1986) the tournament was held in La Quinta, it indeed became a very popular tennis destination for the players, the fans, the sponsors and the media. In fact, the event achieved such success that it outgrew the tennis stadium and facilities at La Quinta Hotel. If Pasarell's goals were to be accomplished, and if the event were to strive for "major tennis event" status, he needed to build a larger, more modern and permanent tennis stadium with enhanced facilities.
To construct the appropriate tennis stadium and facilities, Pasarell and long-time friend and former player Raymond Moore established a company known as PM Sports Management, and created a team along with other investors (including legendary entertainer Alan King) to design, develop and operate a luxurious resort hotel and tennis facility in nearby Indian Wells. Pasarell signed Newsweek as title sponsor and Indian Wells became home to the Newsweek Champions Cup.
In 1986, construction was completed on the 350-room Grand Champions Hotel (now known as the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa). Its centerpiece was a sophisticated tennis center with 12 courts including a 10,000-seat tennis stadium (with some 7,000 permanent seats and 12 private sponsor suites), a 3,000-seat clubhouse court, two grass courts and two clay courts. Other facilities included a 3,000 square foot retail sport boutique, a 1.62-acre hospitality village and an 8,000 square foot convention center that also served as a media facility, a player's lounge and a kitchen facility during the tournament. At the time it was completed, the stadium and facilities were truly state-of-the-art.
The new stadium debuted in 1987, which was also the first year that a top women's professional competition (that year featuring now Hall of Famer Steffi Graf) was held in conjunction with the men's event, though not concurrently. This foreshadowed the combination of the men's and women's competitions that was essential to meeting Pasarell's goals.
The tournament received significant national and international attention when Boris Becker won the first two events (1987 and 1988) held at the new stadium. The tournament took another crucial step forward in 1990 when the ATP, then under the leadership of Hamilton Jordan, restructured the men's tennis circuit and designated the Newsweek Champions Cup as one of the elite events on the ATP Tour in the category now known as the ATP Masters 1000 Series.
The women's tournament went through a somewhat different evolution. Originally a non-sanctioned event, it became an official WTA tournament in 1989 in partnership with IMG. In 1992, the women's event was honored when Chris Evert agreed to attach her name to the competition, making it the Evert Cup. In 1997, it was designated as a "Tier 1" event, then the top WTA category.
Until 1996, the women's event was held immediately prior, rather than concurrently, to the men's event. That situation changed, however, when the ATP and the WTA approved of combining the events. Thus the tournament, then with the somewhat unwieldy name of Newsweek Champions Cup/State Farm Evert Cup presented by Harman International, attained the lofty status of being one of only six tournaments in the world, including the four Majors, that was a combined men's and women's event.
A New Home
This success had its price as the tournament quickly outgrew the Grand Champions grounds. Pasarell now dreamed of a new stadium that would serve as a showplace for the burgeoning event. He and his partner Moore pursued and found the perfect partners in Mark McCormack and Bob Kain, founder and then president respectively of IMG, the largest sports agency in the world, who could help make their vision a reality. Construction of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden was completed in 2000, and the state-of-the-art facility boasted a 16,100-seat stadium, the second largest in the world, and seven other match courts spread across 54 acres of lush landscape, which created a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
Another boost to the tournament came in the form of an increased playing field, which spawned additional days and sessions creating a full two-week event that was 21 sessions strong with both the men's and women's singles draws at 96 players, and 32-player doubles draws.
While the tournament continued to grow, difficult economic times, and the implosion and bankruptcy of ISL, which had signed a $1 billion dollar sponsorship deal with the ATP’s Masters Series, left the tournament and the venue in a precarious position, but some of the biggest legends in the sport of tennis were ready to step in and play an important role in keeping the tournament in Indian Wells.
Bigger and Better
In 2006, with IMG looking to sell its 50% interest in the tournament, Pasarell and Moore, with the help of new partners George Mackin and Bob Miller of Tennis Magazine and Patrick W. M. Imeson of Calim Private Equity, LLC, recruited a new team of investors, including the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and tennis legends Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, to acquire IMG’s portion of ownership.
The tournament, which had interest from several overseas investors, was kept in the Coachella Valley because of this powerful and strategic tennis partnership. In addition, the City of Indian Wells displayed its unwavering commitment to the event by purchasing 27 acres of land adjacent to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The tournament continued to see growing attendance and exposure, but it was about to shift into overdrive and reach the heights it sits at today.
The New Frontier
The Indian Wells tennis tournament rang in the 2009 New Year by announcing the addition of BNP Paribas, the premier sponsor of tennis globally, as the new title sponsor of the event. To close 2009, the tournament announced that Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corporation, a man who has a passionate interest in the sport and a visionary, became the new owner of the event and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The tournament celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2010, and in his first few months as owner, Ellison coordinated the BNP Paribas Open "Hit for Haiti" exhibition, presented by Oracle, on the first Friday evening of the tournament. The event featured an incredible 94 Grand Slams titles on the same court with Steffi Graf and Lindsay Davenport taking on Martina Navratilova and Justine Henin in the first match, and Roger Federer and Pete Sampras playing Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi in the second match.
A comprehensive fundraising effort, led by Oracle, which included on-site, text messaging and private donations, resulted in $1 Million being donated to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development fund, which was established to help those impacted by the devastating earthquakes in January 2010 in Haiti.
Continued Development & Growth
Under the eyes of Ellison the BNP Paribas Open continued to set lofty goals and develop as a world-class international sporting event. In 2011, the tournament became and remains the only one in the world to offer the Hawkeye electronic line calling system on every match court. Additionally, in 2012 the event became the first and only ATP/WTA combined event to offer $1 Million in prize money to each of its singles champions.
At the end of 2011, Pasarell left his position with the event. Over more than three and a half decades his incredible vision and foresight helped shape the event into what it has become today. In October of 2012, his former business partner Raymond Moore was announced as the new CEO of the tournament and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and Steve Simon was to continue his role as COO and Tournament Director.
As part of that announcement Moore stated the goal was to attract 500,000 fans to the BNP Paribas Open in the near future. Achieving that objective seemed daunting, but a major announcement was waiting on the horizon.
Expansion & The Future
The minute the final ball was struck at the conclusion of the 2013 tournament, a massive expansion project immediately began to renovate the existing site and more so implement the construction of a brand new 8,000-seat Stadium 2 to be completed by 2014. In a stunning 10 months and 10 days, the project was completed, thanks to an incredible team led by the tournament staff, Watkins Landmark Construction, Keisker & Wiggle Architects, and Dick Oliphant (Owner’s representative).
Beyond the new Stadium 2, which features three permanent restaurants on the concourse level overlooking the on-court action and the grounds, including world-renowned Nobu, the site renovation included a new entrance off of Washington Avenue, a second 19,000 square foot shade structure adjacent to the first one that was installed in 2012, additional practice courts, and more.
On Saturday, March 1, the new facility was christened with the McEnroe Challenge for Charity presented by Esurance. This free, one-day, sold-out special event raised $80,000 for local charities and featured multiple Grand Slam Champions John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Peter Fleming and Rick Leach competing in singles and doubles matches.
For the eighth straight year, the BNP Paribas Open broke its attendance record. The 2014 event welcomed 431,527 fans to the newly expanded Indian Wells Tennis Garden for two weeks of world-class tennis, including 31,764 for the day session on Saturday, March 8, which is also a record.
Looking back to 1982 and those humble beginnings it is incredible to see how far the event has come – tournament attendance has grown from 30,000 to more than 431,000; prize money has grown from $250,000 to more than $10 million; the television audience of the tournament has grown from 25 million homes to nearly one billion homes worldwide; and the facilities have grown from 7,500 seats to a 29-court, 54-acre complex including a 16,100-seat Stadium 1 and an 8,000-seat permanent Stadium 2. The future of the event looks incredibly promising, and new pages will continue to be added each year to the story of the tournament.