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The Blooming Business of the Miami Open

America’s tennis tradition grows every year in South Florida. As its 2022 edition wraps up this weekend, Boardroom explores the rich history and growing footprint of the Miami Open.

The Miami Open has become one of the biggest events on the tennis calendar. Held the week after Indian Wells, it helps ring in the heart of tennis season, and like Indian Wells, it’s one of just nine events that offer up to 1000 ranking points to the winner. Aside from the Grand Slams and the year-end finals, ATP Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 events are the most important tournaments and attract large 96-player fields.

It has been so much fun in recent years to watch the likes of Roger Federer, Sloane Stephens and John Isner hoist the trophy. In that joy, it’s easy to forget the Miami Open wasn’t always the spectacle it is today. In fact, it was known as the “Sony Open” up until 2014, when Itaú — a large Latin American bank — stepped in to become the presenting sponsor and changed the name.

The Miami Open was also held at Crandon Park in Key Biscane, Florida, from 1987 to 2018. Along with IMG, who has owned and operated the tournament since 1999, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross helped move the Miami Open to Hard Rock Stadium, where he built a permanent tennis facility around his football stadium.

That’s when James Blake, a beloved former American tennis player who reached as high as No. 4 in the world, was installed as tournament director.

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Blake knows the importance of the Miami Open to American tennis. While the tournament is very valuable to any player who would like to improve their world ranking, it’s especially crucial for Americans. Miami is one of three ATP Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 tournaments held on home soil, and it offers players the chance to showcase their abilities in front of home fans, who are more likely to watch the American tournaments than other big events happening around the world.

“There was talk of where the event was going to move after Crandon Park,” Blake told Boardroom. “To keep it in Miami, to keep it in the States, was really a treat. I was scared. I was nervous it would leave. If it leaves, you just take away an opportunity for [Americans] to get that big moment. To have a big moment in front of a home crowd, it can really jump start a career.”

The moments in Miami are certainly big. On the grounds, there is a near-5,000 seat Grandstand court and two other feature courts next to the big stadium, where a modified 13,800-seat center court is created each year using temporary stands and the existing seats on one half of the venue. There is a gondola moving overhead, which will take you across the entire facility and allow you to simultaneously see tennis below and the Miami skyline in the distance.

The grounds rival those of the US Open in Flushing, Queens, New York, and are perhaps even bigger; it’s easy to get lost with the number of lawns, food areas and actual tennis courts.

As soon as the Miami Open moved to Hard Rock Stadium, the tournament set an attendance record by more than 60,000 people, boasting over 390,000 fans. Blake expects for the Open to break that record this year, an exciting achievement given there was no Miami Open in 2020 and last year’s was held at just 20% capacity.

While American tennis players can benefit from the stage set by the anticipated record crowd, brands have taken the opportunity to cash in as well. Miami features countless activations just about everywhere you look.

The Buchholz Family Court is one of the sunniest spots at the facility, and it can be absolutely brutal to sit and watch a full match in the hot Miami sun with no shade to speak of in the afternoon. That’s where Michelob Ultra took the opportunity to build a terrace overlooking the court, allowing fans the opportunity to watch matches in the air conditioning and shade and enjoy their new line of organic seltzers. You can even take a break and put on some VR goggles to play some virtual tennis.

“As the tournament goes on, that’s going to be one of the best spots for people to be,” Blake said. “You can sit there, have your wine, have your beer, have your seltzer, watch the match and have a great view. I think those are going to be really sought-after seats.”

Behind that is a pair of huge structures. One is operated by the tournament and features a merchandise shop on the bottom floor and a Members Area on the top floor, where British No. 1 Cameron Norrie stopped by for a “Chalk Talk” earlier in the tournament. Speaking with one of the busy team members of the store, they couldn’t remember a time which wasn’t busy and noted the shop stays open for around 12 hours per day. Next to that, there is a triple-decker Lacoste store that sells tennis and non-tennis apparel.

There’s also Kiki on The River, a popular restaurant in Miami that has activated at the Miami Open and provides a bird’s eye view of courts five through seven. If you walk past, you can find a DJ spinning at all hours of the day on the Baptist Health Lawn. With these companies getting into the fun at the tournament, plus some incredible local eateries opening up their own stands, there really is no end to the variety of entertainment and refreshment on the grounds.

“Miami is unique because it’s pretty special culturally; you’ve got a great Latin population here,” said Blake. “It seems to be an exceptional melting pot, which is what we love to see. We’ve got everyone becoming tennis fans, so we want to showcase that. We’ve got unbelievable Latin players. They get tremendous support here, and the Americans get great support. It just shows a great blend.”

Speaking of great blends, you can purchase some of Jimmy Butler’s coffee on the grounds of the Miami Open, too. Yes, that Jimmy Butler — the Miami Heat superstar who imported high-end coffee into 2020’s NBA bubble to sell for $20 per cup and later launched his BIGFACE coffee company last October.

BIGFACE has three locations on site. One is available to VIP spectators right outside Hard Rock Stadium’s 72 Club, while the other two are located in the player dining area and the player lounge, which is open a bit later at night. There, you can order a coffee brewed from BIGFACE’s “Cup of Excellence” beans, which scored 90.54 and higher at the industry’s premier competition. They’ve also concocted two eye-catching drinks:

  • “Blue,” a Coffee Coquito made with blue algae, coconut and cinnamon that literally turns blue
  • “Eclipse,” a blacked-out mocha made with activated charcoal and Balinese vanilla.

(Boardroom’s investigative reporting found the offerings to be more satisfactory.)

BIGFACE was a perfect coming together of Butler’s love for tennis and an opportune time for his business. Without a brick and mortar presence, his coffee beans and merchandise had been sold exclusively online. Seeing customers react to his coffee in real time is something he hasn’t been able to do much of since launching.

“I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but it seems every other player is, and everyone has come to me and said how great it is,” Blake relayed. “That makes us feel great about partnering with a Miami legend that also is passionate and doing something really great with his other passion outside of basketball.”

Blake noted that Butler dropped by last year when access to the event was restricted, and that he spends just as much time on the smaller courts around the venue as he does at center court.

From Jimmy Buckets to organic seltzer activations to activated charcoal, it really is all happening down in Miami this week. An influx of tennis fans — both budding and grizzled — have descended upon Hard Rock Stadium to catch the spectacle. It’s hard to imagine where American tennis would be without big tournaments like the Miami Open, and the more people who want a piece of the action, the better the experience will be for patrons.

If you’re keen to stop by, you just may catch a superstar athlete — or witness one in the making.

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