By Jane Voigt
Daniel Island, S.C., April 6, 2017 — Fallen seeds. Wicked thunderstorms. Winds whipping to 40 m.p.h. None of it gets Bob Moran down. The Volvo Car Open tournament director stays positive, strongly believing in the tournament’s product as it marches forward.
Moran has been on board with this women’s only tournament for 17 years, beginning right when it moved from Hilton Head Island to the current Daniel Island location in 2001. He’s seen attendance increase annually; and, and he’s seen it take dips during the 2008-09 economic downturn.
“That’s the first time we took a hit,” Moran said, in an exclusive interview with Down The Tee. “We usually had a 90% renewal rate for box-holders and sponsors, but we saw everything go down.”
The downturn reversed itself over the next four years and continues to move into positive grounds.
“We had a 98% renewal rate on our boxes from last year to this year,” he said. “That means we only have one box open. I have a waiting list of about 500 people for those box seats, too. There’s not a day that goes by now that we don’t get a call from someone to be put on that waiting list.”
The job now for Moran? “How do I transition those people and make sure they’re coming back year after year?
Step one … enlist Volvo Cars as its title sponsor. Check. That was a done deal in September, 2015.
“We went with them because they were building a plant in Charleston,” Moran said. “When Volvo looked at coming here, they came to the tournament. They said it was something that made sense to them.”
Moran saw a long-term relationship that would make a difference for the community.
“Volvo’s came here to make a home. It’s not going to go anywhere soon.”
The plant is expected to open in 2018.
Step two … sign an 8-year contract with Tennis Channel.
“We’re very excited about that,” he began. “You should be able to feel that a little bit now. Just the shear coverage.”
Tennis Channel began promoting the Volvo Car Open during The Australian Open.
“We just didn’t get that anywhere else,” Bob began. “Tennis fans from across the country were saying maybe this is an event we could go see. And, if we don’t go there we can see it on television.”
The tennis-only cable channel continued its promotion of the Charleston tournament at Indian Wells and the Miami Open, two combined tournaments with prestigious advertisers and 128-player draws, the same as a Grand Slam.
“We saw a true partnership [with Tennis Channel],” Moran said. “We saw a lot of ticket sales from different parts of the country that we hadn’t seen before.”
Moran relates the jump in sales to the promotion from Tennis Channel. He realizes, though, that a more authentic take on it will show itself more completely next year. Yet that doesn’t stop this year’s operations from moving forward.
“What it’s doing for us now I truly believe will come into effect next year,” Moran said. “But even now all the players go to that desk after matches and get interviewed. It looks like fun. And that brings a whole other level of exposure.”
Sloane Stephens, the Volvo Car Open 2016 champion, has taken a spot at that desk as she recovers from foot surgery.
“I think Sloane has done a great job,” Moran began. “She has a great personality and gives a different dynamic to the crew.”
Moran is not short on heaping praise on Tennis Channel. His eyes light up with the possibilites and potential for the years to come.
“It took out a half-page ad in The Wall Street Journal. That’s not cheap,” he said. “It was a national run to promote the tournament with Charleston all over it. That’s a true partnership.”
This is only the second Volvo Car Open tournament, so ticket-sales data is scarce. However, the qualification tournament saw a better turnout.
Tennis journalist Tandon Kamakshi tweeted yesterday, “A record showing for @VolvoCarOpen Charleston during qualies — almost 8,000 the first day, more than 5,000 the second day.”
“Our qualification weekend was fantastic,” Moran said. “We had great numbers Saturday and Sunday.”
The best measure of a tournament’s worth has to be ticket sales, though.
“Ticket sales are good,” he began. “We were up about 10-12% in pre-tournament sales. I do attribute that to Tennis Channel.”
However, there’s no accounting for Mother Nature. Last night’s session was cancelled when hail, wind and heavy rain hit fast and hard. The remainder of the press inside the Media Tent were evacuated to the main stadium for safety.
“Losing a session like last night hurt us financially. But we’re hoping we can make that up,” Moran said, always the optimist.
Yesterday’s storms weren’t the only thing that hit the tournament. All top three were ousted — Madison Keys, Venus Williams and Elena Vesnina.
“I can’t control a three-and-a-half-hour match with Venus,” Moran said, smiling. “It was a great match. It would’ve been nice if Venus moved on.”
The tournament’s second seed and Miami Open champion, Johanna Konta, pulled out Monday with a should injury. That means all four top seeds have gone home. Good thing Caroline Wozniacki (No. 5) won today. She defeated Annika Beck, 7-5, 6-1. Wozniacki won Charleston in 2011 and is one player Moran is happy to have back. She hasn’t competed here since 2013.
“We look for those girls, like Caroline Wozniacki. We’re glad she’s back; she’s really important to us,” Moran began. “We want players that work with our fans well. If you were around us and saw what they do … it’s fantastic.”
Moran focuses on building relationships. He wants sponsors engaged, players engaged, fans happy. If the top names are gone, then new names will take root. That’s the brilliance of Tennis Channel, so Moran thinks.
“I was really happy with the field coming in [this year],” he began. “I can’t worry about who’s not here. I can’t. But Daria Gavrilova will go to that Tennis Channel desk.”
Fans will learn. New names will rise. The family of the now defunct Family Circle Cup won’t vanish.
“We had a 100% renewal rate for sponsors from 2016-2017. To be honest,” he continued, “I don’t want a NASCAR out here. I don’t want logos everywhere. I want to keep it really manageable and service our sponsors well and have a really good experience. I want them to feel they are really important to us. We do a lot to fulfill that.”
All this talk about new sponsors and better ticket sales pales in comparison to the main question on the mind of every Charleston tennis fan. What happened to the on-court couches?
“That’s a good question,” Bob said, laughing. “The idea was to have these really cool Volvo car seats out there to replace the couches. They were delivered from Sweden, but Volvo didn’t like the way the logo looked on them. So we adjusted at the last minute.”
The transition to the ‘real cool’ car seats continues. it’s a minor point in the larger scheme of things. It doesn’t get past Moran, though.
“These girls are going to love them,” he said, always thinking about how to serve up the best tournament around.