Friday, August 31, 2007

Garbage, Anyone?

Nothing says "Welcome To The US Open" better - metaphorically speaking - than a big pile of garbage, a $14 parking fee, and somebody screaming at you with a bullhorn.


Just in case you're not happy to be here, this friendly crew will remind you, through their bullhorns, that you are WELCOME TO THE US OPEN

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reason #1 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

1. Exhaustion. Even if it were managed magnificently, there is no other tennis event as exhausting as the US Open. If you fire all the numbskulls making this behemoth wobble down the road like a fat-assed $20 whore, and put a superbly competent tournament manager (such as Mike Davies of ATP - Los Angeles) in charge, we'd all still stagger out of here after four weeks of this torture with glassy eyes, aching backs, and scrambled brains.

For example......qualifying. This US Open site is such a pile of shit that there are only 13 courts available for qualifying. That's not enough. At all the other Grand Slams, at least 20 courts (sometimes 30) are used to bang out qualifying in some reasonable, humane fashion. Here, the site doesn't contain enough courts, so the USTA compensates by installing excellent lights on every court and running qualifying almost around the clock. With perfect weather, the planned schedule of play is merely awful, starting at 11AM and running to about midnight. A couple hours of rain sends qualifying into a cascading multi-day catastrophic tailspin which leaves everybody - players, referees, ballboys, infrastructure - exhausted before the tournament has even begun. On Wednesday, for example, matches began at 10AM (an hour earlier due to rain), and when I left around midnight, there were still 8 matches going on. Play would have ended well past 1AM, but it rained (again) and the last matches were suspended just after I left. So Thursday there were matches scheduled SEVEN DEEP on many courts, again starting at 10AM. Infrastructure people have to show up about 90-120 minutes before play begins to power up scoreboards, set up laptops, etc. So on Wednesday we had crew (like myself) who were onsite by around 8, worked until midnight, then had to be back here around 8AM. Two consecutive 16-hour days.

Imagine how much this sucks for the players, too. A lot of these qualifiers work all year with a goal of playing qualies for the US Open. When their chance finally comes, they walk oncourt at 11:30PM on a cold, drizzly night in front of zero spectators and play until 1AM.

From the moment you get off the #7 subway and walk across the passarelle toward the site, people are screaming at you with bullhorns, herding the crowd like cattle. Smartass that I am, I usually walk right next to the bullhorn dumbasses and let out a “mooooooooooooooo”. At least twice, before I get to my office inside the stadium, a tattooed, dullard street urchin in a yellow shirt scans my credential and rummages through my computer bag. Invariably, some incompetent Barney Fife erroneously tells me I'm walking through the wrong gate or transgressing some rule which (a) I'm not violating anyway and (b) he does not understand because he is a fucking dipshit moron who never graduated high school. This morning, for example, some big fat dumbass in a red SUPERVISOR shirt stopped me and stared at my credential for a full 10 seconds before he allowed me to continue along ON THE SIDEWALK OUTSIDE THE STADIUM.

Much of this bounces back to the mistake USTA made in the late 1990s by not moving the US Open out of NY, and in keeping it here, failing to negotiate a decent lease with the Borough of Queens. When Arthur Ashe Stadium was being planned, a lot of cities around the US were offering to build the USTA whatever stadiums and sites they wanted if the USTA would move the tournament. Atlanta, for example, was offering to donate the 1996 Olympic site for free, and throw in whatever new stadiums and improvements USTA desired. But the USTA is run by volunteers, and their incompetence and inexperience resulted in the US Open staying in the NY slums at a terrible site. There's simply not enough room for more courts, and this mis-management cascades down the line to everyone and everything involved. Thus, you have a major reason why the US Open blows.

The US Open, according to Arlen Kantarian (former manager of The Rockettes, who somehow bizarrely managed to wind up as Tournament Director of the US Open), the US Open brings $1 BILLION into the NYC economy. I don't doubt that figure is close to the reality. Even the NBA Finals and the World Series don't fill stadiums twice a day for two weeks, they aren't televised in 190 countries, and people don't fly in from Uzbekistan, Siberia, and Tonga to watch the Super Bowl in person as is done for the US Open (people from Uzbekistan, Siberia, and Tonga have never even HEARD of American football). So why is the tournament run on this crappy little site? If the volunteer executives at the USTA had half a brain, they would have proposed the following deal:

Either hold the US Open in Central Park (in temporary stadiums), or move it out of New York City.

I personally would like to see the US Open do the same thing as the US Golf Open, which is rotate amongst 6 or 7 sites around the US, spreading golf like Johnny Appleseed across the country. I would guess, knowing the world of professional sports as intimately as I do, there are at least 20 or 25 cities which would bid on the US Open immediately. The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, for example would be an excellent candidate for a site, but the reality of the matter is that you could hold the US Open on the runway at DFW or in the parking lot at Caesar's Palace if you wanted to, such is the state of the art of temporary grandstands, temporary cabling, mobile TV trucks, and so forth. Just look at Augusta National; 51 weeks a year it's the world's most beautiful golf club. Hell, an enormously successful World Swimming Championships was staged in a parking lot in Long Beach, California, using temporary pools. This year, the swimming Worlds was held in Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open site in Melbourne! Investing $270 million in a poorly-designed stadium was a typical USTA fuckup. Not only are no other events other than the US Open played here, The Open would be a better tournament if the US Open wasn't played here, either.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Reason #2 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

2. John McEnroe. Believe it or not, McEnroe is a bigger loudmouth douchebag now than when he was a player. As a commentator for CBS and through his involvement with American Express and Heineken, McEnroe The Douchebag is more omnipresent at the US Open than most current players. For some inexplicable reason, companies with REALLY inept and stupid marketing people still think he's both relevant and a good investment toward getting people to use their products.

Obviously, American Express is stuck for ideas. This is the American Express which featured Laird Hamilton in an ad campaign, the same Laird Hamilton who is known as “The Paris Hilton of Sports” because not only has Hamilton never won any competitions, Hamilton has never even ENTERED any competitions. Hamilton is famous for being famous, nothing more. Hamilton is much like the sad Jean-Claude Van Damme, who declared himself the “undisputed world leader in martial arts” despite never having been considered anything more than a “promising prospect” based on his very thin fight resume. Hamilton is also reviled among Hawai'ians (a very family-oriented people) because in 1995 he walked out on his wife and child for no other reason other than finding a better deal in Gabrielle Reece, a pro volleyball player, now his current wife. Reece's media machine subsequently worked the same magic with Hamilton as they had done with her; Reece's very thin beach volleyball resume has been worked into stardom by her “people”, who eventually did the same for Hamilton.

McEnroe's most poignant contribution to recent US Opens was being seen and heard screaming “GO SUCK MY DICK” to a CBS producer requesting McEnroe's presence in a production meeting. He screamed this while sitting on a couch with his own elderly parents. This incident, witnessed by a colleague of mine (Alex B.), has become as legendary, behind the scenes, as his “oh fuck, you can't be serious, man YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!” tirade at Wimbledon and his “You fucking French frog faggot” tirade at Roland Garros. If McEnroe would just fade away into obscurity, the world in general, and the US Open in particular, would be a slightly better place.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reason #3 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

3. Inconvenience. As stated previously, the US Open site is in the middle of a dreadful slum in Queens. Queens is such an armpit that Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith joked about it in the movie Men In Black. There are no decent hotels in Queens, so the players, staff, and contractors have to stay downtown in Manhattan. Players schlep out to the site every day in big Greyhound-like buses. Seeded players can get a ride in a tournament car. At any other of the Grand Slam tournaments, anyone with a credential can get a ride in the tournament cars, as long as they're on official business. But not at the US Hopeless. At the US Open, the car transportation is run by a guy whose job 50 weeks a year is interviewing interns at the USTA office in White Plains. I doubt he's ever even seen a tennis tournament other than the US Open. Maybe on TV.

A few tournament contractors (like me) and a few tournament players choose to stay at the crappy hotels in Queens, just to avoid the exhausting daily commute from the city. The referee staff, for example, who are often the last to leave the site at night, stay at the Crowne Plaza La Guardia, which isn't too bad a place, as long as you do not go outside the hotel unarmed. A bunch of the food & beverage workers stay at the Holiday Inn at Shea, which symbolically and ironically was built as a NY State insane asylum in the 50s, then fell into disrepair, was condemned & abandoned, and finally was bought up and renovated by Ramada in the mid-1990s.

Check out the movie “Kiss of Death”, with David Caruso and Nicholas Cage. It's about an ex-con who lives in the slums of New York, who is trying to rise above his wretched surroundings, go straight, and make a life for himself and his family. It was filmed across the street from the US Open site. The producers wanted a hopeless, lifeless, polluted, noisy, awful place, so they filmed it across the street from the US Open stadium.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reason #4 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

4. Attitude: Just like The Olympics: total arrogance. Mantra:”We are the US Open, you are lucky we even give you a credential to work here, you can easily be replaced, so shut the fuck up and walk the long way around the stadium 50 times a day because NO, we will not give you access to the correct hallways. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the answer to any other question or any other request you may have in attempting to make your three weeks at the US Open a little less miserable is NO”.

The biggest incompetent asshole, with the worst attitude, I ever encountered at the US Open was a big fat sweaty slob named Ezra Kucharz, the USTA's self-proclaimed “Director of Advanced Media”. A douchebag extraordinaire. The douchebag's douchebag. Ezra is long gone, and his job was so important - and he did it so well - that the USTA never even bothered filling it after he left. In one of the funniest incidents I can remember in my professional career, Kucharz waddled his fat ass into The Batcave and started screaming a spittle-mouthed rage at our Project Manager about a mixup, for which Ezra blamed me. He cursed me up and down, accused me of insubordination and sabotage, blah blah blah. The PM, a guy named Andy D., who is a very laid-back and cool-headed character, let Ezra blow himself out, perhaps hoping Ezra would pop a gasket and drop dead right on the Batcave floor. Ezra didn't keel over as Andy had hoped, but at the end of Ezra's rant, with Ezra standing there all red-faced, sweating and panting, Andy deadpanned “Well that's all fine, except the guy you're accusing (me) left New York 3 days ago. He was in Egypt, doing another project in a different sport, when all this happened”.

Note to Chris S: If I see Ezra, I'll be sure to tell him you're still waiting for him to return your call. From 2003.

Reason #5 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

5. Incompetence. The USTA has a precious few full-time, professional tennis management and officiating people whose year-round job is to run tennis tournaments. Most are competent, some are outstanding, a few suck. No names will be named here, as one of them may stumble across this blog. Wouldn't want to offend anyone. During the Open, the USTA pulls dozens of people out of their White Plains office whose ordinary job is, say, running the shipping department, and put them into jobs at The Open for which they have absolutely no qualifications and no abilities. The ensuing chaos, caused by pure incompetence, ignorance, and arrogance, can be entertaining.

A good (and rare at the US Open) example of a full-time professional doing a great job at something for which she has the training & experience is Tina T., who runs the kids' tennis program year-round here at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center. During the US Open, she runs ballboy operations. All year long, she deals with kids and tennis. During the US Open, she deals with kids and tennis. Imagine the logic there. She actually knows what she's doing during the tournament because it's the same thing she does all year long. It's amazing the USTA hasn't assigned her to . . . oh I don't know . . . driving a forklift during the US Open. Then the next typical step would be for the USTA geniuses to assign the guy in charge of office supplies at the White Plains office to head up the ballkids.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

US Open - Is It F%%ked?

Flow chart of the US Open. Sent to me by my sister, who knows quite well just how f%%ked the US Open really is.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reason #6 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

6. The facilities people here do exactly one event a year - the US Open. Few of them have the slightest idea of what it's like to run a huge professional sporting event other than the US Open, and they are unwilling to learn, to listen, or to get off their fat asses to wander around and observe and learn, so they make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Every year. Year after year. Same shit, different year. Nothing ever gets better at the US Open, it only gets worse. The wheel gets re-invented 10,000,000 times over. Every year. Year after year.

There is one exception. The few people at the US Open on the “tennis side” (i.e. who know something about actual tennis) cut out most of the “old farts” exhibition events within the past few years and replaced them with wheelchair events. It's a disgrace and an embarrassment to have middle-aged guys with flabby middles and middle-aged women with cottage-cheese thighs limping around a tennis court at the US Open, regardless of the fact that they may have won some matches here in the 1970's. The wheelies, on the other hand, actually train and practice. The wheelies are an inspiration to many.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We Interrupt This Foaming-Mouthed Rant For A Brief Humour Break

Only a true geek can appreciate the tailgate of NCP's new HD truck. See if you pass the test.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Reason #7 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

7. Abominable security. Because the facility is located in the middle of a dreadful slum, the security “guards” the USTA hires look, act, and speak in a manner which makes pre-TSA airport screeners seem like Oxford graduates in contrast. They do a terrible job, while treating everybody who works in the stadium and the paying fans like they're members of The Crips. In the meantime, equipment vanishes by the cartload (My outfit once lost 15 laptops in one night). Every morning, I show up at the gate to have some skeevy-looking ex-convict with a shaved head, tattoos, and glassy eyes rummage through my knapsack, pawing my sandwich, my bottle of iced tea, and my Wall Street Journal. NOTE: I have read the Wall St Journal daily since I was a teenager. Now that Murdoch has bought the Wall St Journal, I will never read it again. Why bother? I could, in theory, watch the Faux News Channel for free, but I never do because they do not broadcast actual news.

New York Times, anyone?

The absurdly bad security at the US Open - and the absurdly incompetent street urchins who are employed to implement it - reminds me of an interview I saw on an American talk show about a year ago. The interviewer asked his guest, the head of security for El Al, why security at the US airports is so awful, so unnecessarily time-consuming, and so utterly ineffective. The Israeli's chilling reply: “because in Israel we look for terrorists, in the US you look for nail clippers”.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reason #8 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

8. 25,000 seats in the main stadium, approximately 2,500 staff, approximately 4,000 media, and .... about 100 parking spaces. Do the math. Employees and contractors schlepping hundreds of people and tons of equipment in and out of the site every day have to park almost a mile away under a trash-riddled highway underpass, and hoof it to the stadium. Really fun, and even MORE fun when it's raining.

Some days there is parking available for lowly ticketholders over at Shea Stadium (about a half-mile walk), but if the Mets are in town, there is little to no parking for them, either. If the Mets are having a good year (they are currently leading the NL East by 4 games), then repeat after me . . . “youze guyz want pahking? Fuhgeddaboudit!!”

Reason #9 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

9. Because the USTA “negotiated” such a terrible lease with the Borough of Queens, the USTA is only allowed to use their own facility for major events a few days per year. Each US Open, the facilities have to be shined up, repainted, and the entire infrastructure re-installed and brought up from scratch, since the place has been sitting there, decaying, for 49 weeks since the last US Open. Efforts by some of the professional staff at USTA to - for example - move the Pro Circuits Office to Flushing for the entire summer (so at least the goddam phones would work when people start arriving for the tournament) have been blocked by the Borough of Queens and the terms of the lease.

The chaos brought about by the crumbling infrastructure is mind-boggling. With matches oncourt, there is landscaping going on, the floors are being painted, there are miles of wire being run, workmen are screaming at each other, power tools are screeching, there are ladders, cranes, and snorkel lifts in the hallways and on the walkways between the courts. The entire site should be declared a hard-hat zone through qualifying and the first week of the tournament, but I'm guessing the local fire marshal and assorted local officials have been paid off, and are all driving new BMWs.

Rudy Giuliani's predecessor, David Dinkins, loved tennis and was instrumental in getting the USTA/Borough of Queens lease done. Dinkins doesn't realize the damage he caused to the US Open and to American tennis by keeping it in the shithole of Flushing, Queens. When Giuliani took office, he vowed to investigate the lease and have it set aside if he found any hanky-panky. Giuliani never followed through, thus setting American tennis back decades. No WONDER there are currently exactly two Americans in the mens Top 50.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reason #10 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

10. The stadiums are awful. USTA spent $270 million on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was obsolete before it was built, it's in the middle of one of the worst slums in New York City, the sight lines are awful, it leaks like a sieve, and it is directly under the flight path for not one but two of the busiest airports in the world (La Guardia and JFK). Louis Armstrong stadium and The Grandstand were built in the 1950s, and they weren't even built as tennis stadiums (the Armstrong/Grandstand complex was originally called The Singer Bowl and was built as a concert venue for the World's Fair), so the crowd flows are downright dangerous, the whole complex is an armpit, and the place is falling apart.

There is no roof - retractable or otherwise - on Arthur Ashe stadium, which forces the entire event into chaos when the weather is bad.

In contrast, the Australian Open facility in Melbourne Park is the best tennis facility in the world, it has TWO stadiums with convertible roofs (Rod Laver Arena & Vodafone Arena), a top-notch corporate hospitality / convention center, and the entire facility was built for less than $80 million. Working at the Australian Open, which I have done every January since 1992, is a treat. Working at the US Open, which I have done every August since 1988, is torture.

Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

Well, here I am, back at the US Hopeless. Again. Right now, this list is a Top 10, but I am going to publish them one or two at a time over a period of days, so it may turn out ultimately to be more than 10, because in a week there will surely be additional things that piss me off. And you know what they say:

“You don't tug on Superman's Cape

You don't spit into the wind

You don't pull that mask off the Lone Ranger

and you don't piss off The Skunk”.

Or something like that.