The first time I headed to the desert to watch tennis in 2008, the somewhat smaller tournament held in Indian Wells California was known as the Pacific Life Open. Even back then the combined ATP and WTA event attracted the top players but it wasn’t a big hit with the fans. Wow have things changed in the desert.
With a change in the prime sponsor to BNPParibas, the tournament has become a fan favourite.
I remember that first visit, the main stadium which seats 16,100 was only about 1/3 to 1/2 full for most matches. Wandering around the grounds there was one other temporary show court that was packed and lots of matches were played on side courts with no viewing stands. On the grounds there were about five or six small flimsy retail tents and one large retail tent with tennis clothes and tournament souvenirs. I honestly cannot remember the food stands. One of the most endearing things about the tourney was that the majority of the staff, from concession stand workers to stadium ushers, were retired seniors living in the area.
I went back to Indian Wells in 2013 and by then big changes were already in progress. Besides an increase in fan attendance, including various celebrities, the tournament grounds now had a plaza area with a big screen broadcasting the match on stadium court. There were plans to build another stadium court as well as other upgrades to the grounds.
This year, 2015, my third visit to the tourney in the desert revealed a tournament that now sits among the best on both the ATP tour and the WTA tour.
The new stadium that was completed in time for last year’s edition of the tournament, seats 8,000 fans and includes Nobu Japanese restaurant which boasts a never ending line to get in. The grounds have undergone numerous fan friendly changes. There are 19,000 square feet of shaded plaza areas, live music entertains fans between matches, as do various other acts including drummers and “stilted tennis players” reaching nearly 8 feet in height. Numerous food outlets and retail outlets surround the plaza area. The main retail clothing tent features all the top brands and features a huge Nike section. The lineup in this store can appear to go on forever, but the system at the cashes makes checkout super speedy. I can think of lots of other event venues that could learn from this event.
As always the staff of the event is primarily composed of local retirees from the surrounding area. Not only were they happy to be involved with the tournament they were always smiling no matter what job they were doing.
In contrast to many other tournaments, all match courts have hawk eye line calling technology. Practice court schedules are posted for the fans. Free wifi is available on the grounds and there is even live streaming of a few matches. The tournament app is one of the best providing live scores, match updates and tournament news.
This tournament definitely ranks up there in my favourites, it is not the US Open without thousands of people everywhere you turn and it is not Roland Garros with three huge stadiums. It is however a fan friendly tourney with great tennis. If you decide to head to the desert for next year’s event check out the following blog for lots of good advice. http://ihaveatennisaddiction.blogspot.ca/2015/03/tips-for-enjoying-and-surviving-bnp.html?m=1