DC Open Chairman Mark Ein Is Using The Power Of Tennis To Bring Fans Together

Mark Ein (photo: Scott Taetsch/Mubadala Citi DC Open)

WASHINGTON, August 7, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Mark Ein fought long odds to make this year’s Mubadala Citi DC Open a success. Every session at this year’s tournament, come rain or shine, sold out – just as they have since 2019 – and throughout the event, whether canvassing the tournament grounds to chat with fans, shake hands with players, or sit court side with NBA icon and Washington, D.C. native Kevin Durant while taking in the festive atmosphere of a mid-week match starring home favorite Frances Tiafoe, Ein was everywhere.

Long after the sun set, the 58-year-old D.C. venture capitalist with the familiar comb-over hairstyle and bespoke blue sports coat, who is chairman of the one-of-a-kind ATP/WTA 500 combined event bankrolled by two co-title sponsors (Mubadala and Citi), wasn’t about to let a two-hour thunderstorm delay dampen his or the fan’s enthusiasm on Championship Sunday. So, those souls who braved the lengthy suspension of the men’s singles final between Daniel Evans and Tallon Griekspoor due to a passing thunderstorm – maybe a couple hundred at best of the original 7,500 who showed up hours earlier to see Coco Gauff win the women’s singles crown – were welcomed to fill the court side box seats for the remainder of the title match.

“The spirit of this place is just unreal,” Ein said during a recent news conference to discuss the state of the tournament. “I’m going to sound cliché, but our passion for this, the power of sports, is bringing people together in a time we need that more than anything. You look around, it’s a melting pot of everyone in our community. So, it means the world we are able to do it.”

The D.C. tennis fans were a big winner throughout the week. They got to enjoy the highest levels of men’s and women’s professional tennis during the same week.

“Being able to showcase men and women at the same highest-level is one of the things that makes tennis so special,” Ein said. “This move [of a combined ATP/WTA event] solidifies the Mubadala Citi DC Open as one of the premier professional tennis tournaments in the world.”

Ein points to the impact the tournament, which wrapped its 54th edition on Sunday by crowning Evans and Gauff as this year’s singles champions, has had on local players like Tiafoe as well as Hayley Baptiste and Clervie Ngounoue.

“The number of players who this tournament was part of their inspiration to being pro players is really powerful,” said Ein, who was once a ball kid in the early years of the tournament.

Ein also points to not only his own staff at MDE Tennis but also tournament volunteers for being the backbone that makes the event thrive.

“People work really hard to make this great,” he said. “We all feel a lot of pressure to deliver for the people. But then when you come and see it, honestly, we are all a little amazed it all comes together every year in the way that it does.

“We feel the pressure, but also, as Billie Jean King said, pressure is a privilege. It means you’re doing something special.”

Something special such as pulling off 35 consecutive sold-out sessions at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, which has a no-frills Stadium Court that seats 7,500. Meanwhile, merchandise sales – hats, t-shirts, oversized tennis balls – were through the roof. On opening weekend, first-day business sales were nine times what they were a year ago. On the food side, this year’s event featured four Michelin star chefs elevating the culinary experience in the Market Square and elsewhere on the grounds, and there was plenty of player accessibility for fans to get a selfie or autograph.

“We are always trying to find more and more ways to make our players accessible to our fans,” Ein said.

As the tournament continues to thrive in its long-time home in Rock Creek Park, a national park located in northwest Washington, one wonders whether it is a big enough footprint to continue to hold the event. Ein was asked by Tennis TourTalk if there is room to expand.

“The three objectives when we took over was 1. Elevate the fan experience. 2. Make this a combined event. 3. Figure out a permanent solution to our facility,” he explained.

“I would say, and this is like a team of hundreds of people. It’s pretty extraordinary what they do on the site, especially when you consider we are only allowed to start moving in tow to three weeks in advance.

“So, to build this city in that amount of time is really hard. It’s a real issue, to be honest. I think the site could do it. I think it needs some real investment in its permanent facility so not everything is temporary.

“I also think if we did that, it would really be an incredible community asset throughout the year. The issue is in its current state, it’s not really well maintained, and it’s used and the courts are used. But it could be so much better.”

According to Ein, his ultimate vision is to keep the Mubadala Citi DC Open where its founders – Arthur Ashe, Donald Dell and John Harris – put it, when it debuted back in 1969: in a public park setting at Rock Creek Park, which is situated four miles north of the White House.

“But if we are going to do that,” he said, “it definitely needs a bunch of investment. … We are at capacity.

“The event has sold out every session for the past three years. We are hitting the limits of what we can be here and hopefully we’ll find a solution.”

Among the concerns going forward is the necessity of having enough on-site parking spaces. “It’s one of the big challenges of this site that long term we need to solve, and I feel horrible about it,” Ein said. “But it’s a really hard problem to solve, too.”

Looking ahead, Ein is optimistic about the tournament’s future. He points to conversations between the Park Service, the city of Washington and the WTEF (Washington Tennis & Education Foundation), which “are farther along than ever before.

“I’m hopeful that they’ll end up in a really constructive place. I think people all see it and want it. They see how incredible this is. This tournament generates almost $30 million of economic development for the city in one week, 3,000 hotel rooms, 80,000 people attending. This is an important event.

“You bring people to a national park, it highlights national parks. I think everyone in their mind recognizes the challenges and also having a discussion about a set of possible solutions that we hope we complete to fruition.

“We need something. So, hopefully it will be successful.”