The Miami Open continues through Sunday, Apr. 5, at the Crandon Tennis Center on Key Biscayne and this year with the addition of the Brazilian banking entity Itau as the new presenting sponsor.
The glittering annual tennis tournament — formerly known as the Sony-Ericsson — has evolved from its low-key launch in 1985 into a superstar-studded international sports event that has a $386 million economic impact on the South Florida community, equivalent to what a Superbowl played in Miami delivers.
The tournament attracts the top international men and women tennis players and with that cast of racquet luminaries, it gets about 14,000 hours of global television coverage that is beamed into 193 countries.
It was seen last year by 70 million viewers. It goes without saying that a mainstay of the Miami Open is an army of volunteers who lend their time and effort without monetary compensation to help insure the success of the tournament. Volunteers work in just about every capacity, from credential registration and chauffeuring players around town to ticket takers and ushers, and even as security personnel.
“Volunteers are extremely important to us,” said tournament director Adam Barrett. “The volunteer is a gateway between the community and the event. It takes all different types of staffing to run an event and each staffing group has its own skill sets. Volunteers need to know the game of tennis and work well with it. They have to want to be a part of a community event and not just work for $10 or $12 an hour.”
Barrett said that the tournament gets about 800 volunteers and 400 ball kids every year and most of them are from South Florida, although many hail from other countries.
“Some of them have lived here and moved away, and then they come back to spend their vacations in South Florida,” he said. “They want to be in and about the tennis, and tennis is an important element for them. The association with the event and the uniform they get to wear is part of the whole thing and it’s important to them. Our program also gives them affordable access to tickets for family and friends.”
Volunteers get an official uniform from sportswear manufacturer Lacoste, a partner sponsor in the Miami Open along with MasterCard, consisting of two polo shirts, a hat and a jacket. Ball kids also get a pair of tennis shorts and shoes as well. Barrett said the volunteers are recruited primarily by word of mouth between tennis enthusiasts and by traditional media outreach.
“The public support for the Open has been unbelievable,” he said. “We’ve been here since 1985 and the community has been so good to us. They come out and enjoy and we try to give back.”
Lisa Koch is director of tournament operations. She has been with the organization for 21 years and is instrumental in managing the volunteer program. “We have a great team of volunteers that are really interested in tennis and they’re helpful and enthusiastic,” she said.
“We have a very good return rate of our volunteers, and we’re happy about that, about a 60 percent return rate. And then we have about 40 percent of our volunteers who are new to the program every year. The majority of our volunteers are from South Florida, but we do get volunteers from various parts of the world. We have one gentleman from Australia and he is a returning volunteer.”
Koch said the volunteers actually run some key areas of the tournament.
“We really wouldn’t be able to do without them,” she said. “Our ticket checkers in the stadium are very important to us, they’re really ushers in the box seat level and that’s a key area for us. We have about 200 volunteers working that department alone.
“We also have volunteers in security and they fill in the gaps in areas where we don’t have paid security personnel. And we have volunteers working in our credentials and registration office. These are all highly critical areas where we need good people in place. So volunteers do have an important role in the tournament.”
Koch said it’s easy to apply for a volunteer position with next year’s Open.
“Go to our website, MiamiOpen.com, in November when we post an online application,” she said. “Interested people can just click on the volunteer tab and it takes them to the application where they can complete it and select a schedule. They have a choice of three areas to work in. If they are new volunteers, they will often have a phone interview with one of our managers. We try to work with them and place them in where they want to work.”