TA chief Craig Tiley was forced to approach the Victorian government for a $60 million loan to cover the shortfall.
With crowds capped at 30,000 across Melbourne Park each day, a minimum of 100,000 fans were expected to pass through the turnstiles during the five days of the lockdown.
The gates have been locked at the worst time for TA, as the middle weekend of the tournament generally pulls the event’s biggest crowds.
Last year, the Saturday of the middle weekend shattered the record for most people in attendance at an Australian Open as more than 94,000 fans watched the day and night sessions.
While the loss of fans this weekend has hurt TA, the potential absence beyond Thursday would be even more damaging, with tickets for the singles quarter-finals and semi-finals starting at about $150. The cheapest seats for the men’s and women’s singles finals are $280.
The continuation of the tournament ensured TA will not have to give broadcaster Nine – the owner of this masthead – any further discount.
Nine was given a 10 per cent – about $6 million – discount on its annual fee after the tournament was pushed to February from its usual late January slot in the calendar.
The delay has hurt television ratings, too.
Nick Kyrgios’ clash with Dominic Thiem drew a peak audience of 1.8 million across metro and regional screens. Just over 2.1 million tuned in for Kyrgios’ corresponding third-round match last year, a five-set epic against Russian Karen Khachanov.
Kyrgios’ match against Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of last year’s tournament registered a peak of 3.36 million viewers, with a national average of 2.47 million. The lower figures are likely to the result of the tournament being played after the summer holidays.
Melbourne Park was eery on Saturday, the first full day without fans.
After Elina Svitolina booked her place in the fourth round with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Yulia Putintseva, the women’s fifth seed said she had to convince herself it was an “important match”, such was the lack of atmosphere.
“It feels like that,” she said. “I actually had few thoughts about it today. I tried to convince myself that it’s a grand slam and that we are playing an important match.
“I have to focus on my match but, for sure, there’s some thoughts and there are some low moments that can sneak into the mind. It’s what we have to deal with.”
TA has been contacted for comment.
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.