Mark Ein didn’t want to risk it.
The local venture capitalist refused to sit idly while other cities around the world bid for the opportunity to host the Citi Open, which has called the District home since 1969. Apart from his undying, unending passion for tennis as a prominent member of the local sports zeitgeist, the owner of the Washington Kastles and Washington City Paper felt a responsibility to keep the celebrated tournament in the nation’s capital.
“I’m incredibly lucky and blessed to be able to do these things, and there’s a sense of responsibility to make these big events happen,” Ein tells me over the phone. “It meant the world to me to be able to save the event for our region. It’s been a big part of our community for 50 years. It’s touched millions of people. When the possibility that it would move came up, I felt a real obligation to make sure it thrives for the next 50 years.”
In April, Ein announced that the Citi Open tournament would remain in DC after he secured a management deal including an option to purchase the tournament within five years. This year’s iteration takes place from July 27 through August 4. The tournament is the only Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour 500 in the U.S. and often features top players gearing up for the U.S. Open.
The process took six months, but Ein’s commitment to keeping the tournament local and providing support for the tournament’s charity, the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, won out.
“Pretty early on, there was a group of people that wanted to keep it in town,” he says. “They recognized I was a supporter of that, and they reached out to us.”
The Citi Open has historically not been without its own challenges, as the weather and location have created uncontrollable problems for the tournament. Often plagued by rain and heat, matches between top players have sometimes been delayed well into the wee hours of the night. Physical upgrades are difficult to apply as well because the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, the Citi Open’s venue, is subject to National Park Service restrictions.
“We’re very encouraged by the amount of things we’ll be able to do already this summer,” Ein says. “Fans will notice and really enjoy, and there’s a list of things we’ll be able to add each year.”
The improvements Ein mentions all fall under the umbrella of fan experience: food and beverage options, new air-conditioned spaces complete with curated music and games, and improved transportation options such as shuttles, valets and a “re-engineered parking plan.” For larger developments further down the line, Ein says he is encouraged by discussions with the park service.
“It all starts with the fact that it’s a great event,” he says. “It’s the fifth biggest tournament in the U.S., and the setting in a public park is unique and public. We’ve been re-examining every detail in every area to make it meaningfully better.”
With tournament management comes facing the potential risks associated with the production of the event. Despite variables and the dangers that come with them, Ein never wavers when dealing with his passions.
“I only do these things [because I’m] passionate about them,” Ein says with a chuckle. “The motivation for me is not financial at all. It really is to do something special for my community around a sport that I have passion for and believe in. As big of a financial investment as it is, it’s an even larger time investment. I wouldn’t spend time on it if I didn’t care deeply.”
Another tennis endeavor Ein is famous for is the Washington Kastles, a team prepared to undergo changes of its own. This season will mark the team’s Union Market debut, with a new venue currently being constructed on the roof of the famed food hall in Northeast DC. The Kastles are set to take the rooftop in their season opener on July 15 against the Vegas Rollers.
“We’re thrilled about the new stadium on the roof,” Ein says. “It’s going to be a lot smaller of a stadium, and we’re already close to selling out the whole season. But for the people who get to have a seat, it’s going to be tremendous. You’ll be able to see the entire capital.”
The new venue only sits about 700 people whereas previous seasons saw the team fill stadiums three time as large, Ein says. However, with a video board, lights and of course, a full-scale tennis court on a roof, he’s right to declare it a unique experience.
Experiences are what Ein is all about after all. Recreating for others what he once felt as a boy watching and playing tennis is of huge importance for him. The sport has given him so much, so it’s only fair.
“You learn so many important lessons about life on the tennis court,” he says. “You’re there by yourself, and you find yourself in situations that you have to figure out. It teaches you resilience, discipline, fairness and continuous improvement. It’s a great sport for people of all ages and it’s the sport of a lifetime.”