Why top players see the Mubadala Tennis World Championship in Abu Dhabi as a launching pad for successful new seasons
If your job is to host some of Abu Dhabi’s biggest sporting and music events, it helps if you like what you do.
Fortunately, sports and music have been a part of John Lickrish’s life from a young age.
For the Canadian CEO of Flash Entertainment, organizers of some of the biggest events and concerts in the UAE capital, the return of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) on December 16-18 is a sign that things are back to normal after a year and a half like no other.
“We have been busy during the coronavirus pandemic. We did a lot of things with the UFC and the Tourism Authority – the logistics and operations around these events last year, ”he said. “We got permission to do the MWTC event last year because it was outdoors and it was international, but unfortunately we couldn’t coordinate with the Australian Open because they kept changing the dates. The players were available and then not available, but unfortunately we lose to the Australian because it is a Masters event. It is a priority for the players.
But the MWTC is back this year and will be socially left behind (40% capacity) with PCR and vaccine requirements at a sterilized Abu Dhabi international tennis complex.
“It’s a very safe environment – it’s outside and you really can’t get bad seats at the Zayed Sports City facility,” Lickrish said. “This is one of the great remaining sites. If you ever attend one of the international events, you are so far away from the players, whereas with this one you are getting closer to you. You can also watch some of the workouts in the smaller areas. We’re really excited to get it back and we think it’s a great event for families and people who might be a bit hesitant in the face of large crowds.
Since the tournament’s inception in 2009, Rafael Nadal has won a record five titles, while Novak Djokovic has four and Andy Murray two.
After a year of disruption and cancellations due to the pandemic, players and their teams are once again open to travel and participation in the MWTC, often the ideal lanchpad for the Australian Open, which in 2022 runs from January 17 to 20. in Melbourne.
“Last year they were a little hesitant,” Lickrish said. “The managers thought that if they came here the risk was much higher. So they were like, it’s going to cost more money, which you think would be the opposite.
“This year they have returned to their normal way of thinking,” he said. “And we know they will be leaving the UAE on private jets just for players to travel to Australia, which makes it much more convenient for them.”
Lickrish said that with other high profile events – many hosted by Flash Entertainment – taking place in the UAE capital, “now is not the worst time to be in Abu Dhabi.”
He added: “As you know we have Formula 1 (Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) just before and there has been a lot of demand for players to have extra accommodation so they can attend. “, did he declare. “They love the Mubadala event because it’s a really good opportunity for them to assess themselves with the rest of the players – they can play more than one round with the best in the world.
“It was Roger Federer who asked that if you are eliminated you can play a consolation round, which of course we accepted, but unfortunately he has not returned since then. One of my favorite players, Nadal, has been very lucky here, as well as Djokovic. They have continued to have generally good seasons based on how well they perform here.
“So we take the credit for the positivity and we don’t take the blame for anything bad that happens,” Lickrish joked.
While the men’s roster has yet to be announced, the tournament’s opening day women’s match will see US Open champion Emma Raducanu take on Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.
The MWTC comes at a time when Abu Dhabi’s sporting calendar is busiest. Lickrish is proud that over the years Flash has been constantly asked to organize the biggest events in the capital.
“We were very lucky. We worked with the Tourism Authority on UFC – on several projects. Flash owned 10% of the UFC until a few years ago, but they continued to work with us, ”he said. “We have had the experience of the FIFA Club World Cup in three editions. The first one we did entirely on our own, where we ran the entire program, and the last two were placed under the watchful eye of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. They owned the event and we were there as operators.
The MWTC remains one of Lickrish’s dearest events, an event that he and his team have worked hard to ‘create from scratch’. But they remain on the lookout for other events.
“We are always looking to expand our expertise,” he said. “I would love to get into cricket, I would love to get into basketball – we worked with the NBA on a 3v3 tournament, which is really fantastic. You can do just about anything. We worked with Red Bull on motocross. We have the capabilities, and if we don’t have the expertise, we find the person or people who have this intimate knowledge of a sport and can help us with the competitive side of these events.
As a teenager, Lickrish was a promising athlete in his homeland and his love of the sport never left him, despite his own dreams being sorely shattered.
“I was an Alpine skier – Downhill, Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super GS,” he said. “I was ranked fourth in Canada for those 18 and under, but unfortunately just before the 1988 Olympics I was hit by a car,” said Lickrish, now in his 50s. “I broke my neck and had 40 stitches in my face, which brought my retirement a bit further. But I’m here now, I have a really exciting job and a great family so I can’t really complain about anything.
Prior to moving to Abu Dhabi, Lickrish was also a certified ski trainer and remains an avid golfer today, having started playing at the age of 12. But what is one of his favorite spectator sports?
“American football, even though I’m Canadian,” Lickrish said. “I’m a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, as well as the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders are my second team. It’s funny because my younger brother basically kicked me out of the Raiders fan club. He started buying me Green Bay gear for Christmas and birthdays so I had hats and sweatshirts and all kinds of accessories because he wanted to support the Raiders and we couldn’t both support the same team. So they were sort of my second team, but over the years I’ve really grown to love them.
With the NFL already hosting overseas games in London, would American football be something Lickrish would like to bring to Abu Dhabi?
“I would never say never in Abu Dhabi because if somebody wants to go there it’s going to be done,” he said. “Of course I would love to do one, that would be amazing, but I didn’t approach them at all. I would leave that to the Sports Council or the Tourism Authority because they are the ones who organize major international events.
As part of Flash, Lickrish also played a major role in bringing some of the world’s greatest musical artists to the UAE capital. His love of music and his involvement in the industry ran parallel to his own athletic journey.
“Even at university, I did events,” he said. “I was very passionate about music – all types of different music. I know everyone says that, but I’ve been to all kinds of concerts including classical, opera, DJ, rock, and hip-hop. I started doing college cover bands and theme nights, and then I got really interested in electronic music because two Canadians – Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva – were coming to London, Ontario. One of them lived there and the other in Windsor, just outside Detroit. I fell in love with their music and their label.
Since 2007, Lickrish and Flash have brought figures like Justin Timberlake, Coldplay, Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Aerosmith, Prince, Paul McCartney, Gun N ‘Roses, The Rolling Stones and many more to Abu Dhabi – first on the lawns of Emirates Palace and then, from 2009, on Yas Island, many of these concerts being part of the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend.
So sport or music? For Lickrish, there is no simple answer and no obvious preference.
“It’s hard to say. I like doing sporting events for completely different reasons than music events,” he said. “I think the really important thing for me is to watch the crowds and see how much they appreciate where they are. You can tell. I will always be walking around and looking at people’s faces because I can see how much joy it brings them and how emotionally connected they are.
“I just love seeing that on people’s faces – taking it out of their responsibilities for an hour or two and connecting with whoever is happening, be it an athlete, a team or a team. a musician, ”Lickrish said. “It adds to people’s lives and I get a lot of joy out of it.”