Your Serve: Local Showcase
A local professional tennis league can highlight elite players, help generate tennis interest, and give the game great community exposure.
By Yza Shady
Here’s a winning strategy for players, fans, and sponsors. Form a professional tennis league in your area. What do I mean by a “pro league”? Bring together former tour players, elite collegiate players and other top-notch players who still want to compete, without having to commit to a tournament schedule, and have them play on teams in front of fans for modest prize money or “appearance fees.”
Many former noteworthy players who teach at clubs and tennis facilities would welcome the opportunity to play weekly competitive singles and doubles matches with their peers, and earn some extra money. It would give these high-level players the chance to showcase their talents to their clientele, friends and family.
Tennis fans and recreational players, many of whom may be students of the “pro league” players, get the opportunity to see great tennis competition on a weekly basis. Tennis fans love to watch good tennis, especially when they know the players; they feel a personal connection and get inspiration while watching a good match.
“Fans relate to the 35-year-old player rather than the young player,” says Randy Chamberlain, coordinator for the Charlotte (N.C.) Pro League. As a result, fans will be back for more, and they will bring their friends. It’s great exposure for the sport, and can help create more players in your area.
And there is another group that can help bring this sport more exposure: potential league and team sponsors. Community organizations and businesses willing to contribute to prize money and appearance money can help spread the word about tennis beyond the traditional audience. Plus, their products and services will be in front of consumers on a regular basis.
World TeamTennis, which Billie Jean King founded 40 years ago, is of course the big pro league out there. More recently, ATP player Mahesh Bhupathi formed the International Professional Tennis League.
On a much smaller scale, and more along the lines of helping grow tennis at the grassroots, there’s the 9-year-old Charlotte Pro League (CPL) and the 4-year-old Hilton Head Island Professional Tennis League (HHIPTL). Both are sponsored by their local Community Tennis Associations, as well as by private businesses.
The Charlotte CTA started its Pro League in 2005 because, at that time, there were no 5.0 or higher tennis teams in the area. Last year the CPL drafted more than 120 players for its eight teams. Teams play weekly at seven host facilities in the Charlotte area.
Chamberlain says the CPL has four sponsorship tiers. The Presenting Sponsor, which is Del Frisco’s steak house, is the biggest and, along with monetary support, hosts the player draft party. Next is a League Sponsor, which pays about $1,500. Currently there are eight Team Sponsors, which each pay $600 to sponsor a team. Supporting Sponsors pay $250 and are generally local restaurants, which give trade-outs and coupons at the matches. The CPL donates a portion of net proceeds to the Charlotte Special Olympics tennis program.
The HHIPTL was founded by friends Lee Holyoak and Matt Wuller. Holyoak says the Pro League is designed to “promote tennis, raise money, and have some competition!” HHIPTL has a standard format of Court 1, 2 and 3 doubles, and with four teams in the league there are two rounds of matches. Each set of matches is held at a different venue each week, for a total of seven weeks. This “home court” advantage promotes the facility and their players. Holyoak says the league has grown its sponsorship each year, and like the CPL, HHIPTL chooses a charity to donate money.
At the end of the season both leagues have a playoff with the winning team earning the prize money, and bragging rights. (Wouldn’t it be great to take pro leagues to the next level and have matches between elite players from different leagues?)
“I always wanted to help make tennis a team sport,” Billie Jean King has said. Many areas in the U.S. with strong tennis programs and exceptionally talented players can benefit from forming a pro league, which will raise the awareness of tennis.
Yza Shady (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the marketing and PR director for Hilton Head Island Professional Tennis League. She worked in theater as an actor in New York before moving to Hilton Head seven years ago to work in tennis for such organizations as PTR, TIA and the Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy.