1976_04_01--055_SP - Page 1

1976_04_01_SP-World_Championship_Tennis-Net_Result

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST 55 n matches to run as long as three exhausting hours. This season, the NBC-TV series of WCT action will include ten winner-take-all, head-to-head challenge matches from Hawaii. This $320,000 series, featuring eight of the world's finest players, is a new feature of the WCT schedule—the Avis Challenge Cup. If a player wins all five of his matches, he will earn $180,000 and have tremendous international television exposure from a glamorous setting. All this is to say that pro tennis has ¨ . m idlimape~Mtplywryionm.1•10.11.11n••••• sba *ases e vases itaistra.; opeaki voitmeaskasi The Rocket, Rod Lauer, whose smashing game The scintillating Arthur Ashe, now at the top of has won 'em all in the past, am't be taken lightly. his rapierlike game, is ranked number one. grown up in a hurry. Of course, there had been professional tennis in various forms long before WCT came into existence in 1967. The first professional exhibition matches were played in 1926 in Madison Square Garden. But pro tennis never had direction, nor any real purpose—other than attempting to make a profit—before the WCT came onto the scene. The company was founded by Dave Dixon of New Orleans. He is the same man who dreamed up the Superdome for that city. In the beginning, Al G. Hill, Jr., my nephew, and I were involved only on a financial basis. Dave is a creative person, but in this case was a little ahead of his time. He convinced Al and me that we could make tennis a big-time professional sport. Its progress had been delayed for thirty years because tennis was controlled by amateuroriented organizations who wanted to keep it a gentleman's sport and rebelled at the idea of a business approach even though they approved of under-thetable payments to players. Dixon's basic idea was that professional tennis just needed the right showcase to get off the ground and into the headlines. He thought that by signing up a few professionals, putting them into the colored clothing—actually a radical idea at that time—and by taking professional tennis indoors and advertising it on television, the public would break down the ticket windows to get a look at the sport. Those first eight players, called the "Handsome Eight"—a tag that had a unique promotional ring to it—had some very outstanding talent. That historical group included John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Cliff Drysdale, Nikki Pilic, Dennis Ralston, Butch Buchholz, Pierre Barthes and Roger Taylor. All were signed to contracts with guaranteed income or their actual prize money earnings, whichever was greater. After Kansas City, where the opening U.S. event lost money, we went to St. Louis, and again it was less than a success. At our third stop, Shreveport, we actually made money. Maybe that's because we didn't hold the event. The truck that was bringing in the court got lost, and the transportation company had to forfeit a bond. That, in fact, was to be one of our few profitable ventures in the early days. Our next scheduled stop was Des Moines, Iowa, but the way the expenses were mounting—without anything coming in—it was evident that it might be our last event, as well. We decided it was time to hold a meeting and consider whether to scrap the whole idea. Dave wanted to know at that meeting whether we should halt the tour before or after offering the Handsome Eight to Des Moines. We've kidded about that meeting, but seriously, it was a meeting with a singular goal: To determine whether to fold WCT. Mike Davies, who played Davis Cup for Great Britain and was the first touring pro from Wales, had been involved with WCT on a consulting basis. He was at that meeting and asked Dixon exactly how the operation was supposed to be working. Dixon explained that we ran the whole show, rented the arena, put up the prize money, promoted the tournament, advertised it, paid for the officials' and the players' transportation. "I see your whole problem, Dave," Mike exclaimed. "You pay them. In the past, they always paid us." The result of the meeting was that WCT instituted some major changes by trying to come up with commercial sponsors for its events. A month later, Dave dropped out, but he should receive credit for being the innovator who had the original concept of pro tennis becoming a viable spectator sport. Will Rogers once said, "Let advertisers spend the same amount of money improving their product that they do on advertising and they wouldn't have to advertise it." We gave up on the advertising approach and put all of our effort into improving the product, trusting on a single reason for anyone to buy a ticket: that we were offering the spectator a chance to see the finest tennis in the world. WCT's second beginning then was in March 1968, and Al G. Hill, Jr.—who's the tennis expert—and I now had the privilege of taking on 100 percent of the problems. We were in the red the first three years as we battled public apathy and the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the amateur group that had a stranglehold on tennis for so many years. The I.L.T.F. was afraid the taint of professionalism would damage its prestige and create an invasion of private clubs. But now, with television's important support and exposure, the public has fallen in love with tennis. Those "war years" were not pleasant times for WCT. We had signed players to contracts, and many people felt that WCT wanted to dictate to the tennis world. WCT was called "the outlaw organization run by those rebels who wish to control the game." Then, there were others who strongly supported our efforts and hailed WCT as "pro tennis's savior." In recent years, many of the same people who were so critical in the beginning have changed their minds. One journalist, who mentioned that we would wreck Wimbledon, later compared the WCT Finals in Dallas to the great traditional English event. He praised the Dallas Finals "as second only to Wimbledon as a true showcase of tennis at its best." The I.L.T.F. banned the WCT players from their events, but we proceeded— despite the ban—and went out and found sponsors and cities willing to become part of the WCT circuit. This competition evolved after we had Continued on page 111


1976_04_01_SP-World_Championship_Tennis-Net_Result
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