Tennis is not just about the stars of the game. It’s also not just about expanding and solely focusing on the biggest tournaments in the world. It’s about growing the game at the grassroots level.
At least that’s how Mylan World TeamTennis co-founder Billie Jean King sees it.
When fans come to Mylan WTT events, King not only wants them to go away having watched a tennis match, but for them to also have an unforgettable experience.
“I want them to think it’s great to watch— the excitement, the intensity,” King said. “I want them to go home at night and say ‘I wanna go back, I wanna cheer for my team and not just get into individuals.’
“I want them to support the team every night.”
King’s desire to see fans come back night after night was clearly evidenced in the Philadelphia Freedoms’ match last Tuesday against the Boston Lobsters — the entire front row was devoted to courtside seats for season ticket holders.
Another big factor in growing the game around the country — and the world — is allowing fans to connect with the players, even if they aren’t some of the bigger names in the game. King compared the experience to going to a professional basketball, football, or basketball game, where not only will fans have their favorite team, but they’ll also develop an affinity for a player or players on that team.
“If you start knowing the players, it makes a difference,” King said. Outside of CoCo Vandeweghe, King asserted that there wasn’t one “marquee” player playing in that Boston-Philadelphia match; instead, players from all countries and backgrounds have an opportunity to excel in Mylan WTT’s unique and high-pressure format.
The ATP and WTA Tours have attempted to be innovative and grow the game in recent years by developing tournaments in areas of the world where tennis was, historically, foreign. However, they’ve struggled to translate that innovation to attendance and player commitment — and there has been recent discussion regarding if it’s time for tennis itself to change to hold on to its popularity in the coming decades.
Asked whether or not she believes Mylan WTT’s innovative style could translate to the ATP or the WTA, King replied:
“They don’t want us—we don’t care.”
She also added that “their proven destination tournaments don’t grow the game.”
King feels that where the Wimbledons and Indian Wells of the tennis world are about drawing the biggest names with greatest star power, Mylan World TeamTennis differentiates itself by promoting a product that is bigger than an individual match or tournament. WTT seeks to make the matches not about the marketability of its stars or the brand recognition of the event but rather about the fans who make the events possible, something that objectively resonates with the fans who attend these events.
“We do 10 and under [tennis] all the time,” King said. “We do free rackets, and I know tournaments do that too but they have an allegiance to something greater than a one-time event once a week. It’s very different when you’re connected to your hometown team.
“I want the kids to dream about playing for their hometown team.”