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Lindsay Davenport, a former No. 1-ranked player, plans to return to Springfield July 16. The Lasers will play this season's home matches July 9-28.
Lindsay Davenport, a former No. 1-ranked player, plans to return to Springfield July 16. The Lasers will play this season's home matches July 9-28.

Business support remains for Lasers tennis

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Springfield-Greene County Park Board officials are gearing up for the 2012 season of Springfield Lasers tennis at Cooper Tennis Complex, and one goal is to boost attendance from a dip of roughly 20 percent last year.

Springfield’s team is unique among its World TeamTennis League peers in that it is the only squad under ownership of a city entity, and it plays in the smallest market. Brought to Springfield from Wichita, Kan., by Springfield businessman Harry Cooper of Harry Cooper Supply Co., the team has received enough corporate support to run the roughly $200,000 operation annually for 17 years.

With seven home matches a year, the team sold 7,560 tickets last year, generating $28,587 in revenues. In recent years, attendance averaged 9,000 to 10,000 per season, which is usually sandwiched between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The Lasers will play this season’s home matches July 9–28.

Parks Director Bob Belote, who acts as CEO of the team, attributed the dwindling ticket sales to two factors: There was no appearance by a marquee player, and the team didn’t play very well, finishing the season with a 4-10 record. Belote said this year’s team is riding on the hopes of women’s doubles players Timea Babos and Maria Sanchez. Babos is an 18-year-old Hungarian with nine International Tennis Federation singles titles and nine ITF doubles titles. Sanchez was a key player for the St. Louis Aces, which folded this year.

“They are a really young group, but they can flat play,” Belote said of the 2012 team that is rounded out by 20-year-old Devin Britton, who in 2009 became the youngest NCAA singles champion as a University of Mississippi freshman, and Amir Weintraub, who won the Israel Futures title and competed in this year’s Australian Open.

Pay to play
Local sponsorships make up the bulk of the team’s operating budget, with roughly 40 percent of the $226,828 budget last year coming from contributions of cash and in-kind trade for services.

In-kind sponsors include O’Reilly Hospitality through Doubletree Hotel and Houlihan’s, while cash contributions come from Harry and John Cooper, Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co. and Mediacom, which bought stadium naming rights for $50,000 a year through 2018. Currently, there are 14 local sponsors and four national WTT sponsors: the U.S. Tennis Association, DecoTurf tennis surfaces, Wilson Sporting Goods and GEICO insurance. Belote declined to disclose specific sponsorship amounts.

Cooper, whose family donated about $1 million toward the $4 million upgrades at Cooper Tennis Complex in 2006, said he used to contribute about $20,000 a year, but since Mediacom bought the naming rights he hasn’t given as much.

“The main purpose of the whole thing is to get people interested in tennis,” Cooper said. “We’ve had great players here who are good examples to youngsters. The park has become much more than we expected.”

Tim O’Reilly estimated O’Reilly Hospitality’s contribution amounts to about $5,000 annually for food and lodging for the players.

“It makes sense to have high-profile folks in our hotel,” said O’Reilly, whose company is in its fourth year of sponsoring the Lasers. “It is very entertaining, fantastic tennis, and it helps the lodging and restaurant industries.”

Sally Hargis, vice president of Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co., says the company’s contributions include cash, product placement and customer service. The company assigns two people at each Lasers match to serve beverages.

“We’ve been involved from the beginning, and it’s good to be affiliated with high-quality family-oriented entertainment,” she said.

The two largest items on the expense side of the budget last year were $88,000 in player prize money contribution and $52,674 in royalties paid to the league. Belote said these funds go toward player salaries, and the league doesn’t publish individual player’s pay.

League realignment
Based in New York City, World TeamTennis started in 1974 as the brainchild of Billie Jean King. The league has been through some realignment this year, with the St. Louis team folding and two New York teams consolidating.

The St. Louis Aces was in the league for 18 years, but its owners, Dan Apted and family, decided to concentrate their finances in other areas, according to Rosie Crews, WTT’s vice president of communications. That leaves teams in eight cities: Springfield, Kansas City, and Orange County and Sacramento in California, in the western conference; and Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in the eastern conference.

Crews said WTT considers Springfield a strong market.

“(Springfield is a) grass roots tennis community with one of the nicest facilities in the country and one of the few permanent team stadiums in WTT,” she said, noting it’s unusual, too, that some of the tennis matches are carried on live TV by Mediacom.

In 2006, the 2,500-seat Mediacom Stadium and the 28 courts at the Cooper Tennis Complex were recognized as the Facility of the Year by the USTA Missouri Valley Section.

Marquee players are scheduled to return to Mediacom Tennis Stadium this year. Lindsay Davenport, a former world No. 1-ranked player, plans to return to Springfield on July 16. She played in Springfield in 2010 but took last year off.

Another former top player, Tracy Austin, will conduct a clinic at Cooper Tennis complex on July 19. And top young American player, Sam Querrey, is on the WTT schedule to play in Springfield on July 19, but Belote said logistics need to be finalized.

“I’d love to have him come here and play,” Belote said.[[In-content Ad]]


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