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Harry Cooper, right, and nephew John Cooper are responsible for bringing World TeamTennis to Springfield and building Cooper Tennis Complex. They continue to support the team and the facility.
Harry Cooper, right, and nephew John Cooper are responsible for bringing World TeamTennis to Springfield and building Cooper Tennis Complex. They continue to support the team and the facility.

Business family keeps Lasers hot

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The Springfield Lasers had a good 2006 season that came just short of being great.

The best illustration might be Nick Monroe’s singles match against Pete Sampras in Newport Beach, Calif., on July 27. Monroe, who has two minor international wins on his résumé, took Sampras and his record 14 Grand Slam singles titles to a 5-4 tiebreaker, though Monroe lost the match.

That’s also the match that ended the Lasers season with an 8-6 record for the second straight year and bounced them from the playoffs.

Still, local interest remained high for the local World TeamTennis franchise, which sold more than 10,000 tickets, up 200 per match from last year. That mark has been bested only by the Lasers’ inaugural season in 1996 and in 2002, when tennis legend John McEnroe graced Cooper Tennis Complex.

Team founder Harry Cooper of Harry Cooper Supply Co. said he’s proud that the Lasers thrive in the smallest market in World TeamTennis. Other nearby teams are in Kansas City, St. Louis and Houston.

“It was such a successful season,” added Lasers General Manager Tom Adams.

Inside the Lasers

The Lasers are operated by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and are owned by the city and Harry Cooper’s nephew, John Cooper.

The Cooper family donated the land for Cooper Tennis Complex, brought World TeamTennis to Springfield and continues to fund both the complex and the team.

The team’s annual budget ranges between $150,000 and $200,000. Revenues for 2006 won’t be available for at least another month, but 2005 came in at $170,000.

The Lasers use ticket sales and sponsorships for funding. The team has 23 local and national sponsors; the national tour sponsor is credit card company Advanta.

The Lasers have never been profitable, but John Cooper expects them to generate enough money to become self-sufficient as early as next year.

Until then, the Coopers will continue to chip in $20,000 or so at the end of every year to cover any income shortfalls.

“At some point, I can walk away from it and the city can just run the team, because the city is the true owner of the team,” John Cooper said.

Model court, model citizens

The Coopers’ involvement doesn’t stop at World TeamTennis. They donated $1 million to the recent $4 million, 49,000-square-foot Cooper Tennis Complex renovation and addition. The project added six indoor courts while renovating existing indoor and outdoor areas.

The facility upgrades are important to the Lasers because high-quality facilities help generate fan interest, according to Park Board Director Jodie Adams, Tom Adams’ sister. The top-notch facilities also attract people and commerce to Springfield while improving quality of life for citizens.

Harry Cooper said he teamed with the Park Board to build the complex to give youngsters a place to be active. It turns out he’s not a huge sports fan, but he’s also not a fan of kids lounging around on their couches all day.

“The whole park thing has worked out a whole lot better than anything I ever could think about,” he said, deflecting credit to his comrades at the Park Board. “I’m very proud of it.”

Jodie Adams said tennis is the nation’s fastest-growing recreational sport, with participation rates up 8 percent from a year ago. Cooper Tennis Complex already was straining to keep up with demand – it scheduled 20,000 court hours last year – and the expansion will keep it ahead of the curve.

Groups from El Paso, Texas; Kansas City; St. Louis; Evansville, Ind.; and Oklahoma City have modeled their own tennis facilities after Cooper Tennis Complex.

“We’ve been extremely advanced in our development here in Springfield,” Adams said.[[In-content Ad]]

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