SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/This Weeks Issue

How McIngvale would transform pro tennis

What does the sport of tennis need to do better?

Mac: I think we need to have more marquee matchups. I think one of the things tennis needs to do is figure out how to get the marquee players playing each other more often. From a promoter's standpoint, it's superstar driven. How do we create more superstars? I was speaking with one of these tennis guys the other day and he made a good point. He said, "On the PGA Tour, not only do they show Tiger Woods, but they show Brad Faxon and they show everybody else. You get to know everyone because they show 10 holes at once, where we are only showing one court." I think that's a pretty good idea. Tennis needs to get on television more. I think the Tennis Channel is a good way to do that. I'm a big promoter and proponent of the Tennis Channel. I just think we need to promote the game and what great athletes these are, men and women.

Anything else?

Mac: The biggest problem with tennis is, it's global, but the promotions need to be local. We have to figure out a way to promote these players — and the players need to become more accessible to the fans and to the public and they need to be like NASCAR and the PGA Tour and get up there and shake hands more.

We had one of the NASCAR drivers at the [Gallery Furniture] store a couple of years ago. He had just broken his back. It wasn't bad, but he had a broken back. He came in there and signed autographs for three hours and he was so nice and personable to everybody. He didn't have to do that. That's the way he was trained, and that's the way that he was. He kept making that connection with the fans, and I never forgot it.

What's the most effective form of promotion or advertising?

Mac: Television, no doubt about it. It's what built my business. When we ran those ads [for the Tennis Masters Series event] during the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, the phone just rang off the wall. And then, when I ran that ad on the Super Bowl, the phone rang off the wall. We didn't have the phone number on there then, so those people had to call Houston directory assistance to find out what the number was to our tennis club, they had to go to the Web site, they had to do something. We got calls from all over the world when we ran those Super Bowl ads. Television is incredibly powerful. It's the most powerful medium in the history of the world. It really moves the needle.

I believe in advertising. To me, advertising is not an expense, it's an investment. ... I've invested $10 million ... in advertising this deal, but it's up to me to get that money out by monetizing it.

Of course the best advertising is word-of-mouth. Hopefully, the people coming here are going to go tell somebody about what a great time they had. When they get back to work on Monday, they'll tell everybody in the office, "I went to the Masters Cup, it was unbelievable. I was sitting this far from Andre Agassi."

You firmly believe your business is more successful because you've been a sports sponsor?

Mac: Absolutely, and how do you replace sitting and talking with Pete Sampras? What's that worth? Or Andre [Agassi]? It's not all about the money, it's about the relationship with those guys. [My wife, Linda, and I will] be friends with those guys for the rest of our lives. What's that worth? Or Clyde Drexler? Or some of these other guys we've met?

I'm sold on sports advertising. You know, I built a business with a Rockets sponsorship. I'm not a Rockets sponsor anymore, because I'm in tennis. When they won the NBA Finals in '94-'95, it was huge for the business. Huge. People told me, "I'm buying because you're Rockets sponsors."

What other brands do you admire?

Mac: Nike is obviously a great promoter. They've done a wonderful job. People pay to wear their merchandise. What a deal that is. It's a steal. They pay to advertise Nike.

Is there any sport you wouldn't want to be involved in?

Mac: I could promote any of them, because I'm a promoter and believe in the power of advertising. Look at ESPN — they took the X Games from nothing and created this deal. They created them through television, didn't they? Television is what created the whole deal, and ESPN shows it constantly.

Customer service is paramount?

Mac: We've got to add value to our customer's experience; otherwise we aren't going to be in business tomorrow. My definition of customer service is real simple: What can we do for our customers that our competitors can't do, won't do or aren't willing to do?

I want to be accessible. I want to touch them. At the end of the night I'm going out to the exit, and I'm standing there shaking hands, telling fans, "Thank you for coming out." Every customer, every session. Because I want to make sure they get treated right. If they don't get treated right, we did something wrong. These people get to vote with their dollars. There's a lot of sporting events they can go to. We have to make it special for them.

What is your advice to someone just starting out in the sports business?

Mac: The first thing is they need to learn how to sell. Sales is what it's all about. If they learn how to sell and how to deal with customers, then that gives them a foundation for everything else they do. Because to me, and I've been on both sides of the fence, spending money on sports — I spent $800,000 a year on a Rockets sponsorship or $1.5 million on a Texans sponsorship — that is a discretionary purchase. I don't need to spend that money. I can spend that money on television and probably get the same results. But, I have to have a connection there to do it. That's what's helped me as I've tried to sell.

What are you like as the client?

Mac: I told the Texans when I signed up with them that I was the most high-maintenance guy they were ever going to have. We want some value for this stuff. Signs in the stadium are great, but we want some value and they have delivered a lot of value. The Texans took six of my warehouse guys on a road trip with the team. That was a big deal to those kids. These kids were 20 years old, blue-collar laborers, and for them to sit on the sidelines, that's a big deal. That's a lifetime memory. They're taking four of my guys to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. That's big-time deliverance.

What is your management style?

Mac: I'm hands-on, but I let people do their job. I'm constantly telling them, "Here's what our objectives are." Our objective is to sell customers and delight customers. And we've got to do both of those every day.

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