SBJ/August 29-September 4, 2011/In Depth

WTT sees positives in this year’s season

At 36 years and counting, World TeamTennis continues to chug along, despite only a three-week season and the loss of its main benefactor, credit card company Advanta, two years ago to bankruptcy.

The loss of its top sponsor necessitated in part an equity infusion from the U.S. Tennis Association. But prospects have improved, and the brainchild of Billie Jean King pushes toward break even.

FRED & SUSAN MULLANE / CAMERAWORK USA
World TeamTennis says its business prospects have improved.
In the WTT format, teams of players compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, playing just a single set in each format. It was a good July this year, said Ilana Kloss, WTT’s chief executive. Attendance rose 6 percent to 130,000 across the nine teams, despite there being one less team than in 2010.

For the first time, WTT ran a preview show on Comcast regional sports channels, and overseas markets are buying the content. Domestically, most matches air tape-delayed on cable, largely regional sports networks, while WTT.com streams some matches live.

With American players few and far between at the upper echelons of the sport, WTT is now also selling itself as a place to see Americans play. “It is a big opportunity for young American talent,” Kloss said.

WTT does promote stars, though those players often come in for a single match and not the full three weeks. Instead, WTT is mostly populated with second-tier players, but also a very un-tennis-like festive atmosphere that can attract casual and younger fans.

Perhaps the highlight of the season for WTT was first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters attending a Washington Kastles match. The Kastles also achieved a first for WTT: the first undefeated season.

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