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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday February 28, 2020


World TeamTennis CEO Carlos Silva has been a busy man since he took over at his new job just over a year ago. In that time he has added three new franchises—the Vegas Rollers, Orlando Storm and Chicago Smash--to the WTT, while also changing the league’s draft to free agency and augmenting the league's total prize money purse by 20 percent.

We caught up with Silva recently to discuss the WTT’s inaugural All-Star Weekend, which will be held this Saturday and Sunday in Southern California. We also discussed the future of the league, and Silva's vision for World TeamTennis over the next five years.

Tennis Now: The all-star weekend this Saturday and Sunday (February 29 and March 1), would you say that this special weekend is World TeamTennis’ first step towards expanding the product to be consumed outside the traditional month-long summer schedule?

Carlos Silva: It is about extending our season. World TeamTennis is fast-paced. We play over sixty matches in three weeks between Wimbledon and the US Open Series, but it’s fast and furious and it comes and goes quickly. We really wanted to extend that touchpoint, not just with our partners like CBS, who will be broadcasting the all-star match, but also for fans.

The all-star game is a great way to bring the best of the best together. There are a couple of really entertaining pieces. We are having a meet and greet on Saturday night with all the players and a cocktail party, and on Sunday there will be a pro-am clinic that a number of people have signed up for, where they are going to get to hit with all these pros on the courts, which is super cool.

And then on Sunday afternoon, two great teams with two great coaches in James Blake and Mardy Fish—just a great roster, you’ve seen the lineup. It’s great to have the Bryan Brothers as well, signing up for a full season in Vegas. This will be a spectacular sort of sendoff that encompasses the World TeamTennis season as well.

Growing up in sports and media myself, I’ve always enjoyed the all-star events in such a big way. You have to start somewhere and certainly we’ll jog before we run but I think this is a great first step to a new annual tradition, World TeamTennis All-Star Weekend. Beautiful location at Omni La Costa in Carlsbad. It’s going to be a great event, our broadcast partners CBS are excited about it.


Tennis Now: Getting World TeamTennis on broadcast television, that was a huge highlight in your first year as CEO. You’ve only had the job for a little over a year, correct?

Carlos Silva: I started in January of 2019 so just 13 months in and we’ve made some great progress. We’ll just keep building every 30 days, it is about building momentum.

Tennis Now: Let’s circle back to the Bryan Brothers signing for a full season to play for Vegas. Having Mike and Bob in the fold this season, and being able to give a lot of fans the chance to see them professionally for a final time, what does that mean to World TeamTennis?

Carlos Silva: Yes, and having them play the full season also gives them exposure in each of our other eight markets, which is great for the fans. They’ll be in New York, they’ll be in D.C., they’ll be in Philly, they will be in Orlando—it’s great because every team benefits from having them in Vegas. They are so legendary, they get send-off in every city, and we look forward to building that with them. We’re so happy that they are a part of the family here in 2020. It’s a very unique little piece that we get to share with them. And look they love World TeamTennis—they obviously are the kings of doubles and we really look forward to seeing what they bring to the 2020 season.

Tennis Now: As we head into the WTT’s 45th season I’d like to ask you to look back at the 44th season—you’re first. You got the WTT on broadcast television, which is huge, and you also added Vegas and Orlando to the league, which really beefed up and diversified the product. Can you comment briefly on those accomplishments?

Carlos Silva: On the distribution side adding CBS was phenomenal. Being on broadcast and having our biggest match ever, last July 21st, on CBS, over 400,000 people tuned in and it was spectacular. I’d also like to thank ESPN for coming in and putting our matches on ESPN+, I think it was a great digital one-two punch.

And Vegas has been a great market. We’re just excited to be part of the Vegas vibe with the Raiders (NFL) coming to town and obviously what the Golden Knights (NHL) have done and the WNBA is there as well. The Bryans playing a full season there and Sam Querrey playing a full season there is going to be awesome.

Orlando has been perfect as well. We have a great relationship with the USTA and we continue to be excited about the Orlando Storm and them playing at the USTA National campus.

By adding the Chicago franchise and bringing on Sloane Stephens to play a full season is massive, with her coach Kamau Murray also coming on board. Adding Chicago just continues to build the momentum and the other thing we can’t forget is that we’ve added a million dollars in post-season prize money as well. That’s new and really puts us into that ATP-500 category. There’s about $4 million in regular season pay and $1 million dollars in post-season prize money, so it’s a $5 million dollar World TeamTennis season which is really significant in the tennis space. We can’t underestimate how important that is as far is helping World Team Tennis be a part of the tennis fabric for the year.

I think we hit our marks in 2019 but I’ve learned in the sports business that you can’t do it for one year only so it’s rinse and repeat, right back at it and continue to do even bigger things in 2020.

Tennis Now: Let me hit on the new cities and your thought process on expanding World TeamTennis. What goes into a decision like that when you are choosing a city and a venue? What kind of things have to come together and why, in 2020, was it time for Chicago?

Carlos Silva: We believe in major markets. It’s special to be sitting alongside major sports franchises in major cities right now. I think it’s important for the brand and it’s important for our sponsors and Chicago is a great tennis city. They do love tennis, and being down near Michigan Avenue at a great venue like UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago), it’s a perfect size for us, they have been great to work with, all of those things go into the mix in terms of how we look city to city.

As the league expands that what we look for.

Tennis Now: Adding that extra $1 million in prize money is certainly a nice bonus for the players. In addition to that you’ve added free agency, which could help teams and players match up in a more efficient manner. Can you talk about why you switched from a straight-up draft to free agency?

Carlos Silva: Part of it is that the teams were protecting the players that played the previous year. So in a way we were disappointing a lot of players at the draft, because we put together a group of 60 or 80 players to get drafted and there were only a few slots available.

As a result we decided that we would go to free agency and allow teams to protect the players that were part of their team. If they don’t protect those players, those players go into a free agent market, and other teams can go and sign them. As a result it’s now late February and the rosters are nearly full, whereas before everyone was sitting and waiting on the sidelines, including the players to get re-signed. Now everybody is looking at it and saying ‘Wow, there is more prize money and not that many seats. I better commit and grab my seat because I don’t want to miss the deadline and have a free agent come in and take my seat.’

As a result the rosters are already 90 percent full.


Tennis Now: Any technological innovations planned for the 2020 season?

Carlos Silva: I think a little more of miking the players—we did it at ten matches during our 2019 season, and we’re going to do more of that this year. I like miking the coaches on the benches but also having the doubles players mic’d I think it really adds an interesting component.

But more important than the technology is our desire to continue to raise the quality of the play. The players are playing harder. Last year a lot of people said to me that they’ve never seen the players play so hard. I think now with the post-season prize money and now only four of nine teams making the post-season, the regular season will be even more important, so we’ll see better tennis, we’ll see better singles, better doubles, better mixed and that’s part of building the quality of the league year over year.

Tennis Now: Thoughts on the long-term plan. Where do you see WTT five or ten years down the road?

Carlos Silva: As you look five years out I think probably injecting a little bit more of World into World Team Tennis. We certainly have that with all the international players that play for us, but I think as I project two and three years down the road, I ask: how do you start to put together an Asia Group or a Europe Group or maybe a South America Group that could still play in their logistical area, but then that group’s winner would advance to the playoffs? That’s something that is part of our long-term planning as we set up different regions—Europe, the Americas, Asia, etc
that is something that we are starting to formulate as we look ahead and think about the next two to five years.

Tennis Now: Which takes us back to our original conversation about the All-Star Weekend giving the league more presence outside of its traditional calendar, I guess the international groups you speak of could also serve the same purpose?

Carlos Silva: I also think this All-Star match has served as an interesting prototype and we may be able to do another one of these as we project out a year or two, maybe in the fall. Maybe it’s not an All-Star match, maybe it’s an All-Star team. We’re starting to think about that because this weekend has already come together so nicely. There’s nothing better than having a sold out crowd two weeks in advance. Anyone in the events business knows that.

And with our sponsors that have come in I think it just continues to grow and I think we’ll have an opportunity to possibly do something, maybe a fall special event as well, as we think into 2021 and beyond.

 

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