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Tennis' Summer Lifeguard

Growing up in Smyrna, Tenn., was a little tough for a kid who eventually chose tennis as a lifelong career— the town didn’t have any courts. J. Wayne Richmond’s first love was basketball, and he went to Belmont University in Nashville expecting to make the team. When that didn’t work out, he picked up a racquet and found his calling. He helped put himself through school teaching tennis in Nashville public parks and watched Rod Laver play on PBS, the only broadcaster that regularly covered the sport in the 1970s.

Richmond, who now oversees nearly 200 hours of tennis telecasts each summer on CBS, ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel as general manager of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Olympus U.S. Open series, got his start in the business as a West Coast sales rep for Converse in 1974. “Converse was all about basketball then. I was their very first tennis guy, this kid from Tennessee,” Richmond recalls. “It was like dropping Opie Taylor into L.A.”

One of Richmond’s early sales calls for Converse, at the La Costa club near San Diego, included a sweet bonus: He got to see his idol Laver play in person. When Richmond moved to Adidas a few years later as tennis promotions director, he worked with Laver, one of the brand’s top endorsers; the two became close friends.

Richmond’s talent for building longlasting relationships and getting pro tennis’ fiefdoms to work together are keys to the success of the Open Series, a six-week, 10-tournament, all-youcan- watch buffet of televised men’s and women’s hardcourt events in the U.S. and Canada leading to the U.S. Open in late August. Keeping the peace among the sport’s commercial interests—players, agents, tournament directors, sponsors, broadcast partners—is a tricky business, and Richmond’s broad experience gives him valuable perspective on all the competing agendas.

When he was hired by the USTA seven years ago to help create and manage the U.S. Open Series, pro tennis in the summer was a haphazard jumble of independent tournaments on various TV networks. Richmond’s relationships throughout the sport—honed in part from a 16-year stint, beginning in 1988, with the Association of Tennis Professionals, where served as executive VP, Americas— helped the USTA convince the ATP Tour, the Women’s Tennis Association, local tournament directors and broadcasters that a linked, branded series of events and telecasts leading up to the U.S. Open would bring consistency and help draw fans and viewers to each event.

“It’s not an easy thing when television wants to show the best match at a particular time, which may not be in line with the time of day the event wants to sell the most tickets—it’s a constant push-andpull,” says Jason Bernstein, who manages all of ESPN’s tennis coverage as senior director of programming and acquisitions. “J. Wayne helps all of the parties maneuver through lots of challenging situations. He understands the issues.”

This year’s Series, kicking off July 18-24 in Atlanta, is introducing several enhancements to keep viewers engaged, including live “look-in” coverage, switching between separate men’s and women’s events taking place during three weeks of the schedule. ESPN2 and Tennis Channel also will offer coverage from three courts at the Cincinnati event Aug. 15-21, where the men (including newly crowned Wimbledon champ Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer) and women (Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters among them) will play during the same week for the first time. “I’m sure I’ll be having some really interesting meetings figuring out how we’re going to schedule matches for TV in Cincinnati,” Richmond says.

Also on Richmond’s to-do list is lining up a new title sponsor for the Series; Olympus is exiting after four years. Ratings on primary broadcaster ESPN2 have held steady at 0.3 for several years, with total reach over the six-week run up from 35 million in 2006 to 41 million last year.

“With ESPN, Tennis Channel and CBS, we have really changed the landscape of TV and tennis in the summer with the Open Series,” Richmond says. “But we’ve got to keep making tennis on TV better for viewers and get our ratings up, because every other sport out there is trying to do the same thing.”

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