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What does it take to organize a tennis tournament?

By Sigurd Neubauer


Have you ever wondered what it takes to organize a professional tennis tournament? “To succeed, it has to be organized like any other business,” explains Ray Benton, CEO of the Junior Tennis Champions Center at College Park, Maryland. 

Benton, a life-long tennis enthusiast and promoter, was a founder of the sports management company ProServ. The company managed some of the world’s top athletes, including tennis champions Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Tracy Austin, Jimmy Connors, Pam Shriver and Ivan Lendl. Some of the other superstar clients included basketball legends Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, golfer Payne Stewart and baseball’s Dave Winfield.

ProServ became one of the two largest sports marketing companies in the world. “We dominated the world of tennis, which included organizing over 20 major events a year,” Benton recalls as his company was the owner of most of them and partnered with others for the remaining competitions. 

On the specifics of what it takes to organize a tournament, Benton explains that a business plan is required, outlining the projecting expenses and revenues.

“The major expenses are paying the players first and foremost, then staff, the venue, and marketing related to promoting the event itself.” One has to assess the costs in order to make it a worthwhile venture, he adds.

Ray Benton is passionate about promoting tennis for all. Photo credit: JTCC

We dominated the world of tennis, which included organizing over 20 major events a year: Benton

A typical tournament will need a title sponsor, followed by one to three presenting sponsors, and then many industry exclusive product sponsors. “The key to make it successful, once a title sponsor has been secured, is to establish a number of industry exclusive sub sponsorships,” the JTCC CEO says.

In practice, a title sponsor should cover the player costs, he adds. But in order to make the event successful for the title sponsor, “their name should be in the name of the tournament.”

To drive home his point, Benton points to an exhibition that ProServ owned, which was launched in 1977 as the Pepsi Grand Slam. 

“It was a special event made for CBS television that had what at the time was ‘enormous prize money’ – $300,000 – for four players,” he recalls.

Wimbledon is the third out of four annual grand slam tournaments

Each participant had to win a Grand Slam tournament to qualify for the event.

There are four Grand Slam tournaments held annually; the Australian Open in January; the French Open in late May to early June; Wimbledon in late June to early July, and the US Open in August–September.

But, Benton added, “if a player had won two grand slams, the highest ranked ATP player who had not won one would be invited.” 

The three-day exhibition, which ran annually from 1977 to 1982, attracted eleven thousand spectators daily and took place at a temporary stadium rebuilt each year in Boca Raton, Florida.

High television rankings contributed to its success, he adds.

Another tennis tournament that ProServ managed took place at New York City’s  Madison Square Garden, which ran from 1977 to 1986. It was sold out every season with seventeen thousand spectators. Its initial title sponsor was Colgate, but after three years, Volvo took its place. From 1981 and onwards, it became the Volvo Grand Prix, but culminated into the Volvo Masters of 1986.

Referring to the Volvo Masters, Benton describes it as “a big event” that ended with Jimmy Connors beating Bjorn Borg in the finals. 

Prominent JTCC alumni are: Francis Tiafo, Robin Montgomery, and Denis Kudla 

Returning to his point of why it is critical that the title sponsor’s name is included in the name of the tournament, the JTCC CEO explains that it is of utmost importance that the spectator “says Volvo” when referring to the event. This is, of course, also essential for Volvo’s own branding interests, he adds. 

When it comes to ticket sales, Benton emphasizes the need for selling tickets at various levels – with some ranging from premium box seats where corporate sponsors can bring their chosen guests – to seats ranging in price to ensure that all seats are sold.

Special events where corporate sponsors can bring their clients and meet the players should be included as well, Benton adds. 

Next, when his long-term client, Jimmy Connors retired in 1993, the two partnered by organizing a series of events called “The Champions Tour” for players 35 years and older. 

“We started with three events and eventually hosted 24 ones annually by 1998,” Benton explains. The following year, he sold his interests.

Looking back, Benton recalls how “the biggest challenge” was to secure the necessary sponsorships.

A title sponsor should cover the player costs
The legendary Arthur Ashe was one of Benton's most prominent clients. President Ronald Reagan greets Ashe at the White House, 1989. Photo credit: The White House
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