For tennis legend, Billie Jean King, she believes that men and women can compete together on an equal playing field towards a common goal.
While the gap between men’s and women’s professional sports is gradually becoming narrower and narrower, for three weeks during the midsummer King’s philosophy comes to life.
In 1974, she co-founded the World Team Tennis (WTT) Pro Leaguewhere men and women play professional tennis on the same team and contribute equally to the outcome.
In a sport where fans traditionally root for a home county or hometown player, WTT gives sports fans the opportunity to cheer for their hometown team.
2012 marks the 37th season of WTT, and in Washington DC, sports fans have spent the last four seasons supporting the Washington Kastles. Founded in 2008 by owner, Mark Ein, the Kastles are the defending WTT champions and first team in 36 seasons to complete a season undefeated. Currently, the team is riding a 22-0 win streak and does not show any signs of relinquishing its reign on the leader board.
Ein is no stranger to success on and off the court. He is an investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist who is the Co-Chairman and Principal Shareholder of Kastle Systems, LLC, the country’s leading provider of commercial office building managed security systems. Additionally, he is the Vice-Chairman of Two Harbors Investment Corporation, a NYSE-listed (TWO) residential mortgage REIT.
Over the course of Ein’s 20 year career, he has led $650 million of private equity, venture capital and public company investments. Not to mention, several of his investments have included XM Satellite Radio, Nextel and now WTT.
In 2007, Ein and King met at the US Open, and she told him that she has always wanted to have a team in Washington but never found the right person to partner with. Ultimately, his decision to invest in WTT was the intersection of his passion for tennis and sports, and his desire to create a hub of fun activities for the Washington DC community.
Today King calls Ein a “great ambassador for tennis” and applauds his creativity, as well as his financial and emotional investment in WTT.
WTT Business Model
Each WTT team is comprised of world-class tennis players. The league has featured virtually every major champion of the Open era including Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, Steffi Graf, and Andre Agassi. The Kastles’ marquee players include Serena and Venus Williams who will play select matches during the season. The remainder of the team, which happens to include 2012 Olympians, Leander Paes and Anastasia Rodionova, will play the full 14 matches and compete for the WTT King Trophy.
Ein recognizes that the length of the WTT season is an unfamiliar model in professional sports, but sees the opportunity for professional tennis to flourish in Washington.
“On one hand it is arguably the shortest professional sports season around. On the other hand, it is the longest tennis event around,” said Ein during an interview with Forbes.com. “If you compare it to other pro sports teams it is very short. If you compare it to a tennis calendar, it is actually the longest.”
The length of the season has not kept fans from visiting the new Kastles Stadium at The Wharf, which is part of a 10-year $2 billion redevelopment project for DC’s Southwest Waterfront. For Ein, rather than bringing people to the tennis, his goal was to bring tennis to the people.
“If you put it right downtown all of the tennis people will come because they love the sport. But when you look around our stadium, less than half the fans are traditional tennis people,” said Ein. “On a business side [team tennis] just appeals to so many different broad groups. It has really been core to our popularity.”
The Washington Kastles’ Future and Growth
As the Kastles enter its 5th season, Ein is pleased with how successful the franchise has become. Last season the team sold out just about every match with 93% of the seats filled, and it led the league in ticket sales, attendance, and sponsorship revenues by the largest margin.
“Our revenues are comparable to any major sports teams’ to a number of nights, and a number of seats basis,” said Ein.
Ein is not planning to end his investment in sports with WTT, and he is pleased with how his front-office team has learned to effectively market and build support for a sports start-up.
“I think we’ve built a team that has become good at starting, running and growing sports properties and we are looking for ways to grow the business,” said Ein. “The single most important thing is setting the right culture, the right values, and the right mission and being totally consistent to that from the very beginning. At the end of the day, I am most proud of building a team that rallies around a mission, a set of goals, and a set of values and never waivers from it.”