- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

If Arlen Kantarian has his way, mixed doubles eventually could take on a whole new meaning.
Kantarian, the U.S. Tennis Association's chief executive of professional tennis, has proposed creating a late-summer North American circuit of combined men's and women's tournaments, culminating in the U.S. Open.
Modeled after popular springtime co-ed tournaments in Miami and Indian Wells, Calif., the new tour would award equal prize money and sell its TV rights in a single, potentially lucrative package.
Though the concept is still in its infancy the USTA hopes to present an initial report in November, and actual tour realignment would not take place until at least 2003 the appeal is obvious.
Though the U.S. Open brings in a hefty fee from its current cable and network television deals (which expire in 2002 and 2003, respectively), the broadcast rights to an entire slate of dual-sex tournaments likely would command even more.
Moreover, such a move could help boost the sport's patchy visibility in the United States, particularly at a time of year when tennis has scant competition for viewers outside of baseball.
Jeff Newman, tournament director of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, said it was too early to determine the feasibility of a potential co-ed circuit. Kantarian was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
"Right now, it seems like it's just an idea," Newman said.
According to a recent article in Sports Illustrated, however, Kantarian already has discussed the concept with both the men's and women's tours, as well as sports marketing firm IMG, which owns six U.S. tournaments, and McLean-based Octagon, which represents a number of top players.
Though initial feedback has been positive, actual implementation of the USTA's idea faces a number of obstacles.
Conflicting facilities, sponsorships, and schedules could prove tough to reconcile. For example, Indianapolis, home to the RCA Championships, probably would host a large co-ed tournament, leaving the currently concurrent Legg Mason high and dry.
In addition, Sports Illustrated reports, some in the tennis world view the plan as little more than a USTA bid to co-opt American pro tennis.
"There's a lot of suspicion," Octagon president of athlete representation Phil de Picciotto told the magazine. "But the U.S. Open has great leveraging power and unifying power. If there's a time to do it, it's now."
If anyone is up to the task, though, it's Kantarian. A former executive with Pepsi and the NFL and a close friend of NBA commissioner David Stern, Kantarian understands the importance of sports marketing something that often seems to elude the men's and women's tours, let alone the oft-myopic USTA.
In 1993, Kantarian helped the NFL land Michael Jackson arguably the world's biggest star at the time for its Super Bowl halftime show. After coming to the USTA in March of 2000, he persuaded CBS to broadcast this year's U.S. Open women's final in prime time, making it the first network prime-time tennis match since Bobby Riggs versus Billie Jean King in 1973.
The match, a ballyhooed meeting of charismatic sisters Venus and Serena Williams, drew nearly 23 million viewers, the largest television audience for any program that evening.
It's numbers like those that have led Kantarian to dub the U.S. Open "an underleveraged asset" a phrase that could be applied to the current U.S. hard court season as well.
"Tennis doesn't have an idea problem," Kantarian told Sports Illustrated. "It has a get-it-done problem. Let's put the appropriate parties on the same page and get it done."

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