- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2007

Andy Roddick doesn’t like to wait. As the No. 1 seed of the Legg Mason Classic and a top client of SFX Sports Group, he didn’t have to.

Roddick had the choice of playing his first match this past Tuesday or Wednesday. Because Roddick had suffered from food indigestion the previous week in Indianapolis, SFX Sports Group figured he might need an extra day to recover. But Roddick chose to play Tuesday, citing his impatience as the reason. SFX Sports Group granted his wish.

“We can get players a preferential schedule, or play Andy Roddick, for example, on certain nights,” said John Tobias, vice president of SFX Tennis. “We can help them rent a car or give them a suite upgrade. But it stays within the rules.”

Such is the responsibility of a sports marketing agency like SFX Sports Group. But that’s not their only role. At the Legg Mason Classic, SFX Tennis handles player representation, manages the event and secures tennis television contracts.

SFX Tennis senior vice president Donald Dell started representing tennis players in 1970 with ProServe, which SFX Sports Group acquired in 1999.

“At that time there were no other agents in tennis,” Dell said. “I was the first one on a world-wide basis. That’s where we got the start and it gave us a big edge.”

But now SFX competes with a much bigger rival in IMG, which represents Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Monica Seles and Serena and Venus Williams.

“IMG has historically been the dominant player in representation,” said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a Chicago-based sports consultant. “They typically have far more players and in particular international players in their galaxy of stars. They’re able to deliver players to tournaments.”

Dell, a former U.S. Davis Cup captain in the 1960s, concedes that notion.

“They’re very strong and we’re very strong. But they’re a bigger company than we are,” Dell said. “We’re much smaller. But the biggest difference is I started the business and I was a tennis player. When I sit down with Andy Roddick or [doubles partners Bob and Mike Bryan], I know what it’s like to be them.”

Investors, meanwhile, appear drawn to SFX. Louisville-based Blue Equity, a private equity firm with a diverse portfolio of business holdings, bought SFX last year as part of an effort to create a sports division.

The Legg Mason Classic, which Dell founded, is well-represented by SFX clients, including Roddick and the Bryan brothers — the No. 1 seeds in singles and doubles play.

But the Legg Mason doesn’t just feature SFX Sports Group clients.

No. 2 seed Tommy Haas, an IMG client, missed the six-week deadline to apply for a spot in the Legg Mason tournament. But he had to pull out of Wimbledon early after suffering stomach muscle problems. Realizing he needed to play in more tournaments, Haas asked for a spot and got one.

But the relationship with SFX certainly affects the playing field. Mardy Fish retired early from the Indianapolis Tennis Championships last week after suffering patella tendinitis in both of his knees. Fish hoped to take time off to rest his knees before the U.S. Open starts later this month. But he felt obliged to play in the Legg Mason Classic this week because of SFX’s sponsorship.

Fish, the sixth seed, regretted his decision after falling to Michael Berrer in the second round Tuesday.

“I’d be lying to you if I said it was probably a good idea to play in this tournament,” he said. “This is an SFX tournament, and I’m represented by them. This is a special tournament for me, and one of the tournaments I look forward to every summer. That had a lot to do with me wanting to come here. It probably would’ve been a better idea to stay home.”

After Fernando Gonzalez withdrew from Legg Mason because of a sore back, one of SFX’s newest clients, John Isner, earned a wild card.

“I signed with SFX before this tournament so I was really lucky they gave me the wild card here,” Isner, who has posted four upsets in this tournament. “Obviously I couldn’t pass that up. I didn’t think I was going to be here.”

But ultimately, Tobias said, SFX Sports Groups’ goal is to provide the best tennis tournament possible while also properly representing their clients’ interests.

“Players who don’t play is not because of a relationship with SFX,” Tobias said. “Ultimately if you’re a great player they will want you to play no matter who runs or owns the tournament. We want the best possible players in our tournaments.”

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