Concert Veteran Promotes Tennis Legends Like Rock Stars

Larry Magid has teamed up with the Champions Series circuit to promote a 12-city tour of tennis stars over age 30 featuring seven personalities: Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander.

NEW YORK -- Famous tennis stars over the age of 30 have a lot in common with rock stars. So says Larry Magid, who has promoted and produced more than 16,000 concerts and live events with the likes of Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and the Allman Brothers.

The live event promoter and producer, who also produced the U.S. portions of Live Aid, among other things, has been tapped to produce and promote the Champions Series, a 12-city tour this fall for seven tennis legends over the age of 30: Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander. Competitors must all have been ranked No. 1 in the world or been a grand slam singles champion.

While the Champions Series is not new, this is the first year that it has been condensed to a five-week season. Last year's series also had a different format with multiday events played in fewer cities. Magid said the final day of those events typically attracted the biggest audiences. And it was a more demanding schedule for the players.

The circuit this year also covers more ground with 12 one-night mini tournaments in cities across the nation, including cities that don't have regular tournaments. It also has fewer stars than last year when the seven players of this season were also joined by such names as Jimmy Arias, Aaron Krickstein, Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg, Wayne Ferreira, Mark Phillippoussis, Marat Safin and others.

"These players have achieved rock-star status and transcend the sport of tennis," explained Magid of the more focused roster. "They are the most talented and accomplished athletes of their generation as well as great entertainers." And, he said, "they are fascinating people, especially Agassi and McEnroe, that people outside of the sport also respond to."

Or as Courier said in a recent blog post on the series' website: "What a cast of characters."

The circuit was founded in 2005 by InsideOut Sports + Entertainment, a New York based firm co-owned and operated by Jon Venison, a former executive of live entertainment firm SFX, and former world No. 1 Courier.

The new one-night tournaments allow bigger-name talent to compete nightly, which the Champions Series hopes will bring it its best season by far this year, a spokeswoman said without detailing figures.

Magid, who has made a three-year commitment to the organization, says selling tickets is all about packaging and promoting to people beyond traditional tennis circles.

"They called me to ask if I would take on this task, and the more I spoke to them, the more I realized that these guys are rock stars. They have transcended the sport," explained Magid of how he came on board. "And I think the music and tennis audiences overlap. So, we are going after an audience that accepts this tour not only as tennis, but as an event, and that is intrigued by seeing these stars play against each other again."

After all, "Agassi playing Sampras was pretty dramatic, and you didn't have to be a tennis fan to know they were competing to be the best," he argued. "It provided for great drama. I am not [a core tennis] fan, but I would watch the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, because I thought it was high drama -- like a movie."

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He is looking to heighten the feel that the circuit is an event with a recently launched presale. "We thought getting on sale early would help make it an event and stand out to the public," he said. "It's what a lot of big rock concerts do these days."

And instead of mostly promoting the event to tennis media as in the past, the circuit is now also talking to rock radio stations and TV stations. "We wanted to reach out to a bigger cross-section than a normal tennis tournament," Magid said, mentioning women 25-45 as one demo that can be attracted to the tennis personalities and men of that age who listen to rock music as another group he has been targeting.

Viewers shouldn't expect the events to feature fun exhibition games, but competitive tennis. The circuit has a prize pool totaling $1 million to be shared by the top three finishers at the end of the season. Said Magid: "Each Champions Series event will be a competitive show unlike anything before, and we are excited to bring this property to sports and entertainment fans across the country."

Fans can also buy VIP packages that allow them to be at a pre-match event with dinner, open bar and a Q&A with the four stars playing at the tour stop for $250, a $750 backstage experience and a $1,500 one-hour group tennis clinic with two players, the Q&A event and an autographed picture with the two clinic headliners.

It is another way to present the players as rock stars as Magid and colleagues want to do.

"Larry Magid is a trailblazer in the modern live event industry," said Adam Schneider, Inside Out Sports + Entertainment partner in explaining why his firm went after the entertainment veteran.

The tour will begin Sept. 22 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a total of 12 U.S. cities being hit for one night each over a five-week season through Oct. 22. Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, L.A. and Las Vegas, Chicago are also on the schedule.

Each of the tournaments will feature four champions paired off in one-set semifinals competing for ranking points, culminating with the winners contending in a championship match that is won by the first player to win eight games in an extended set -- with a tie break played in the case of a 7:7.

The circuit also has a TV deal with the Tennis Channel, the Fox Sports Net regional sports networks and New England Sports Net, which will show games with quite some delay. Fox Sports and NESN will air a Champions Series stop weekly starting in November, and Tennis Channel will air them beginning in December.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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