Reality TV may shine light on city
ROBERTA C. NELSON
Herald Staff Writer
BRADENTON - A proposed reality TV series based in Bradenton would focus on teen sports prodigies, showcasing their talents and bringing recognition and potential economic gain to the city.
IMG Worldwide, which operates the Bollittieri Tennis and David Leadbetter Golf academies, and its subsidiary TWI are negotiating with ABC Family for a 13-episode series, tentatively called "Phenom," IMG Bradenton officials said Tuesday.
Janice Bell of IMG Academies Bradenton said a deal is not final, but a presentation tape for "Phenom" is in production. No deadline has been set for the decision.
"Phenom" would follow young tennis players and golfers enrolled at IMG through a typical day at the academies. Full-time students split their days between academics and sports training.
The IMG Bradenton academies have trained such tennis champions as Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Tommy Haas and Anna Kournikova, and golfers David Gossett, Ty Tryon and Candy Hanneman.
"It's going to be a great series to have on TV," said Jerrod Funk, a golfing instructor at the golf academy. "Every kid in America has a dream of being an artist, a cartoonist, a golfer or race-car driver."
Besides sports training, which includes physical and mental conditioning, IMG Academy students do what teens everywhere do, such as date, go to the beach and have fun, he said.
"These kids do have a life outside of their sport and are not totally tied up into it," Funk said. "It is structured, and that is how we train champions. But the girls do have boyfriends, and the boys have girlfriends. They go out on the weekend, and we have movie trips during the week. Sometimes, I see one of my students sitting in front of the dorm just talking to a girl and having a great time. Maybe there are not a lot of candlelight dinners, but there is still pingpong, swimming and cafeteria food."
The IMG Bradenton academies draw students from North and South America, Asia and Europe. Annual tuition plus room and board is $35,800 at the golf academy and $31,600 at the tennis academy, Funk said. Some students live off campus with their families, who come to Manatee County while their sons and daughters are in training.
If a nationally broadcast or cable TV program was based here, the community would receive valuable exposure, said Nancy Engel, executive director of economic development at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
"We couldn't buy that kind of advertising," Engel said. "We couldn't have a budget to buy that kind of name recognition for our area."
In addition to publicity, the production crews visiting the area would add revenue to the local economy.
"They eat and sleep someplace," Engel said. "It really would be a good thing for us."