Tom Cummings, 45, has been the Stadium Court public-address announcer at the NASDAQ-100 Open since 1990, when Andre Agassi won his first of five titles on Key Biscayne. He has not missed a stadium-court match in 14 years.
Cummings, the father of a 16-year-old son and a video producer for Picture Perfect Productions in Palm Beach Gardens, said he loves his tennis job because the stress level is low. What frustrates him from time to time, he concedes, is when the cell phones start jingling and the flash bulbs start flashing.
Six times a day, between introducing each Stadium Court competitor and the chair umpire, Cummings says into his microphone: ``Ladies and gentlemen, as a courtesy to our guests seated around you today, please refrain from the use of your cellular phones, no flash photography and smoking is not permitted in the stadium today.''
How long does it take to hear the first cell-phone jingle?
''To be fair, I'd say before the first changeover,'' he said. ``I kind of wonder if my microphone is not turned on and I'm talking to myself. It happens every time.''
And the flash cameras?
''At night, invariably people feel like it's OK to take flash shots,'' he said. ``You kind of wonder what kind of picture they're getting from so high up.''
Adds Cumming: ``But I think we've licked the smoking, so one out of three ain't bad.''
Because it was kids' day Wednesday, the opening day of the 2003 Nasdaq-100 Open, officials opened the gates at Crandon Park Tennis Center a half hour early.
About 1,800 kids joined the fans who arrived at 9:30 a.m. to watch tennis, shop and snack at the annual tennis tournament. And Adam Barrett couldn't have been happier.
"There were blue skies, it was a little bit hot, but the sun was shining and it's a perfect South Florida day," says Barrett, 38, promoted to tournament director last year after 13 years with the world's fifth largest tennis tournament. "If I can be in front when the crowds start coming in, to see the crowds and the enjoyment of watching tennis, that's the best part of the event. When you put away all the politics, all the fires, when you just watch."
As only the second person to hold the director's job in the tournament's 19-year history, Barrett knows the magnitude of his responsibility. He has had a hand in every aspect of the event, from the draw to the schedule; the locker rooms to hotel rooms; security to sponsorship and ticket sales. Starting as an accountant at the tournament, then watching it grow and overseeing two name changes, Barrett had the background needed.
"Everything touches accounting," he says, "everything has to get paid for."
Raised in Kendall, Barrett attended the University of Florida and returned to South Florida to work as a staff auditor at Coopers & Lybrand in Miami. He became accounting manager of what was known as The Lipton International Players Championships in 1990, was promoted to vice president of finance in 1995 and executive vice president in 1997. He took a turn running the Pilot Pen men's tournament in New Haven, Conn.
So when the tournament's previous director, Cliff Buchholz, who founded the tournament with his brother Butch in 1985, announced his retirement last year, Barrett was poised to take over. He said he couldn't do it without the help of a year-round staff of 25 and the 200 or so who staff the March 19-30 tournament.
"Butch is our visionary. He has the idea, this dream he started with his brother 19 years ago," Barrett said. "The day-to-day operator is the director. Our role is to produce and execute that vision. We are the ones who usually sit behind the scenes, putting it all together."
The tournament has shown a steady growth. In 1994, the 10-day event drew more than 214,000 people. The tournament has since grown to 12 days and peaked at 270,143 fans in 2001. Last year it attracted 265,407. Some 700 members of the media cover the event, which airs in more than 150 countries.
"If you love the event business, there's nothing like it," said Barrett, who lives in Weston with his wife, Rachel, and children Matthew, 11, Zoey, 8, and Chase, 6 months. "Year to year you build the same thing and then you take it all down. You've got two weeks to showcase your product, and you spend 12 months working for those two weeks."
Sarah Talalay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ATP awarded the staff of the NASDAQ-100 Open with the 2002 Tennis Masters Series Tournament of the Year honor before Friday's evening matches. This is the fourth time the Miami tournament has been recognized for excellence in tennis. Previously, tournament officials had been presented the International Gold Tournament of the Year Award from 1998-2000.
The unstrung hero of tennis
Schweid finds perfect pitch for Agassi
By MICHELLE KAUFMAN
Nobody, not even tournament chairman Butch Buchholz, pulls more strings at the NASDAQ-100 Open than Jay Schweid, a Howard Stern look-alike and master racket stringer from New York City. He is one of the few people allowed to mess with Andre Agassi's precious rackets. Schweid and his staff of 12 at Jay's Custom Stringing have spent more than 200 hours at Stadium Court, lacing rackets for every player in this tournament. Schweid also has 50 personal clients, and ''full service'' contracts with 15 players, including Jennifer Capriati and Agassi, with whom he travels to every tournament. Agassi brought 18 rackets to Key Biscayne, uses six for each match and will scrap them to his practice pile or donate them to charity after today's final. He rotates rackets at every ball change and never plays with the same racket two days in a row.
When Agassi's quarterfinal was rained out Thursday, Schweid cut all the strings from the rackets he had just laced -- three hours of work -- and restrung them Friday morning because leaving them unused overnight in the South Florida humidity might have dropped the strings' tension from 66 pounds to 64 or 63. That difference might be undetectable to the weekend hacker, but a huge difference for a perfectionist like Agassi. Agassi's opponent, Younes El Aynaoui, did not re-string after the rain delay. ''Nobody takes their rackets as seriously as Andre,'' said Schweid, who has been working with Agassi for 10 years. 'I was up in my hotel room at 2 a.m. in Australia doing Andre's rackets. I'm on call 365 days a year for him. It's not like he'll call at 3 in the morning, but he will call during a practice, say, `I'm looking for more spin on the ball,' and I'll ship him new equipment overnight.''
Agassi's coach, Darren Cahill, agreed Agassi is more fastidious about his equipment than other top players but said that is what makes him so good. ''Andre is the true professional,'' Cahill said. ``He wants to control everything he can possibly control, and equipment is one of those things. He's got the best guy in the business taking care of his rackets, so that's one less thing he has to worry about. You can't tell racket adjustments from the stands, but to the players, the racket is the extension of their arm, and it has to feel perfect.'' Schweid, 38, compares tennis players to artists. ''They don't understand the technology of the racket, they just know if it feels good or it doesn't,'' he said. ``It's my job to customize the racket style, grip, strings, balance and weight based on the individual player's height, weight and style of play.''
Schweid, a native of Forest Hills, N.Y., is a tennis fanatic who took up the game as a 12-year-old (''six years too late'') and started stringing rackets as a teenager to support his hobby. He got his first pro client, Eric Fromm, in 1980 and a few years later was introduced to Martina Navratilova. Word traveled fast around the U.S. Open that this kid could string, and Schweid's business took off. At $20 a pop, it grew into a good day's work. ''This wasn't my career goal by any means,'' Schweid said. ``I was just a punk who wanted to be a pro tennis player. But at least I get to work in the game I love, travel to all the big events and have personal and business relationships with the best players in the world. There are worse jobs out there, that's for sure.'' Jay's Custom Stringing is the official stringer of the U.S. Open, the NASDAQ-100 Open, ATP tournaments in Delray Beach, Memphis, Cincinnati, and numerous others.
Schweid also travels to all the Grand Slam events, where he is on call for his growing client list. In addition to Agassi and Capriati -- who goes through about 100 racket frames a year -- Schweid works for Albert Costa, Alex Corretja, Gustavo Kuerten and Lindsay Davenport. Once in a while, there are racket emergencies. Jim Courier once had his rackets stolen from his locker. Several players have had strings stolen from their bags. Schweid, who prefers to take 30-35 minutes a racket, once whipped one up for Michael Chang in a personal record nine minutes during a U.S. Open match. ''Whatever it takes,'' said Schweid, the King of String. ``I have to bring my best game every day. These players demand it.''
An interview with BUTCH BUCHHOLZ, ADAM BARRETT, and WICK SIMMONS
DAVID TRATNER: Welcome, everybody, to the 2003 NASDAQ-100 Open wrap-up press conference. To my far right, Wick Simmons, Chairman and CEO of NASDAQ; Butch Buccholz, our tournament founder and Chairman; and Adam Barrett, first year as tournament director.
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Welcome, and it's been an interesting tournament. We've gone through the second coldest day ever recorded in Florida our first tournament. I think Richard remembers the Jamaican Police in the locker rooms. We've obviously had some ups and downs. But this year, I think we had record heat the first few days. But all in all, I think the tournament, considering everything that's going on with the economy and the war, we did very well. Our ticket sales are down about three to five percent. Our retail sales and food and beverage is down between eight and ten. In our minds, that's pretty much a huge success, considering everything that's going on. So, we also, a year ago, talked about the vision that Wick had for this tournament. They'd only been a sponsor for six weeks, so obviously, it was only a vision. This year, I think you see a lot more of NASDAQ. We're starting to see the reality of the vision when Wick and his people and our people brought Microsoft in.
That's the first time Microsoft has been involved with tennis, so we think that was a major step forward. Another thing that NASDAQ has done, which is, I think, fantastic, is that we were at the market site in New York City and the whole telecast yesterday was at Times Square, which I think is something very, very special. So people walking in Times Square yesterday could see Miami and the tennis match.
Q. It was on the national news last night.
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Were they really? Great, that's good. Other than that, we have somebody missing here, Cliff Buccholz. Adam has taken over Cliff's job. Cliff would have been here, but one of his clubs had a little accident; snow literally collapsed part of the building, so he's dealing with the insurance adjusters and all sorts of stuff like that.
WICK SIMMONS: And he thought certain primadonnas around here were difficult (smiling).
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: I don't think you all are really interested in how many hamburgers we sold or ice creams or anything like that, so if you have some questions, we'll be more than happy to answer them.
Q. What is the movement for Microsoft? Are they a sponsor?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: It was sort of a last-minute acceptance. It's not a presenting sponsor, it was something we encouraged them to do the back wall, and they paid almost accordingly to what the back wall is worth. They wanted to try it and see what it was like, and we were pleased to have them. I think it's been a good experience for them.
Q. Is it a one-year shot?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: It was a one-year shot, but hopefully, we're going to expand that.
WICK SIMMONS: Yeah, what we're doing, each year we'll be bringing more and more of our NASDAQ companies down here. What we did this year, for instance, last weekend, the middle weekend of the tournament, we had a Chief Marketing Officers Conference over at the Ritz here, where we had the chief marketing people from Yahoo!, Cisco, many other major NASDAQ companies down. That also gives them a chance to come over and get a look at the venue of the tournament. Microsoft had never been in tennis before. Microsoft came down, was impressed, chose to be a one-year sponsor this year, but we would hope Microsoft will be here every year. Ultimately, we hope we can get all sorts of new sponsors, NASDAQ-100 companies, to come down here and be tennis participants. So we had chief marketing officers last week, we had about 30 chief executive officers, or larger companies this weekend. I think it will gradually build here over the next three, four years.
Q. Butch, as the tournament evolves and is now very well-established, obviously, is there any thought about looking at whether you can bump up the program the first two or three days?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: John, that's one of my favorite subjects. We would love to do that. We need to solve that problem. I think some of the options are to go to 112 draw. I'm not sure politically, I would think the ATP and WTA would support that. I don't know how the Slams would feel about that, because we're getting close to a 128 draw. That's not something we have -- we agreed not to do. But it is a challenge for us, and we will certainly bring it up with Mark and Larry again. It's also a little bit of a financial issue, because we've got to pay for all the rooms and just added costs in terms of officials. But I think it would greatly benefit the tournament if we could do that. I know that you all feel you sort of waste those two days, and we feel the same way. So if we could solve it, I think the tournament would be better.
Q. You mentioned, I think we've discussed before, Butch, about not giving byes in the first round, keeping the draw as it is, but with no byes. Do the players not want that?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Well, I think since the Slams are basically all adopting that same philosophy, it's going to be hard to change it. I think the top players enjoy the fact that they don't have to start until Friday or Saturday. You can just tell, just look at our days, our Friday, Saturday and Sundays are our best days. We sell more tickets, more food and beverage, more retail those three days than any time during the tournament. If we could get another day, if we could get a Thursday out of it, that would be great. It's something that we've sort of had on the radar screen, but I think we all feel we should be more aggressive about it.
Q. Even if it was sort of the lower seedings had to play?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Exactly. You're going to have some marquee names in that. We had Kournikova, I think Philippoussis, were maybe the only recognizable names, at least from the tournament's point of view, or fan's point of view, the first two days. So it's -- we're all aware of it.
Q. They still have the position in the draw. It's just that they're playing.
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Yes. Another thing that we're quite excited about, and this year, we really had to make some adjustments with CBS. That's why we're starting 11 o'clock. That's why we're having a two-out-of-three men's final. We're happy to tell you for the next two years, for sure, we're going back one week, we're on CBS and will have our five-set finals. It appears that we're close to doing the same thing, this all the way through 2007, which would get us through our current agreement with NASDAQ. So there's obviously some politics involved in that, as there always is in tennis. But our European partners were good partners and understood the need to have the five sets and the need for CBS, and it's going to help Indian Wells and the NASDAQ-100.
Q. What are the other changes that have been taking place in the calendar to make that possible?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: John, I'm not sure whether Estoril, Casablanca are in the same week. I know there's an adjustment. What really happened is you'll have six weeks between our event and I think the French Open, as opposed to seven. So you're going to cramp some of those tournaments in.
Q. This next week is a Davis Cup week. What happens to that?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: I don't know. I don't think they've come out with the calendar for the Davis Cup in 2004. Actually, the calendar hasn't come out officially, but we were told we can go ahead and tell everybody that we're okay for 2004, 2005, even though the 2005 calendar, the Europeans have agreed to do this. So we thank our European partners.
Q. That change is driven by television, from your point of view?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Television, CBS.
Q. Basketball conflicts?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Yes. We fit perfectly for what CBS wants because we'll play from twelve to two on Saturday, and then you go into the basketball. Sunday, they don't play basketball. So we can go from twelve to three. Then Monday night is the finals. So CBS has a quality event that they can put on television and not disrupt the basketball calendar. So it's perfect for us, and it just so happens also that Shawn McManus is the President of CBS and he represented this tournament for, I don't know, 15 years in selling television. So we were fortunate.
Q. Is Indian Wells a week later as well?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Yes. As you all know, the calendar is going to change dramatically probably in 2006, 2007. We are talking to the Australians about their move. I know they haven't decided what they want to do yet. We told them we'd do everything we can to cooperate. We'll try to be good citizens. I'm not so sure it's in their best interest to move, but...
Q. They seem split on whether it's a good idea anyway.
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: Yeah.
Q. To the people who are wondering why, this year, with the men playing two-out-of-three, the winner will make more than the women's winner did yesterday. What is your reply?
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: No one's brought that up yet (smiling).
Q. Martina Navratilova brought it up earlier in the week.
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: I think Adam can address this because he was part of this (laughter). I'm not ducking it, but we're on the course, it's either next year or the following year, we will have equal prize money. That's an agreement we've made with the WTA three or four years ago. Adam, do you know what year it is? Some of it has to do with WTA revenues.
ADAM BARRETT: We continue to work with the WTA towards a goal of achieving equal prize money. We have aggressively moved towards that over the last five years and will continue to work with them. It's in partnership with them, because they control so many of the television rights and some of our sponsorship rights. So it ties into the successes they have in the international rights sale and their North American and other sponsorship sales. So the reason the checks are different has a lot to do with how you account for prize money and how you distribute prize money. We began discussions with the WTA Tour in saying, "Wait a minute, even if we had, right now, paid the same amount in total to the ATP and WTA, because the WTA has a bonus pool, and because they have increased fees over the men, the winner's prize money check would still not be the same. Plus, the distribution percentages are not set by the tournament, they're set by the tours."
So how they distribute between singles, qualifying and doubles is different. Then the breakdown between those groups are different. So I started discussion with the WTA Tour saying, "Not only do we need to move towards total dollars being the same, which is a goal of ours, but we need to start working towards accounting and distributing the money equally so some day that prize money check for the winners will be the same." And we need to move in A and B paths saying, "We should work towards aggressively making sure that at least the first four rounds start to become equal, even if the total is not, as we move towards the second goal of getting equal." We're working on it. We started the conversations a little bit late this year, after bonus pool was already done. As I said, I can't move the bonus pool money at this point because I need to go back to the players and say it makes sense to take that bonus pool money and put it into prize money, so in the end you're distributing the same check to men and women.
So we are working on it. We're aggressively working on it, we believe in the goal of equal prize money for both the men and the women.
Q. Adam, as a tournament director and also Board member of the WTA, can you talk about the challenges facing the WTA and what you think Larry Scott brings to the table?
ADAM BARRETT: Well, the WTA, I mean, for starters, there's a lot of challenges that both the men's Tour and the women's Tour face. After spending a week with their on-site crews, the level of professionalism they have in running an event is extraordinary. They do an unbelievable job with putting on these competitions. Sometimes, that gets lost in the media as we talk about selling rights and we talk about branding and we talk about management; all the stuff that is kind of non-tennis. But from a pure tennis standpoint, the job that the supervisors do on site in managing the players and managing the competition is unbelievable.
Larry brings a skill set of a lifetime of tennis that he's been involved in at the highest levels, an understanding of the game, an understanding of all the factions of the game, a desire to bring all those factions of the game closer together, and the ability and work ethic that's needed to really kind of put the team at the WTA on the right track to continue to grow and to continue to make the sport bigger and better and really kind of continue to establish where women's tennis is. There's many, many challenges that he's faced. The good news is, is they are in a pretty good spot. The media doesn't always pick that up. A lot of times, there's a negative spin because there's been turnover with the CEO. But the game itself, the quality of the play, and the quality of the stars is there. Larry, I think, brings the work ethic and desire to take that and continue to grow and continue to keep a special place for women in sports and women in tennis.
BUTCH BUCHHOLZ: I think it brings instant credibility to the WTA. I've spent a little time with him; I think he has a strong desire to bring the WTA to the table with the Grand Slams, the ITF and the ATP, and everyone start talking about tennis and not just ATP, WTA, Slams, everything. Everyone in this room knows that's a problem in our sport. I'm, again, going to say, I'm very grateful to the Grand Slams and their meeting in Switzerland, that they've agreed to sit down and start talking about the future of the sport and we're doing it together. I just think that's a major, major breakthrough. I think Larry will help that process immensely. Thank you all very much. Let's go, hopefully, watch a great match.
In a couple of years the women's prize money at the NASDAQ-100 Open should be equal to the men's, event founder and chairman Butch Buchholz said in his state-of-the-tournament address Sunday. This year's men's final, which was best of three sets like the women play, carried a $500,000 winner's paycheck. The winner of the women's singles final Saturday took home $393,000. ''We're on the course. We will have equal prize money,'' Buchholz said. ``That's an agreement we've made with the WTA three or four years ago.'' First-year tournament director Adam Barrett the disparity has to do with how the prize money is accounted and distributed. He has been in discussions with the WTA about meeting the equal pay goals. ''Even if we had, right now, paid the same amount in total to the ATP and WTA, because the WTA has a bonus pool and because they have increased fees over the men, the winner's prize money check would still not be the same,'' he said.
'`The distribution percentages are not set by the tournament, they're set by the tours.'' Barrett said the first step is to pay the players in the first four rounds the same amounts. ''We're aggressively working on it,'' he said. Buchholz said next year's tournament will start a week later and run from March 24 through April 3.
Buchholz said the tournament was in good economic shape even though ticket sales dropped about 5 percent and sales of merchandise and food dropped 8 to 10 percent. ''In our minds, that's pretty much a huge success, considering everything that's going on with the war and the economy,'' he said. In the second year of NASDAQ's title sponsorship of the tournament, Microsoft was secured as a one-year sponsor in its introduction to the tennis market. The software company's brand name was visible on the wall behind the baseline. ''What we're doing each year is we'll be bringing more and more of our NASDAQ companies down here,'' NASDAQ CEO Wick Simmons said.