June 23, 2017

Approach Shots: Ross Nethery – Managing Editor of the SportsBusiness Journal

SportsBusiness Journal‘s Managing Editor Ross Nethery took time out of his extremely busy schedule to answer questions about covering the business of tennis.

GVTN: How did your life lead you into to covering sports business news to becoming the Managing Editor of the SportsBusiness Journal?

Ross Nethery: I’m a lifelong sports fan, and I covered a lot of sporting events early in my journalism career, which began when I was in high school and started covering high school sports in 1980 for my local weekly newspaper in Hemphill, Texas. By the time the idea for SportsBusiness Journal came along in 1997, I had moved into business journalism (after doing a little bit of everything along the way: cops, courts, schools, city hall, etc.). At the time, I was editor of the weekly South Florida Business Journal, based in Fort Lauderdale and owned by American City Business Journals. When I learned that the company was developing SportsBusiness Journal, I thought the chance to combine business journalism with my love of sports was too good to pass up, and the chairman of our company was kind enough to move me to Charlotte to be a member of the startup team.

GVTN: What is SportsBusiness Journal’s approach to covering the world of tennis?

RN:We believe in the Golden Rule of business journalism: Follow the money. In that respect, we cover tennis the same way we cover other sports. We write about media deals, sponsorships, new facilities, player endorsements … Anytime money changes hands in the sports industry, we want to know about it.

Getting to the details of our coverage, though: We have one reporter, Daniel Kaplan, who is assigned to tennis as one of his primary beats. But we also get tennis coverage from our reporters who cover sponsorships, marketing, media, facilities and agents. Our beat assignments are based both on sports and on business segments, and in that way we try to get a complete picture of what is going on in the industry.

GVTN: How easy or difficult is it to cover the business of tennis in general?

RN:Tennis poses challenges because it is decentralized and international. While each of the tours wields some authority and makes deal and decisions that are binding to players and events, the players are essentially independent contractors who make their own decisions about where to play and which companies to align with, and each of the tournaments, which are scattered across the globe, has plenty of autonomy, as well.

That’s not to say there aren’t similarities with many of the other sports we cover. Take the NFL, for example. Its teams and players have rights to make some deals on their own, as well. But the sheer number of countries and people involved can make tennis coverage a little daunting.

GVTN: In regard to the “four major” sports in the US, is tennis more open or closed in terms of access to information?

RN:One thing you won’t find in tennis is a powerful league office from which a commissioner can demand silence from teams and owners and levee big fines against any who disobey.

Beyond that, though, I think tennis is much like the other sports we cover. When you get down to the level of individual teams and facilities and players in those “major” sports, you find that, just as in tennis, some have better relations with the media than others, and some are better than others at getting their message out.

GVTN: So which one of the tennis tours is more challenging to deal with, the ATP or the WTA and why?

RN: That’s a tough question for me because I’m usually on the back end of the process. Though the editors are kept apprised of how things are going and are involved in making decisions about our coverage, we don’t get much direct experience with the executives at the tours.

That said, in the last few years, I’ve been impressed with the efforts that the WTA has made to keep us informed about its business. Larry Scott, the former head of the WTA who left recently to become commissioner of the Pac-10 Conference, did a little more than most people to keep us informed, including traveling on occasion to our Charlotte headquarters to spend a few hours in candid conversation about the industry.

Now both tours have new people at the top, and we’re as interested as anyone to see how they shape their organizations in the next few years.

GVTN: If you could change anything in covering the business of the tennis world, what would it be?

RN: Could we get rid of some of our competition and have everyone return our phone calls? Ahhh, probably not. (Besides, if that happened, we might get lazy.)

I’ve got no real complaints about how the industry works. The things that make tennis challenging to cover — being decentralized and international, with many constituencies — are the same things that make it fun to cover.

I’d like to see more people in the industry spend more time thinking about the big picture, and how the actions of individuals have a big effect on the overall health of the sport, but I could say the same about every area we cover.

GVTN: Are you a tennis fan yourself and do you play?

RN: I am a big tennis fan. In fact, I watch more tennis than I do any other sport — by a wide margin.

I also play regularly — often three or four times a week. I’ve been on several USTA league teams that made it to the state tournament in the last two years, and my partner and I won the 3.5 men’s doubles division of the 2009 North Carolina Closed Clay Court Championships. (I have since been bumped up to a 4.0 NTRP rating. As my teenaged daughter says: “Sad face.”) My goal this year is to play more singles, enter more tournaments and take more lessons. Now that the long, cold winter seems to be ending, maybe I’ll get a chance to work on those.

GVTN: Using your “crystal ball” what do you foresee as tennis’ business future in the next few years and in the long term?

RN: There have been a couple of great deals for the sport just in the last few weeks, with Corona signing to be the main ATP sponsor, and Sony Ericsson signing a new deal with the WTA. Both of those caught a lot of people by surprise, and they may make some people in the sponsorship and corporate communities take another look at the sport.

Tennis suffers in the U.S. — among consumers and the media — because it is so global. While that global nature is one of the things I love that the sport, I understand why it can be such a barrier to companies that might otherwise want to be involved, and to people who might become bigger fans if it didn’t disappear into faraway time zones for weeks on end. Still, I think tennis will continue to be a strong property and has plenty of growth ahead. No one should expect it to rise to the level of the NFL in the U.S., or of soccer in the rest of the world, but there are plenty of opportunities for the sport to grow.

You can read the SportsBusiness Journal at www.SportsBusinessJournal.com.