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Sports firm supports new tennis stadium

IMG, the world's leading sports management company, says it would bring world-class tennis events to the facility proposed for Wesley Chapel.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 14, 2001


WESLEY CHAPEL -- The world's leading sports management company told Pasco County it is "extremely interested" in bringing tennis matches to a stadium proposed for Wesley Chapel.

A letter from Gary Swain, a senior vice president for the international sports management company IMG, said the proposed Pasco National Tennis Stadium could attract "numerous events" from IMG's sports calendar.

Swain wrote on behalf of Saddlebrook Resort owner Tom Dempsey, who wants county commissioners to build a 5,000- to 8,000-seat tennis stadium with more than $5-million stockpiled since 1991 from a 2 percent tax on hotel rooms.

For commission Chairman Steve Simon, who read part of the letter at the County Commission meeting Tuesday, the news was further proof that the stadium is the best use of the tax money.

"This would be an unbelievable coup for the county," Simon said.

IMG agents represent dozens of top-ranked tennis stars, including Pete Sampras, Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

The company owns two of professional tennis' most popular tournaments, the Ericsson Open in Miami and the Tennis Masters Series in Indian Wells, Calif.

Four smaller U.S. pro events also fill the IMG roster: separate men's and women's tournaments in Scottsdale, Ariz., the estyle.com Classic in Los Angeles and the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif.

Reached Wednesday, Swain said his company would initially consider Pasco for a couple of exhibition matches between retired players such as John McEnroe and Boris Becker.

As for landing international tournaments featuring current top players, Swain said that would depend on luring the right sponsor to make it profitable.

"If you're talking about the very highest levels of tournaments . . . it's not something that happens the next day," said Swain, who has promoted more than 300 tennis events over 20 years.

IMG also would consider using the Pasco stadium for sporting events beyond tennis. "For example, we brought a figure skating event to our tennis stadium in Indian Wells," Swain said.

As a further incentive to build the stadium, the Women's Tennis Association has listed Saddlebrook among its four finalists for its new headquarters.

The WTA, the governing body for the women's tennis tour, plans to choose its new headquarters site later this month.

Last year, IMG, which has 80 offices in 33 countries, offered Saddlebrook a chance to host a yearly major tennis tournament with $500,000 in prizes. Saddlebrook reluctantly declined, citing lack of seating.

With Saddlebrook's reputation, another offer could be forthcoming, assuming it made business sense, Swain said.

"You look and see the top players like Capriati, Hingis and Sampras who live in Saddlebrook and train there. That kind of speaks for itself," he said.

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