Tournament Needs Names To Help Draw

Posted: March 01, 1996

Tom Gowen sees the empty seats in the CoreStates Spectrum and knows what people are thinking - the Comcast U.S. Indoor is in jeopardy.

After playing in Philadelphia a year ago, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang bypassed this week's U.S. Indoor. To be successful in the public's eye, a tournament needs those players.

``There are only three names among the Americans that people identify with,'' Gowen, the tournament's director, said yesterday.

The absence of the Big Three left the U.S. Indoor with basically two ``name'' players: defending champion Thomas Enqvist and ex-No. 1 Jim Courier. Stefan Edberg, also a former top-ranked player, lost in the first round to Enqvist. Of the eight seeded players, Courier is the only American.

Although Enqvist, potentially a Grand Slam event winner, is ranked No. 9 in the world, he isn't a big gate attraction yet.

Losing to a journeyman like Thomas Carbonell, as Enqvist did last night, won't enhance his status.

Despite winning four Grand Slam events, Courier has never been on the Sampras-Agassi level for stimulating interest with the public.

Asked about the U.S. Indoor's future in Philadelphia, Gowen said, ``We're doing our best to keep the tournament in Philadelphia, and to keep high-quality players coming here.''

If he were a betting man, would Gowen wager a pound or two that the tournament will remain on the city's winter sports calendar? ``Yes,''he replied.

Gowen, who began his association with the U.S. Indoor more than 30 years ago as a ball boy, said the tournament is on the ATP Tour calendar for next year. The Norristown attorney added that the calendar has not yet been approved.

Last year, Gowen and the nonprofit Philadelphia International Indoor Tennis Corp. board rejected an offer from the Horsham-based Advanta financial services company to sponsor the U.S. Indoor in Philadelphia for 10 years. Advanta would have brought in the International Management Group to run the tournament.

Advanta, which sponsors the women's tennis tournament in Philadelphia in November, also would have guaranteed the substantial money that the U.S. Indoor annually generates for youth tennis in the area.

``We did not consider the IMG offer to be that good,'' Gowen said.

He declined to identify which sponsors will return after this week's tournament.

``A couple are aboard for the future,'' he said. ``There's a couple that have renewal options that come up after the tournament.''

Comcast is in its fifth year as the tournament's title sponsor. Safeguard Scientifics has been a presenting sponsor for five years, U.S. Health Care for three. The National Media Corp., which produces infomercials, is in its first year as a presenting sponsor.

Gowen, his wife, Shelly, the tournament vice chairman, and the board members are reluctant to give up the local control that began when Marilyn and Ed Fernberger ran the tournament.

``There's value in independence,'' Gowen said. ``We don't necessarily think that going to a company that represents many of the players and the television contracts is necessarily good for a tournament. We've had a strong commitment to this community and tennis in Philadelphia for over 30 years, in my case, and they haven't.''

This week's U.S. Indoor draw includes too many players ranked in the 60s and 70s and not enough in the top 10. That's one reason only 5,297 attended the Day 4 matches yesterday.

One major problem all American promoters are facing is, there are only 12 American men in the top 100.

Said Gowen about the seven foreign U.S. Indoor seeds: ``They're all very good players, but they're not household words in this country. We need more American players coming up that will challenge for world leadership.''

In the late 1970s and '80s, when the U.S. Indoor was drawing crowds of 14,000 to 15,000 for its finals featuring Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, it was the only tournament that week in the world.

In recent years, the Philadelphia tournament is held the same week as tournaments in Europe. This week, the ATP event in Milan, Italy, pays about the same prize money as the U.S. Indoor's $700,000 ($110,000 to the singles winner).

Despite the uncertainty hanging over the U.S. Indoor, Gowen is optimistic that Sampras, Agassi and Chang will play in Philadelphia in the future.

If they don't, Gowen and the board members might have no choice but to seriously consider offers like Advanta's.

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