Special Photo. Bob Bryant has been involved in the metro area's sports scene for more than 20 years and will serve as director of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, which moves to the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross next month.
Bob Bryant is no newcomer to metro Atlanta's sports and entertainment scene. The 47-year-old Pinehurst, N.C., native first came to town in the late 1980s as the regional marketing director for Feld Entertainment, which produces Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey and Disney on Ice, among other shows. He since worked in marketing, sales, merchandising, promotion or licensing with such entities as the Atlanta Knights minor league hockey team, CNN, Cartoon Network and the first incarnation of the Georgia Force.
Bryant, who lives in Alpharetta with his wife Brandee and sons Aiston, 5, Owen, 21 months, and Robert, born June 25, is now the director of sales and marketing for the United States Tennis Association's Southern regional office in Georgia and will serve as director of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, which moves to the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross next month after a successful inaugural event at Atlanta Athletic Club last year. Staff writer David Friedlander recently spoke with Bryant about several subjects, including what kind of challenges the tournament faces this year with the new venue, and his vision for the event's future in this installation of "Getting to Know ..."
DF: What is your background with tennis?
BB: At Cartoon Network, I worked on a lot of licensing and other hybrid programs, and one of those was a NASCAR team that has some characters on it. ... Then, we wound up doing something with tennis called 'Cartoon Network SMASH Tennis.' So, we were actually helping promote tennis to kids, and part of that was a touring that we did globally. We had five of these SMASH tennis units promoting tennis with the ATP Tour and USTA and something called the Tennis Industry Association (TIA). So, that was sort of my (entrance) into tennis.
DF: So, how did you get involved with the Atlanta Tennis Championships?
BB: My agency continued to produce and be a part of the U.S. Open Smash Zone (interactive attraction), and I was a part of that ... for about five years or so. That was a part of it -- just knowing people within tennis and being in the event business in the Atlanta marketplace in the past is where that relationship came from.
DF: Is your role specifically with the tournament or with the USTA?
BB: It's two-fold. As tournament director for the Atlanta Tennis Championships -- it's kind of the uniqueness of the ownership of the tournament that USTA Southern and the USTA both have a stake in the event. For USTA Southern, I'm their director of sales and marketing -- for all of our programs, from tennis on campus to junior team tennis to 10-and-under tennis to NJTL (National Junior Tennis and Learning) to wheelchair and special (populations) and league play and all those things we do to grow and promote the game.
DF: So, did you get a chance to see any of the tournament last year?
BB: I did. I was out there for Thursday night -- Lleyton Hewitt's (upset loss to Lukas Lacko) -- and toured (Atlanta Athletic Club) and knew some of the folks. ... So, I'd seen it all the way back in its AT&T Challenge days.
DF: What struck you most about the tournament? What impressed you the most about it?
BB: I think the most impressive thing has been, we all know, and it's well documented that Atlanta's the largest tennis-league participating community in the country. And we have more people playing in leagues between the USTA and ALTA and others than anywhere else in the country. The support. The turnout. I think the attendance (more than 40,000 fans over the week) was the first piece that really jumped out as a big success last year.
Our goal this year is to build upon that. We feel we have a pretty strong field. We like the field. We got good early commitment from guys like (former Georgia standout and 2010 finalist John) Isner and (last year's champion Mardy) Fish. And it think it's filled out, really, even internationally. We've kind of got a good mix to it. Now, it's about how can we expand the experience? So, I think the first year was very focused on the tennis, getting the tournament established. And now, it's what else goes on around the tennis. Can we add more entertainment, more festival-like experiences? What other things can we do to celebrate tennis around this professional event?
DF: I guess one of the biggest challenges you face this year is moving the tournament to Racquet Club of the South. Last year, it was a big hit over at the Atlanta Athletic Club, but (organizers) knew from the beginning it would be unavailable this year because of the PGA Championships. Is there going to be an attempt to find a permanent home for the tournament, or is it going to move around?
BB: There definitely will be (a permanent home) after this year, and we really don't have any announcements about where and how that goes right now. We have our options, but there's no doubt we'd like to have a more permanent home.
DF: Given how big the crowds were last year, how big of a challenge will it be to accommodate those crowds -- or perhaps even bigger ones -- at Racquet Club of the South?
BB: Uniquely, there are some advantages to Racquet Club. Part of that is, truthfully, the amount of space we have to utilize, and more importantly, the amount of indoor space we have to utilize. It's very different from last year. It's got an eight-court indoor facility. So, the locker rooms are twice the size. We actually have an indoor food court, inside in the air conditioning, that seats almost 500 people. We've got two other courts at what we're calling our 'Mall of Tennis.' And we have significantly more VIP hospitality space that's indoors and air conditioned. Even the way the restaurant and bar is set up, that deck will have a complete view of the center court. So, that becomes our courtside seatholder Champions Club. Just upgraded amenities and indoor space for the fans.
The other (area) we're taking advantage of is out by the swimming pool. They've redone it and we're putting in a Corona (sponsored) beach house for a pool party environment. So, we've got misting stations and beach chairs and umbrellas and ... all that. It actually has more to utilize both indoor and on-site for some of that festival-like environment.
DF: How much will the stadium court seat for the feature matches?
BB: The stadium court last year was around 4,200 at (AAC). We're around 3,800 this year. So, it's really not that big of a change. And because of that sunken court and (the fact) the existing seats that were there are so steep, you're really surrounding the court. And one of the things we're changing this year is, instead of the champagne tables on one end, we're really surrounding it with seats. So, ... with the court six feet down and the seats coming right up to it, it really creates this bowl.
DF: With Racquet Club of the South tucked into a neighborhood in Peachtree Corners, how will the parking situation be handled?
BB: We've got ... parking at Norcross High School, and at Peachtree Industrial (Boulevard) and Jimmy Carter (Boulevard), there's an old B.J.'s Wholesale parking lot that we'll use. We have shuttles running from (each lot). So, in some ways, you're getting a little more door-to-door service.
DF: What about this year's field? With a year under your belt, has it been easier to bring high-profile players?
BB: It's no doubt (the tournament) got the attention of more folks, and they've had more time to plan their schedules. With the ATP being a world tour, there are matches going on around the globe almost any given week. ... They want to get started on that hardcourt surface. ... They'll be replicating exactly the surface they'll be playing at the U.S. Open (in late August).
Truthfully, we're the first opportunity for guys to get on that court surface coming out of the grass season at Wimbledon, and I think we've got a nice break there between Wimbledon. ... I think that's helped us with the field.
DF: You mentioned some of the names that are coming back this year, like John Isner and Mardy Fish. Is Lleyton Hewitt back this year?
BB: Lleyton Hewitt is back. James Blake is back. Milos Raonic (of Canada), we think is a really fun addition. ... Xavier Malisse, we had last year. Yen-Hsun Lu, who is from Chinese Taipei, has done very well. He's actually the guy who knocked Andy Roddick last year at out of Wimbledon. Kei Nishikori is a Japanese player who's very well followed. Another guy I think is fun to watch is Gregor Dimitrov. We've got Nicholas Mahut, who is the guy who played the marathon match with Isner I can't confirm this, but right now, there's been good word that the two have been discussing playing doubles, and Atlanta would be their first experience doing that. So, we hope that happens. Robby Ginepri (from nearby Marietta), we hope, will be playing. He's doing two Challengers prior to (the tournament) because he's coming back from an injury. Donald Young is another local (Atlanta) guy that should be in.
The other thing I think is exciting is we came up with the idea to invite a (current) Georgia and Georgia Tech (players). So, I think getting Guillermo Gomez form Tech and Will Spencer from Georgia into the singles qualifying, I think, will be fun for people to watch. Then, they other one is to actually pair a Georgia and Georgia Tech player in doubles. I just talked to (Georgia's) Drake Bernstein, and (Tech's) Kevin King is the other one, they're both from the Atlanta area. And (Bernstein) said they actually played doubles when they were younger, and once they hit college, they only played against each other. ... So, they're really excited about doing that.
DF: What is your vision of this tournament in the future?
BB: I think to continue to add to the fan experience. I think constantly adding to this become the event that gets on every tennis player's and tennis lover's calendar in Atlanta. We need to become that destination that says in July, if you're into tennis, this is where you need to be.
Another big change this year is we've got more kid's stuff than ever. As a part of promoting the 10-and-under kid's initiative. Our tournament sort of kicks off a promotion where kids under 10 can join the USTA for free. ... We have Nick Bollettieri coming in on Saturday (July 16) and some other things going on.
DF: Nick Bollettieri is one of the biggest names in tennis instruction.
BB: If you go on our site right now, there are still some spaces available. You have to register for a spot in Bollettieri's clinic. There's an opportunity for free tickets for kids. You can sign up on our website.
DF: You've been in Atlanta and involved in the sports scene around here for the better part of the last two decades. How do you think this tournament can fit into the area's sports landscape?
BB: The one thing you always need to do is elevating the status of the event. ... The Atlanta market is highly competitive, and in today's economy, it's even moreso. You've got incremental dollars to spend on entertainment or sports or any kind of ancillary event are hard to come by. So, you've got to do it all. You have to put on a show.
I don't want to say a party always has to break out, but it doesn't hurt. I think that's kind of the environment Atlanta is. We are one week out of the year. We're not carrying a season or season tickets and all that. So, we have to keep blowing out the experience, and obviously, it's focused around the best players in the world.