A Perfect Match
Professional tennis team owner looks to make a smash
Posted on June , 2017
When Fred Luddy was a ballboy as a kid, fetching tennis balls for some of the greatest names in the game — Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Rod Laver — he never dreamed that someday he’d own his own professional tennis team, but that’s exactly what he’s done. A successful tech entrepreneur, Luddy founded the enterprise cloud technology company ServiceNow in 2004 (it now has a $17 billion market cap). A few years ago, he was invited to meet tennis legend Billie Jean King when she was visiting San Diego to explore the possibility of expanding the World Team Tennis (WTT – now called Mylan WTT) league she founded in the mid-’70s to include a franchise in the area. He happily went, and emerged as a proud owner the San Diego Aviators.
A longtime friend of former Padres owner John Moores, Luddy thought he knew what owning a professional sports team could cost, so he had reverse sticker shock when he learned the price tag. “I was buying the whole team for probably less than the agent’s commission on a third-string shortstop!” he laughs.
Since the team’s debut in 2014, Luddy has worked to generate awareness and drive attendance to matches. A unique play format and casual atmosphere, complete with on-court DJ, bucks the stuffy stigma some may still hold on to when picturing professional tennis. Fast-paced (it employs a service clock to ensure games continue at a good clip), approachable (the league utilizes points rather than the traditional and sometimes confusing tennis scoring method), unintimidating, and kid-friendly, a Mylan WTT match is anything but uppity. “I really love it because all the tennis decorum [is] kind of thrown out the window. Our format is just so straightforward,” says Luddy. “What I wish people knew is that they can come with almost no planning, they can plunk down less money than it costs to go to the movies, they can see world class tennis, and in two hours and 15 minutes they’re going to see five different matches: men, women, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.” Strategic hires in sports marketing and an active pursuit of greater media coverage are ways he’s working to raise the team’s profile.
Developing a successful team has been the easier part of the equation. In 2016, the San Diego Aviators brought home the championship in only their third season. Perhaps it was this milestone that encouraged Luddy to double down on his commitment this past March when he, along with entrepreneur Mark Ein, himself an owner of the league’s Washington Kastles, purchased King’s majority ownership in Mylan WTT. This partnership, layered over their individual team ownership, creates what he calls “coopetition.” Luddy explains, “We have to cooperate with each other, we have to build the best product, but at the same time we have to compete at the team level.”
The Aviators will kick off their fourth season on July 16 on their home court at Omni La Costa Resort. The entire three-week season concludes with a championship match on August 5, also at La Costa. See you in the stands. sandiegoaviators.com Deanna Murphy