Vero Beach rallies support for bid to host Fed Cup tennis match

VERO BEACH — Vero Beach could get some big news before the month is out – news about whether it will land an attractive first-round match in the Fed Cup women’s tennis championship competition that would be played here in February.

“They’re looking for enthusiastic communities that are going to support the matches,” said Randy Walker, a part-time Moorings resident who is heading up the effort to bring the Fed Cup to Vero Beach.

Walker turned in a bid packet to the USTA on Friday and met with USTA officials last weekend at the U.S. Open.

The matches played in Vero would be between the U.S. team and Belarus, with sometime rivals Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka headlining the roster of top-ranked names in women’s tennis.

“The bid is in, but there is still a two-week window where this deal is going to be made,” Walker said, “so it is not too late for people to contact me if they want to get involved – we can sweeten the deal.”

Vero is competing with an unknown number of other cities, both large and small.

In addition to the actual sporting venue, the committed financial backing of the local community is a key factor in which city ultimately gets to host Fed Cup matches.

Walker, who handled USTA publicity for 12 years before starting his own firm, said a huge part of the USTA’s mission is to promote and develop the growth of tennis, so Vero being known for tennis will help.

Recent cities that have welcomed Fed Cup matches are Birmingham, Ala., Carlsbad and San Diego, Calif., Surprise, Ariz., and Stowe, Vt., so it’s not necessary for the host city to rank among the nation’s booming metropolises.

“We feel that the strong tennis community in Vero Beach, that features such tennis legends as Ivan Lendl, Mikael Pernfors and is the hometown of current U.S. Davis Cupper Mardy Fish, make it an ideal community to host the event,” Walker wrote in his proposal to the USTA. “Fed Cup in Vero Beach would be a ‘big fish’ in an intimate fish bowl.”

Prior to offering his proposal to host the event Feb. 4-5 at the Vero Beach Sports Village complex, Walker secured important sponsorship pledges from several local businesses. Included among the financial backers are Windsor, Dale Sorensen Real Estate, the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, Philanthropy 360 and Walker’s own company, New Chapter Media.

Local residents Peter Toole and Windsor tennis pro Tom Fish, Mardy’s father, have been instrumental in rustling up support for Vero’s pitch to host the matches, Walker said.

Independent insurance agent Harry Howle and Henry Doehla, former CEO of Joan and David, are also serving on the local organizing committee.

Several pro tennis players are also behind the proposal, including Moorings tennis pro Magnus Gustafsson and Mardy Fish.

When asked last weekend at a U.S. Open press conference to respond to news that Vero was in the running to host a Fed Cup match, Mardy Fish said, “I think it’s great. I do a charity event there every year. If we could sell 10,000 tickets, we would. We can’t afford to put up the seats that hopefully the Fed Cup can if they come. It’s a great tennis community.”

“So it would be outstanding,” Fish added. “I would love to go just to watch if they did get it. We’re campaigning for it, for sure.”

Pernfors, the 1986 French Open runner-up, who lives at The Boulevard Village and Tennis Club in Vero Beach, also endorsed Vero as an ideal venue for the Fed Cup.

“Vero Beach is one of the most enthusiastic and sophisticated tennis communities I have ever seen and would be an ideal fit for Fed Cup,” Pernfors said. “This community passionately embraces tennis and would throw its full support into making it a hugely successful event.”

If Vero were to win the bid to host the Fed Cup, the USTA would construct a temporary stadium of no less than 4,000 seats on a practice field at the Vero Beach Sports Village.

Walker said he considers the amenities available at the 67-acre “old Dodgertown” complex a plus for attracting the event.

Fed Cup organizers could use the locker rooms, ticket booths, offices, restaurant and parts of the conference center. There is also plenty of parking and a community accustomed to hosting large crowds from when Vero used to have Dodgers spring training games.

“Once the USTA finds the location, they create the venue,” Walker said. “As long as you have the space and a flat surface, you can build a stadium anywhere.”

Holman Stadium itself was ruled out, Walker said, because Vero Beach Sports Village officials wanted to protect the grass on the field from damage as it has groups coming in for baseball and other sports shortly after the scheduled Fed Cup matches.

The economic impact from the event could be huge, Walker said, as fans travel from all over the world to watch the top women play in this championship, which is the female equivalent to the men’s Davis Cup.

The official bid packet documents show that, on average, people affiliated with the tournament – players, coaches, referees, organizers, officials and others – would take up between 400 and 750 hotel and motel rooms per night for up to a week.

Team play would take place over a weekend, with five practice days preceding the actual matchups.

One requirement of the bid to host the Fed Cup is to have two “premier” hotels involved for housing those playing in or working on the tournament.

“The challenge is that February is the height of season for the hotels,” Walker said.

The event will require lots of rooms to be blocked out for the week of the matches – and a commitment of 150 complimentary rooms and special rates for those connected with the tournament.

In exchange for the financial support, the sweat equity of those working to bring the tournament here and the accommodations of local hoteliers, Vero would get international publicity on television and in print.

The matches will be covered by the championship’s exclusive network, The Tennis Channel, which is available in more than 50 million homes via cable and satellite, plus coverage on networks outside the United States and highlights on various network and cable news programs.

In addition to local sponsorships which will offer signage and other forms of recognition and publicity to businesses, there will be opportunities for area residents and companies to buy tickets and box seats and to join a “friends” group with numerous perks such as hospitality events and access to the players.

Those who want to be very close to the excitement of the Fed Cup can volunteer to serve as ushers or in various other capacities.

Local residents with experience coordinating volunteers or working on large-scale events are also being sought to volunteer.

“We’re going to need as many people to help out as possible,” Walker said.

Anyone wishing to get involved with Vero’s bid to host the USTA Fed Cup should contact Randy Walker at rwalker@newchaptermedia.com or by phone at 917-770-0843.

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