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March 2, 2009

Kurt Kamperman

Billie Jean King

PETE HOLTERMANN: We are now joined by Kurt Kamperman and Billie Jean King.
Kurt, go ahead with Tennis Night in America.
KURT KAMPERMAN: First of all, I wanted to say that the USTA is extremely proud to be involved with this event, having PNP Paribas, the world's greatest tennis sponsor, HBO, long, rich history in tennis, and Madison Square Garden where I guess 40 years ago or so in the old Garden, Bobby Riggs played Jack Kramer.
KURT KAMPERMAN: 61 years ago. They played a match in the old Garden, snowstorm similar to this, sellout crowd. Who knows. A lot of people will be coming in to get warm tonight. We have a great crowd on hand.
But the USTA, working with this team, has put together Tennis Night in America that incorporates 750 facilities across the country, all 50 states, all 17 of our sections. Public parks, schools and clubs, even a Wal-Mart and some pizza restaurants are hosting viewing parties and youth registration nights.
We're going to use this event to really help more kids get engaged in tennis.
PETE HOLTERMANN: We'll take questions for Kurt and Billie Jean.

Q. Mr. Kamperman, the initiative, remind us why we would even need this? Reeducate us all. What's happening in the world of tennis that brought this about on a grass-roots level going up?
KURT KAMPERMAN: First of all, tennis is the fastest-growing traditional sport in the U.S. We have almost 27 million players. Our frequent player base is approaching six million. Great growth the last five years.
But we're always looking at more platforms to expose the game to youth. You know, our biggest competitor is passive activities. We know about childhood obesity, we know about all the things that are taking up kids' time. To be able to have a platform in March, which traditionally isn't a tennis space, but a lot of the counties start getting into their park and rec summer programs, this is when the sign-up is. This allows us to reach out to parents and kids to make sure that when they're thinking about those after-school activities, what they're going to do in the summer, we can get them signed up for tennis programs.
BILLIE JEAN KING: There's been a lot of changes at the USTA at the grassroots level. We are having a lot of initiatives thanks to Kurt and his team. They're just really trying to cooperate with all the different tennis entities, really trying to grow the sport.
But racquet sales are up. Ball sales are up. Junior racquets are way up. How much, over 50%?
KURT KAMPERMAN: Actually over 80% in the last five years. Not many sports have a trend like that.
BILLIE JEAN KING: That's great. So we're thrilled. Tennis is one of the best sports to keep your health. They've done tons of research. Tennis actually comes out No. 1, that Johns Hopkins did, for physical and emotional health. I can vouch for that. When I play tennis, I feel really good. When I don't, I'm much more grumpy.

Q. Billie Jean, could you talk about the importance at a grassroots level to have a sponsor like BNP Paribas involved, what they bring to the table.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Any time you have BNP Paribas involved, not only are they doing tonight's showdown, but they also do Davis Cup, Fed Cup. Because we're an international sport, we tend to play quite a few matches in big markets, sometimes not. But it's just a great relationship to have the sponsorship because if you don't have sponsors, things don't happen. Without sponsorship, we would not have the BNP Paribas Showdown tonight. It makes a difference in many people's lives. It's also a way to give back to the community and get your employees and your people that work with you excited. It gives them something extra that's basically priceless. They belong to something that's successful. It helps them go back to work, be motivated, especially during these tough times economically right now.
So I think it's very important from so many different aspects. But we can't make it without sponsorship. I mean, I've lived it. Without sponsors, they're really the backbone.

Q. One of the interesting stories it seems that tennis has that a lot of industries don't have right now is that it is a growing industry. Kurt, I know you have recreational tennis leaders in the communities. I know there's a lot of tennis clubs that are hiring. Tennis is actually a growth industry. Can you address that a little bit.
KURT KAMPERMAN: Actually, it's a great opportunity for tennis. A lot of the people that love tennis are actually coming into tennis as a vocation. I don't want to say we're going to have a glut of ex Wall Streeters coming in in the next year, but we've had our fair share of people that have come from other industries, taking early retirement, got into a sport they love. There's certainly worse things to do than work in an area that you're really passionate about.
BILLIE JEAN KING: All the different clubs are packed. I don't know if most of you realize, but 70% of tennis is played in public parks. I'm a public park kid. So is Kurt. So we understand that aspect of it, too. Without the public park system in Long Beach, California, for instance, I wouldn't be sitting here with you today, the things that made it possible for me family to keep me in tennis, otherwise I wouldn't have been in tennis.
Tennis, compared to a lot of sports, is not as expensive as people keep trying to think of us as. They need to know it's not as expensive, say -- I don't like to bring up other sports. I don't like to ever put down any other sport in any way. But it's relatively inexpensive in a lot of ways compared to a lot of different sports. I just know what it's done for my life because it's been so international, allowed me to go see the world.
I'll never forget telling my principal in high school, you know, they didn't really care about tennis, what I was doing in those days. They never let me miss school for tennis. The next generation got to miss school. Chris Evert, that generation got to, but I didn't. My generation didn't. Nobody cared what we did. I kept trying to explain to my principal what tennis was going to do for my life. He was much more interested with the basketball and football team.
It was interesting when you go through that as a young person, then you see how our sport has grown, also being a part of it, it's a phenomenal thing.
To see these four great athletes tonight, you've got the best players you could have just about for the showdown. They all have their own personality, which I think is very important. They have a sense of what Madison Square Garden means, the tradition. They're very excited. I guess Venus played here in '99, she said. She must have been a baby. The others have never played here. So for them they're very excited.
You've got four very different personalities playing, which I always think adds so much to the showdown. I think you're going to see them really respond to the crowd and be at the Garden. When you walk out in the Garden for the first time, it's pretty impressive, especially if you know any of the history. Everyone has been telling them the history, so they'll know when they walk out tonight how much tradition is here, not only our sport, entertainment, other sports, circus, whatever. They've had everything here.
It's amazing, the tradition. Of course, I've been reading about even the old Madison Square Garden. To me, that's part of it. The tradition carries on. Also it's wonderful to have tennis in the Garden. We want to have more tennis in the Garden, if we can, to have our sport showcased at the Garden.

Q. What do you want people to bring home tonight besides seeing good tennis, as far as becoming more active, or anything? What do you want people to take when they leave?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Each person is going to take whatever their own truth is back home. I can't really make that judgment.
But I think everyone will get something very positive out of it. One thing also, as a player, it's very important to watch the best. When you watch the best, when you play tennis yourself at whatever level, it will help you play better. That I know. The more I watch it, and if I haven't played for a few days, whatever, even a month, I go back out and I go, Why am I hitting like this? When I don't watch them a lot, I don't play as well. I don't think people realize that, that osmosis that happens when you watch.
Also I think it's the appreciation of these great athletes. Also I hope somebody goes home and thinks about being in our sport in some way. It can be in PR, administration, grassroots, working at a facility. Maybe some young child will want to be a great champion. It doesn't matter. Whatever each person gets out of it. I think everyone is going to come away with a good, warm, fuzzy feeling, being more connected to our sport. Maybe they'll go out and play more.
I think the health issue is absolutely of paramount importance to this nation of ours. We've got to get healthier.
KURT KAMPERMAN: The other thing, the people watching in the Garden and also the millions watching on HBO, they're going to realize this is a sport for them, as well. That's the real beauty of tennis. Unlike a lot of televised sports, the biggest televised sports, you don't go out on a weekend and jump into a football or basketball or soccer game. Where tennis is something you can do. The gender equity in tennis from a participation in tennis is incredible. The other thing that is really unusual about tennis is that it truly builds character. You have to have a strong character. When you look at these four strong women up here and you think about the Federers and Nadals, we've got role models like nobody's business in tennis. We think that some of those kids watching the broadcast or those that are lucky to be here live will aspire to play Madison Square Garden themselves.

Q. For Ana Ivanovic, the Garden is a long way from practicing in an empty swimming pool in Serbia. Do you think she appreciates it more than some of the other players?
BILLIE JEAN KING: I think all the Serbian players, including Ana obviously, have a deep appreciation what tennis is doing for them. If I listen to them, they know how fortunate they are.
I think Ana, they just got their first big, really nice home. I think they have a deep appreciation. I think that's one of our challenges in America, is that we have so much access to so much, that it makes it more difficult for young people to stay focused.
There's a lot of delayed gratification in sports. We have a saying that you've got to play at least 10 years, hit a lot of balls, if you're going to be a champion. Most kids can't even wait 10 seconds for things. 10 seconds is a long time if you're on a computer.
It's going to be harder and harder. But I think to Kurt's point, you really don't know about your character until it's revealed, but you certainly hope it's character building. But tennis reveals your character when you're on the court, in a tough match. It carries over into real life. Every single day of my life I use something that I learned in tennis in my everyday life, every single day in my life. I go right back to the tennis court in my head and use it in the present.

Q. I just finished reading your book, Billie Jean. Would tonight be considered an event where you would be under pressure, and if so what is that source?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Anytime I have to speak I'm under pressure. If you read my book, you'll see when I was in fourth grade how I couldn't get up and give an oral book report. If you know that story about me, you know about how difficult it is, but also how tennis has allowed me how to get up and speak if I have to.
So I thank tennis for that, as well.

Q. I interviewed Joanne Russell.
BILLIE JEAN KING: We were teammates on the New York Apples. We played here at the Garden actually. '77, '78.

Q. Since then I've been given information from the WTA stating that women tennis players who retired before 1991 receive no pension benefits from the WTA, while men who played 12 tournaments back to 1973 receive pull pension benefits. In addition, I also received a statement from the Women's Tennis Benefits Association stating, the WTA Tour's player pension plan is funded by the current players of their own prize money. The WTA Tour doesn't contribute to the plan like the ATP Tour does. My question is, how do you feel about the fact that female tennis players from your generation and younger do not receive equal pension benefits from the WTA compared to the men in the ATP? Do you have another fight left in you?
BILLIE JEAN KING: We've been talking to the WTA for quite some time about this. I can't remember what their answer was. There was a good answer. A better one than I thought they would give me.
I really do think you should go back to 1973 when we started the WTA, because it was really our generation that started everything. I'm fine. I've done really well. But I must say some of the other players are still working to make a living, and they're getting older. I think just the thought of getting a little check, no matter how small it is, would mean a lot.
They know that that's what we want. I've been saying it for many, many years. Probably since the early '90s. So I don't know. They'd have to rearrange things. When we started the WTA, we gave 10% of our money to make it work. That's how we did it. We all gave 10% of our prize money. It's not like we didn't put money back in from ourselves from day one.

Q. Miss King, you spoke about your childhood. You spoke about overcoming the ability to be able to speak publicly. I can't help but mention, especially about the initiative, it starts with kids. Your report card is in the Sports Museum of America, a letter from a teacher. Can you tell us about that?
BILLIE JEAN KING: She gave me a bad time for being really good. Girls used to get really bad messages. They made you sit down if you scored too much in basketball or whatever.
Does everybody know about the two charities? I think that's important, too. We have two charities. We have the Women's Sports Foundation, which I have to have disclosure here, I founded in '74. Also we have the Dream Vaccine Foundation, as well. What's so great about tonight is you have two charities, you have grass-roots, then you have these wonderful professional players at Madison Square Garden. You've got a wonderful sponsor with BNP Paribas.
We're very fortunate. The cooperative effort tonight is what makes me happiest, to be honest with you, okay? From the sponsor all the way down through the grassroots, the two charities.
From the Women's Sports Foundation point of view, which I can speak to, we are thrilled because it shows women at their best. It also hopefully encourages young girls to exercise or be fit, which we think is huge. Girls drop out of sports twice as fast as boys, and exercise, from the age 8 to 18. So it's very important to send positive messages to our girls. Also girls, by the time they're 17, get 250,000 commercial messages to tell them what they need to look like. So there's huge pressure on body image for girls.
So I think anytime we can see strong, independent women on the court, really fit, is really sending a strong message to females and to males. So I'm just really thrilled that fathers and mother, grandmothers and grandfathers, will be here with their children. We'll have a lot of generations sitting in the stands. I think that's fantastic.
PETE HOLTERMANN: I want to thank both of you for your time today and thank all of you for coming out.

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