All right, failure fans, go ahead and chuckle about the blackout and chortle over those Ronald McDonald drinking glasses. Here's some disquieting news. We don't know how to break it to you—it is sort of like learning that some pip-squeak butt of barracks jokes is up for the Medal of Honor—but, well, World Team Tennis has actually survived. It might not be a rip-roaring success quite yet but it lives, breathes and is getting the ball over the net.
WTT they call it for short. Some also call it silly, with its Loves, Apples, Racquets, Strings and other inanimate nicknames. Traditionalists blanch at its patchwork courts of red, blue, green and chocolate brown and its one-two-three-four "no-ad" scoring. Then there is its habit of putting people like Frank Fuhrer, Jordan Kaiser and Larry King in the league president's chair. What is the WTT doing with a fuhrer, kaiser and king anyway?
WTT is in its fourth season and it has 10 teams. Eight of the original 16 franchises have survived; one team was added in 1975 and another this year. Overall attendance is up 13.5% so far this season, and based on past experience the rest of the season should be even better. The Golden Gaters ( Oakland) and Seattle- Portland are running 40% ahead of last year, New York and San Diego more than 20% and Boston. Cleveland and Los Angeles about 15%. Even allowing for some padding and papering here and a slice of bologna there, more seats are being filled in every WTT arena and revenues are up sharply. A couple of owners insist they are actually within shouting distance of a profit. Most important, the WTT has talent. Jimmy Connors. Guillermo Vilas and some other top players are outside the fold, but it does have Wimbledon champ Bjorn Borg ( Cleveland), Ilie Nastase ( Los Angeles) and Vitas Gerulaitis ( Indiana). And it boasts virtually all the better women, including Chris Evert ( Phoenix) and New York Apples teammates Billie Jean King and Virginia Wade.
Some franchises are almost lavishly run. Los Angeles Strings General Manager Bart Christensen, for instance, has a staff of 12 full-time front-office workers. Others seem to be seat-of-the-pants operations, notably the Cleveland Nets, owned by bearded radio mogul Joe Zingale, a one-time disc jockey known in his platter-spinning days as "Ol' Mr. Rhythm." A cousin of erstwhile Cleveland sports czar Nick Mileti, he also owns pieces of the baseball Indians and basketball Cavaliers.
Zingale pretty much goes his own way. He would dearly love to sign transsexual Renee Richards, but the WTT brass won't allow her to play until she passes a sex test. Zingale's is the only franchise without a Xerox Telecopier to use for intraleague communication and the only one without a publicity director. However, his is also the only franchise that has Borg. whose salary is not very seat-of-the-pants at all. Only Chris Evert commands more money than Borg, but the Swede will pass her next season if he chooses to return. As the Cleveland posters say, A NETS STAR IS BJORN.
"It took me four years to sign Bjorn Borg, and I mean that was working, baby, that was working," says Zingale. "I traveled all over the world. I traveled to Sweden, I traveled to London, I traveled all over the United States. Met with him each time and I'll tell ya somethin', I paid my dues during all that period. But Bjorn came to know me. Came to know me as someone he could trust. It got so that I knew Bjorn as well as his agents did."
Once Zingale finally signed Borg and his girl friend, Mariana Simionescu of Romania, he pampered them.
"Just before he left for Wimbledon I got him off to the side and I said, 'Bjorn. I know you don't need any more incentives to win Wimbledon, but I'm going to give you one anyway.' See, I had leased a Corvette for him for four months. He loves that car. You know, he just turned 21 years old. I said, 'Bjorn, if you win Wimbledon, I will buy you that car.'
"He said, 'Oh, Joe, you don't have to do that. You pay me enough money.'
"I said, 'I know I don't have to do it, but I want to do it. It's very important for you to win this second time. The first time, people will say it's a fluke. The second time is when they'll know there's no question about it.'