The Oregon MBA Heads to Indian Wells and the BNP Paribas Open

I very recently attended the 2014 BNP Paribas Open at the iconic Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. Along with two other Warsaw Sports Marketing Center students, I was selected to write a business case study on the tournament’s history and in particular its impressive turnaround in the early 2000s. We had a very busy few days on the ground, but still found time to enjoy the sun and some world-class tennis.

Heading to California

Lena Macomson, Andrew Green, and I flew down to sunny and warm Palm Springs from overcast and kind-of-warm Eugene, arriving at night after an unsurprising delay at the San Francisco airport.

We immediately drove out to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to meet with George Mackin, who served as our point-of-contact and fearless leader during our time there. In addition to achieving tremendous successes in the publishing industry, George was a major part of the ownership team at Indian Wells that saved the tournament from moving overseas and eventually sold it to its current owner, Oracle’s Larry Ellison. Before heading down, George had told us that the saving of the tournament was the best story in tennis that had yet to be told. And after a few days of interviews and experiencing a world-class event, he could not have been more right.

In addition to sharing a tournament suite with former tennis great Rod Laver, we were able to watch the likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Li Na compete. Did I forget to say that this was a school project? After watching Djokovic take care of business on night one, we headed back to our hotel to do some research in advance of our interviews the next day.

Djokovic with the night one victory.

Djokovic with the night one victory.

The Unofficial Fifth Major

Some quick hits for those unfamiliar with the tournament:

  • Over 430,000 people attended this year, making it the third most attended tennis tournament on the planet
  • The field is unrivaled in the sport – the best players from the ATP (men) and WTA (women) compete each year
  • The tournament generates a tremendous amount of positive economic impact for the city of Indian Wells within its two weeks
  • The Tennis Garden was constructed back in 2000 after the tournament moved there from the Hyatt Grand Champions nearby

In addition to the incredible quality of tennis, the gardens offer an unrivalled sporting experience. A second stadium was completed this year, and it seats approximately 8,000 people. This new stadium also has three world-class restaurants that overlook the court, including famous Los Angeles restaurant Nobu. There are countless practice courts where the first few days of matches are played (and players practice otherwise, obviously).

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

There are numerous food spots, from hot dogs and burgers to the aforementioned high-end cuisine. The second stadium was also designed with concerts and other attractions in mind as the Garden looks to create new revenue streams during the other 50 weeks of the year.

While we were able to watch some amazing tennis while at Indian Wells, we were down there to work. We interviewed a lot of people over the three days we spent on the grounds – talking to everybody and anybody within the organization, including the COO & Tournament Director (Steve Simon), the CEO (Raymond Moore), the head of media and PR (Matt Van Tuinen), as well as the leaders of pretty much every other department. A particularly interesting and informative interview was with their Director of Business Development Rolf Hoehn, who works with global brands like BNP Paribas, Rolex, Emirates, Fila, and Oracle.

The tournament’s success is due in large part to its people. Most of the executives and leaders have been there for upwards of 20 years. This longevity has allowed a culture that is focused on providing unparalleled experiences to permeate through all facets of operations and to all stakeholders. We read about “culturally driven organizations” in school, and it was a great to actually experience one in the real world.

The amount of information we absorbed in two days was probably enough to fill an entire 10-week class. We learned about negotiations, sponsorship deals, technology and infrastructure, and leadership, among other topics. We were also able to speak with the other founder of the tournament, Charlie Pasarell. On the second night of the tournament, Pasarell was presented with an International Tennis Hall of Fame ring for his work in the sport. It was his vision to create the most prolific tennis tournament on the planet that has guided the BNP Paribas Open through the last 30+ years.

Warsaw MBAs hard at work.

Warsaw MBAs hard at work.

As a former tennis player, Charlie never wavered from his belief that the players must be taken care of above all else, even in really lean and turbulent years. The tournament is the favorite stop on the tour for most of the players, and it is easy to see why. The best competition in the world, an unbeatable facility, great weather, and incredible hospitality.

We also had George’s son, Lucas, with us. Lucas was documenting us documenting the tournament – a case study within a case study, if you will. He was our creative guy and he did a fantastic job capturing the experience with picture and video.

Wrapping Up

We now have about six hours of interview content to transcribe and piece together to help tell this amazing story through a teachable case study. Personally, I learned an incredible amount in the short time we were there, particularly about sponsorship and business relationship development at a very high level. It was a great feeling to walk around the tennis concourse and hear multiple “Go Ducks” from other tournament attendees.

I’ll leave it to Andrew Green to offer up his thoughts on the tournament and experience:

Some of my favorite moments included watching Roger Federer’s quarterfinal defeat of Kevin Anderson, touring the facilities and broadcast production trucks, and conducting interviews in the same room as tennis icons Billie Jean King, Bud Collins, and Rod Laver. I also enjoyed having George Mackin’s son, Lucas, with us as he authored a project on conducting case studies. Having him with us was a reminder of the importance of giving access and time to create opportunities for other – just as George and the people at the BNP Paribas Open have done for us.

From left to right - George's son Lucas, myself, Andrew, and Lena. Go Ducks!

From left to right – George’s son Lucas, myself, Andrew, and Lena. Go Ducks!

 

Written by Jeff Angus

Jeff is a 2015 MBA Candidate at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. He was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada and obtained a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of Victoria (BC) in 2009.He frequently shares his thoughts on Twitter @anguscertified and is passionate about writing, storytelling, fitness, health, and everything and anything sports-related.