Monday, March 31, 2014
The courts are laid, the cameras are rolling and Daniel Island is buzzing full of tennis fans this week for the 42nd installment of the Family Circle Cup.
Since moving from Hilton Head to the Family Circle Tennis Center on Daniel Island in 2001, the event has grown into the premier tournament in women's professional tennis. This year the tournament will see its largest broadcast exposure ever with the expansion of ESPN's coverage.
What once was an eight-match broadcast has expanded to a 70-match week-long production broadcast live worldwide on the ESPN networks and WatchESPN websites. In the past, ESPN crews arrived on Wednesday and broadcast through Sunday. This year, ESPN will broadcast the entire tournament from Saturday of last week to Sunday of this week. Crews used to stay fixed on the stadium court, but now they broadcast the club court as well.
“Year one, we were trying to get the Family Circle Tennis Center off the ground,” tournament director Bob Moran said. “Today, we have a bigger footprint, more courts, more matches. The TV footprint with ESPN has grown dramatically and it only makes sense with the direction we're headed and where they're going with tennis coverage.”
This year's field features players from 26 countries, while the American presence is as high as it has been since 2001. The main draw features 11 players from the United States, including world No.1 Serena Williams and No.16 Sloane Stephens. Also in the draw this year are Daniel Island natives Shelby Rogers and Melanie Oudin.
“It's truly an international event. Consumption across the globe is much higher which is why ESPN bumped up the international coverage,” Moran said. “But there is a lot of excitement surrounding the younger Americans coming up. The crowd gets behind them. You can feel the energy in here when we have a young American playing well.”
Planning the Family Circle Cup is a 12-month process that begins just a week after the previous year's tournament ends. As the interest and exposure grow, the event itself evolves from the inside out to maintain the high level of fan experience. Suites have been added to the stadium, along with bars in the upper levels. Even more tents line the surrounding lawns with food, drinks and live music. For operations director Jeff Church, the idea is to try to turn the entire event into one experience centered around the tournament.
“Everything has grown bigger and better over the years,” Church said. “We want fans to enjoy to come in and enjoy themselves, enjoy the tennis and take in all the comforts while having a sense of family atmosphere.”
Church says one of the most important parts of the event's success behind the scenes is the experience of the Family Circle Cup team, along with the partnerships with the vendors. Church and Moran have been with the Family Circle Cup since it came to Daniel Island. Even Church's assistant, Brian Richard, has been involved for the past 10 years. By now, the logistics of the event run like clockwork from top to bottom, making such a large, international event possible on Daniel Island.
“There is a lot that goes into it, but when you see the looks on the faces when they're enjoying themselves, it makes our team and staff feel a lot better about it all,” Church said. “Knowing someone is coming through the gate, looking around and thinking this is really neat makes it all worth it.”
Frankie Mansfield, the sports reporter for the Moultrie News can be seen all around the state following teams to meets, games, and matches. For score updates, breaking sports news, and more follow @fjmansfield on Twitter and like Moultrie News Sports on Facebook.