ON THE BALL: True game changer
LAST WEEK, I covered a couple nights of the AOne Supermarkets Lance Bynoe Veterans Road Tennis competition and simply marvelled (no pun intended) at the tournament set-up.
I mean who wouldn’t have?
After all, they had a video board of the head-to-head matchup displaying the players’ stats of that ongoing match.
There was an indoor practice court and nightly printed fixtures being handed out at the door.
Even the players received CDs of each of their matches.
About thing only thing I couldn’t find those nights was Dale Clarke, only to hear that the tournament wasn’t being run by the Professional Road Tennis Association (PRTA).
And then it struck me.
Dale Clarke was really one of the biggest snubs of the National Sports Awards because he has truly revolutionised road tennis.
I don’t want to come over as his public relations officer, because I still don’t see eye-to-eye with the PRTA boss over officiating issues like the role of the chair umpire.
Furthermore, you can put me squarely in Antonio “Lil Man” Daniel’s corner in his dispute over the PRTA refusing to pay the top players appearance fees.
You can argue Daniel’s case though, but you can’t debate Clarke’s impact.
The mere fact that I mistook the veterans’ tournament for a PRTA competition is proof of how much Clarke has changed the game because now every organiser uses his model as the standard for competition.
It was customary for players to put on their own clothes and wear just about anything for the big tournaments, but now it’s simply unheard of for even officials not to be fully uniformed.
Not only are the players and officials outfitted in sponsor-branded gear but the competitors all have either their last names or nicknames on the back of the shirts.
The spectacle has reached a point where players like Aaron Barker buy shoes and sweatbands specifically to match their attractive clothing.
And the visible branding doesn’t end with the gear either, as every competition ensures the nets, courts and balls are all painted or dyed to match the colours of the title sponsors.
Just look at the state-run Silver Hill and Inter-Parish tournaments if you doubt me.
But the concept of tournament-wide branded isn’t just for the purpose of broadened visibility at the venue or in media.
Nope, it’s to provide the avenue for making money via televised broadcasts.
Oh, so you thought that televising road tennis started with the inter-parish tournament?
Well, think again.
Clarke has gone as far as partnering with CMC to broadcast some of those PRTA competitions across the Caribbean while the entire 2016 Monarchs Of The Court tournament could have been seen on Facebook Live.
So the change in the appearance of the court, net and moreso, the ball, was to accommodate a TV audience that had problems picking up the dull colours.
Even the widely-accepted rankings (the only ones in the country) are all Clarke’s doing, as the governing Barbados Road Tennis Association doesn’t put on enough tournaments to formulate a seeding system.
How do you think the World Road Tennis Federation ranked the competitors for that farce of a World Championships?
Whether they want to admit it or not, every organiser has to unofficially use the PRTA rankings to seed the big boys for major competitions.
And we haven’t even touched the biggest and most obvious point.
There’s big money in the sport now and we all know that’s due to Clarke being able to attract sponsors with the promise of delivering on their endorsements.
It was estimated that Mark “Venom” Griffith was able to make $47 000 in prize money between 2014 and 2015 and now he’s driving a brand new$60 000 Hyundai because of road tennis as well.
That has nothing to do with the amount of cash Julian “Michael Jackson” White and Antonio “Lil Man” Daniel have managed to pocket too.
As a result, every tournament has upped the ante in terms of payouts, with each subsequent organiser just looking for that next big title sponsor in hopes of one-upping Clarke.
If you aren’t paying, then you aren’t competing.
But don’t take my word for it, simply go to any major road tennis tournament, PRTA or otherwise, and look for yourself.
You’ll certainly see Dale Clarke’s impact, whether you see him or not.