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Monday, December 17, 2007
Dumbest move of the year

This year's award for Dumbest Idea by a Major Sports Organization goes to the ATP Tour for its plans to dismantle the tournament tier structure that gave us, among other things, the entity known as the Master Series.

Starting in 2009, the ATP proposes to have three grades of tournaments, which will be known by the staggeringly sexy names: 1000s, 500s or 250s. In other words, Cincinnati will no longer be known as part of the Masters Series, or as an ATP Masters event. It will be a 1000 Tournament (as opposed to a smaller 500, or smallest 250 events).

This is so crazy that it must have been thought up by a committee of college professors. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if the ATP rethinks the decision, backs off, and comes up with something a little better. General sports fans have always had a hard enough time figuring out how tennis works, and what tournaments are important and why. This is supposed to make that clear to them, but it assumes that those fans will know, going in, the difference between the three grades and what it signifies.

For the record, a "1000" tournament will be so called because it will offer 1,000 computer ranking points to the winner (that will be the maximum for a tour event). The idea of building the importance of the event into the name of the event (The Cincinnati 1000) is fine, but didn't the Masters Series already do that?

Granted, the "Masters" concept was shamelessly borrowed from golf, in an attempt to capture some of the mojo of that sport's eponymous premier event. But, hey, golf didn't exactly invent the name or concept, either. The Masters name in tennis worked very nicely for indicating that the events so designated were a cut above the others, in prestige, prize-money and ranking points on offer. If people know that the descending order of importance in tennis is Grand Slams, Masters Series events, and then everything else, I'd call it good enough.

Dropping the "Masters" designation for tournaments and adopting a numerical designation is also a huge buzz-kill. Imagine overhearing this comment when you drop by your local channel some time in early 2009: "Hey, Mike, did you hear that Federer won his third 1000 of the year -- or was that tournament in Basle a 500?" Sheesh! Starting in 2009 on the men's tour, the desire to keep track of who is winning what, and what that means will require the use of an abacus. Sexy? Not!

But the worst thing about this proposed change is that in one fell swoop it destroys years of credibility built by the Masters Series and its events (in its original incarnation, the Masters Series was The Super Nine). When you think of how much time, effort and money people spend on "branding" and related attempts to get on -- and stay on -- the public's radar, a move like this seems, above all else, wasteful to the point of frivolity.

I understand that ATP CEO Etienne DeVilliers had a mandate for change, and that this move is meant to make the game more user-friendly and understandable. I still think this move is a huge mistake -- and a terrible waste.