Laguna Beach’s Eric Davidson named World TeamTennis league owner, chairman
LAGUNA BEACH — Eric Davidson has long loved the mental and physical challenges of tennis.
As a 12-year-old growing up in Laguna Beach, he played football, baseball and volleyball. His father, Gary Davidson, was an avid tennis player.
“He told me he’d support me in any sport,” Eric Davidson recalled last week. “But, he said that one sport we can play together the rest of our lives is tennis. That resonated with me. For me, that was the hook.”
Davidson and his father played tennis together most of their lives.
And more recently, Eric Davidson is following in his father’s footsteps in another way.
On Tuesday, Feb. 26, the younger Davidson was named the new chairman of the board of World TeamTennis, while acquiring an ownership share in the professional league.
He now shares majority partnership with Fred Luddy, owner of the San Diego Aviators. Billie Jean King, who co-founded the league, has a minority share, Davidson said.
Davidson, who owns the OC Breakers — one of six franchise teams in the WTT — said the transition to ownership was natural.
His father was a co-founder of the American Basketball Association in 1967; a co-founder and first president of the World Hockey Association in 1971; and the president, commissioner and co-founder of the World Football League in 1973.
Additionally, his son said, Gary Davidson played a role in helping Billie Jean King establish World TeamTennis prior to its inaugural season in 1974.
“It is satisfying to follow in my father’s footsteps as an entrepreneur in the sports world,” Eric Davidson said. “The opportunity to take a larger role in the tennis league came by being in the right place at the right time. I didn’t sit down and think, ‘I want to be involved in tennis.’ I was passionately involved as a fan and player. But, getting into ownership wasn’t on my horizon.”
About a year ago, Davidson said he was approached by Rick Leach, then the coach of the OC Breakers. Davidson said it was Leach’s insistence that he buy the team that got him into franchise ownership.
“It seemed like it was the right thing to do because of my passion for tennis and my father’s involvement,” he said.
Once Davidson took over ownership of the OC Breakers, moving deeper into the league seemed to be a logical progression.
“As owner of the Orange County Breakers, and now as one of the major owners of the league, Eric brings another strong voice to the leadership of World TeamTennis,” King said in a statement. “His family roots go back to the very beginning of WTT and Eric truly believes in and supports the league. I am looking forward to working with him in his new role as chairman and with the entire WTT board as we move the league forward.”
The WTT, which is made up of professional tennis players — marquee and roster players ranked among the top 150 in the world — is unique in its approach to tennis play with an innovative team format that includes men and women.
Since the league’s debut, virtually every major champion of the Open era has played WTT, including Andre Agassi, Venus and Serena Williams, Pete Sampras, Stefanie Graf, Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, Bob and Mike Bryan, Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert
Typical teams have from six to eight players. Roster players compete for the whole season while marquee players might just play a few matches.
“When Billie founded it, it was groundbreaking to have men and women on the same team,” Davidson said. “The team format is fun and exciting. It’s a lot more intimate and approachable for average spectators than the Grand Slams where you watch a three-hour singles match.”
The league’s six franchises are based in Newport Beach, San Diego, Springfield, Mo., Washington, D.C., Philidelphia and New York. King owns The Freedoms in Philadelphia along with Mark Walter, chairman and controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who has a minority interest in the tennis team.
Davidson said he wants to expand the league, with plans to announce two new teams in the coming week. By 2020, he said, he’d like to add two more. In the heyday of World TeamTennis, the league had 18 teams.
“In the last 10 years, (tennis) been trending positively,” Davidson said. “Equipment sales and attendance at events are up. We’ll have more players, more fans and more product to get out. We’ll also get more sponsors and that will help us to get better players.”