Washington Kastles Owner Mark Ein on Becoming Next Great Ambassador for Tennis
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None of the four major sports franchises in Washington have won a championship since the 1991 Redskins captured the Super Bowl; however, the Kastles of World Team Tennis (WTT) have been a saving grace for the District—all thanks to owner Mark Ein.
Ein has been an investor, entrepreneur and company-builder for 20 years, but has been wearing the hat of tennis team owner and ambassador for the past 1,825 days or so.
Aside from Washington's 22-year championship drought surrounding their four main sports [NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA], Ein has been the best sports owner in Washington the past five years.
He attributes his early success on and off the court to fellow owners Daniel Snyder of the Redskins, Ted Lerner of the Nationals and Ted Leonsis of the Capitals and Wizards.
"I've learned a lot from them [Snyder, Lerner and Leonsis]," Ein said. "When I founded the Kastles in 2008, I carefully studied what the best teams do, particularly paying close attention to our local ones."
"I think that a lot of D.C.'s teams are community oriented and fan-centric, and Ted [Leonsis] is a great friend and mentor and has been great at that.
"While I've learned a lot from Ted [Leonsis], each sport is different in their own way."
The tennis enthusiast and business-minded Ein has succeeded in orchestrating a dominant team for the Washington community to be proud of—winning the WTT Championship in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
The Kastles became the first team in the 38-year history of the WTT to go undefeated with a 16-0 record in 2011.
They would follow that performance by posting another unblemished 16-0 mark in 2012.
For all the non-sports history buffs, Ein's Kastles are sitting on 32 straight victories—one off the all-time record of 33 that the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold.
The Washington tennis team will look to tie that record on opening night, July 8.
They will, however, be without teammate and World No. 1 Serena Williams for the first season since the team was founded.
"She's going to stay in Europe after Wimbledon for a couple weeks," said Ein. "Especially if she wins Wimbledon, it would be very hard for her to come over for the beginning of our season."
Ultimately, she [Williams] just didn't want to commit to it and then not be able to follow through."
Serena or no Serena, the Kastles are still faced with making history.
Although he's thinking bigger picture than breaking the Lakers record, Ein embraces the magnitude of the opportunity that this team faces this season.
"It's obviously incredibly exciting for our team, fans and community that we're playing for something so historic."
Historic. Yes, but the current streak that Ein has coordinated is a by-product of how quickly he is rising as an ambassador for tennis.
His overall passion and mission is to make the sport popular and cool for present and future generations.
"My hope is that tennis just becomes a big part of the fabric of our community forever," said Ein.
"The focus of the Kastles is how to use the team to give back to the community. We do clinics for inner-city kids both in our stadium and in the neighborhood, we give out 1,000 free tennis rackets a year and we bring 1,000 kids to the matches for free each season.
"My hope is that these experiences influence and even change the lives of a bunch of these kids."
Ein's expectations aren't too far-fetched, as there is a great chance that his efforts could very well lead to the discovery of the next Venus or Serena Williams.
Back when they were kids in Long Beach, Calif., the Williams sisters attended a Billie Jean King WTT clinic and were hooked and inspired then and there.
So if clinics and promotions were going on decades ago and these endeavors continue to happen, why is tennis still not as popular as baseball, basketball, football and hockey?
"Think about this," Ein told me. "Each of the major sports have roughly 30 owners in different markets who are promoting the sport around the calendar year because they own a team in a major market."
"Tennis just has a lot less of that, and that's why it's important for more entrepreneurial people who are successful in other businesses to get involved."
"We need to continue to find a way to make tennis the sport of choice for our best athletes."
Ein also realizes that many young kids can be, or are, influenced by the money that professional athletes make in major sports, and, subsequently, is a big proponent for tennis players getting better compensation.
"There's not quite the same economic reward and notoriety in tennis that there is in our other main sports."
For the short-term, Ein's goal is for the Kastles to win their first two matches of the 2013 WTT season and surpass the 1971-72 Lakers for most consecutive wins.
After speaking with the high school tennis player-turned entrepreneur-turned professional sports team owner, Ein's true mission is to carry out the message that WTT creator King has been making for the past 38 years.
Make tennis the sport of choice.
Yes, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the most impressive athletes tennis has ever seen, but what if LeBron James, Bo Jackson, Michael Phelps and Muhammad Ali had been inspired to play tennis when they were young?
The landscape of tennis would be completely different today. Dare I even say cool?
Hopefully the efforts of Ein and others leads to a time when our country's most gifted athletes are inspired to pick up a racket instead of shooting hoops, throwing a touchdown, hitting a home run or smacking a slap shot.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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