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Integration and the US Open Series

Tennis is taking a page from league sports by integrating its tournaments into a series to increase interest. The benefits of integration is one of the major lessons of the evolution of sports in the 20th Century.

Baseball was first to adopt a cohesive league structure. Before leagues, baseball was, like most sports, a collection of mostly unrelated "performance events." In a performance event, such as figure skating, the enjoyment is confined to the appreciation of skill and beauty on display at the moment. Organized competition proved to add interest, and as football and basketball developed, they naturally adopted league structures as well. Popular sports in 1900 that were less able to integrate - boxing and horse racing, baseballs' companions in the "big 3" - declined as integrated competitions attracted more interest from sports fans.

Tennis is betting that linking a series of tournaments together will add more interest.

The intent of the series is to bring continuity to tennis fractured schedule by linking 10 tournaments in a six-week regular season that concludes on the eve of the U.S. Open.

Both a men's and women's series champion will be crowned, and the top three male and female finishers will see their prize money in the U.S. Open bumped from 25 percent (third-place finishers) to 100 percent (series champions).

For the 10 series tournaments, the benefits should be more far-reaching.

First is increased TV exposure. The U.S. Open Series will have a regular home on ESPN, which will air weekly coverage of the 10 tournaments. CBS and NBC will also provide live coverage on the weekends.

Other sports have tried similar things in recent years, notably Horse Racing and NASCAR. Both are essentially performance event sports, but the NASCAR experiment may prove me wrong. It is certainly the case that NASCAR benefits from the advantage that integration gives them over Indy Car racing.

The bottom line: Tennis' plan makes good sense to me. Thanks to Bob Tollison for the tip.