The Olympics may have drama and spectacle but the Legg Mason Tennis Classic here has Charlie Brotman, a 76-year-old sports announcer whose folksy (some say corny) style has helped create a multimillion-dollar marketing enterprise.
As a result, Andre Agassi and more than two dozen of the world's top male tennis players — those not playing for the gold in Athens — find themselves competing for attention amid the signs and sounds of commerce at the William Fitzgerald Tennis Center.
How does it work?
First, in modern tennis marketing, signage is everything.
The stadium court is awash in signs promoting every enterprise from a rock 'n roll radio station (DC101) to an international airline (U.S. Airways). Everywhere the eye moves, from slashing ground strokes and booming serves to backdrops and sidelines, corporate logos capture fans' attention.
But it is Brotman's presence at a microphone high above the court which carries commerce to a new level.
Messages From Our Sponsors
Seated beside a thick binder of scripts, the former announcer for the Washington Senators baseball team arms himself with a stack of commercial messages. Each runs 10 to 15 seconds.
Every two games, as the players sit for a brief rest while changing ends of the court, Brotman's voice fills the air.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE AWARD WINNING MERCEDES BENZ AUTOMOBILE…"
In the stands, fans chat about the match, pausing to hear the latest from Brotman:
"TYSON'S BAGELS, FOR MORE THAN TEN YEARS…"
Brotman keeps an eye on the chair umpire. As the official is about to call "time," signaling the players to return to their positions, Brotman winds up still another pitch:
"… SO, CALL GEICO AT 1-800-947…"
Then, as Andre Agassi or Lleyton Hewitt walks to the service line, Brotman ends his spiel:
Spectators chuckle or wince. Play resumes.
By evening's end, Brotman and the tournament's sponsors have blanketed the stadium crowd of perhaps 8,000 spectators with an estimated 100 commercial messages.
While most of the nation's professional tennis tournaments adorn courts with corporate logos, few carry the message directly to their spectators' ears.
The combination apparently pays off. While the Legg Mason does not release a gross receipts figure, in an ordinary year, Brotman said, the tournament's commercial sponsors pay at least $800,000 in fees, which are converted to prize monies (and presumably, profits). This year the prize money is $500,000, since the Olympics has drawn away many top competitors and caused the field to shrink from 56 to 32 players.
Brotman has been the voice of the tournament for 35 of its 36 years. He was brought in, he said, by Donald Dell, a former top player who is a co-owner of the event, which works with the Association of Tennis Professionals, or ATP, to stage the yearly competition.
Behind the scenes, Brotman runs his own public relations firm — but calls himself an "announcer" at heart.
Born and raised in Washington, Brotman moved to Florida after Navy service in World War II. He studied announcing at a school and began work at small venues in Florida before meeting Cal Griffith and accepting his call to return to Washington as the Senators' announcer.
Since returning to his hometown, Brotman has become a Washington fixture, announcing the presidential inaugural parade every four years since the Eisenhower administration, helping launch the yearly congressional baseball game, and serving on every committee formed to return major league baseball to the capital.
But most residents never hear his voice until mid-August, when he leans toward the microphone, reads a commercial, and ends it by saying: "Thank you!"