Always wanted to know what it takes to organize such a huge tournament.
Tennis players pampered at Key Biscayne tourney
The Sony Ericsson tennis tournament starts Wednesday with the best players in the world competing amid purple courts, purple flowers and even purple tickets.
They will need exquisite hotel rooms, Mercedes-Benzes at their disposal, tables at Joe's Stone Crab, tee times at Doral, off-site practice courts (preferably purple), haircuts, manicures, you name it. Welcome to the life of the Sony Ericsson Open organizers, the people who spend all year preparing for what they hope will be 12 magical days of professional tennis in Key Biscayne.
The bulk of the physical labor for the event, which begins Wednesday, comes during the final 45 days before the opening match. Under the watchful eye of Vice President of Facilities Cathy Stock, an army of workers erects 100,000 square feet of tenting and installs the necessary plumbing, electricity and phone lines. They plant 3,600 flowers and 1,800 tropical plants. They construct a makeshift Starbucks, Ben and Jerry's, a Heineken bar and the Collector's Club, a VIP members-only lounge/restaurant that offers everything from Amaretto Di Saranno to shrimp nic¸oise salad to grilled grass-fed beef tenderloin.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Stock and her staff transform the rather plain-looking municipal Tennis Center at Crandon Park into a colorful resort village replete with food, retail, and, oh yes, tennis.
The attention to detail hits you like an Andy Roddick serve from the moment you step onto the tournament grounds.
Purple flowers lead to purple courts. Purple tickets. Purple billboards. Purple programs. Purple carpets. Even the dress Jelena Jankovic is wearing for Wednesday night's player party on South Beach was custom-made in the ''bougainvillea purple'' from Sony Ericsson's official corporate palette.
During the tournament, the site becomes a 24-hour city. Show up at 2 a.m. and you'll find 50 security guards, a cleaning crew of 60 and food delivery trucks. The chefs arrive at 4 a.m. By 5 a.m., the place is buzzing.
The staff is so determined to make the facility look permanent that they don't use temporary tubing for plumbing. They use hard PVC. They don't lay wires and run duct tape or plastic over them. Everything is done underground.
None of this happens by accident. The vision comes from tournament founder and Chairman Butch Buchholz, and is carried out on a $21 million budget with a veteran executive board that includes tournament director Adam Barrett, VP Marketing/TV Wendy Elkin, VP Sponsor Services Dagney Potter, VP Sales Tom Annear and Stock, who is easy to spot because she always has a yellow legal pad in her hand and a walkie-talkie held up to her mouth.
And then there's Kim Hall, head of Player Services, who could rival the concierge at any five-star resort. When top-ranked Roger Federer showed up Tuesday afternoon for a practice session, it was her job to make sure he left happy.
''It really is a team effort, all of us working together with our 40 or 50 vendors to make it appear seamless,'' Stock said.
``The work never stops. We are already planning for '09. Each of us has a notebook and the back few pages are for '09. When we see something we could change, or think of an idea for next year, we jot it down.''
Elkin is the color person, the visual person, the one who envisions how the entrance tunnel will look, what color flowers to plant, what color umbrellas to put over the courtyard tables (aqua this year). She takes the Sony Ericsson palette and official typeface (American typewriter) and incorporates it into every aspect of tournament marketing.
Then it is up to Stock to implement the ideas, pull the permits, oversee construction and ensure safety. Stock is also in charge of moving the staff offices every February from their permanent Coral Gables location to the Key Biscayne site, where they spend five weeks.
When it's all over on April 6, after the final ball has been hit and the millionaire athletes move on to the next tour city, the tournament staff and vendors have exactly 30 days to vacate the facility and turn it back over to the county.
''I kind of look at it as a traveling circus,'' said Buchholz. ``It's crazy around here for the 45 days before it all starts, and little by little, you start to see the place come together.
``Each day another piece is in place, and when the curtain goes up, the guests have no idea what it took to get everything set up. We want it to look like magic, but we know the secret. A lot of hard work and good people.''