July 1, 2011
As Tim Curry approaches his 15th year at the United States Tennis Association (UTSA), he reflects on the many changes he’s seen. Working for the association has allowed him “a unique opportunity for growth and personal and professional development,” he says from its headquarters in White Plains, N.Y.
Curry first honed his skills while studying at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he worked in the sports information sector of the women’s athletic department. At the time, UT was one of the only schools with separate administrations for men’s and women’s athletics.
He currently serves as the director of corporate communications for the USTA, which is responsible for promoting and developing the growth of tennis in America and staging the U.S. Open in Queens, New York — one of the oldest tennis championships in the world.
“I’ve been here most of my professional career and I met my wife through my job, and we’ve gotten to see the world from traveling to the events,” says Curry. “I get to see and experience so much because of my work in tennis — our game works at so many different levels, and it’s fun to be part of.” — Amy Jacques
Were you always a tennis fan growing up?
Yes. When I was a kid, it was the heyday of the McEnroe/Connors/Borg era, so I remember my family playing tennis on summer vacations and always talking about what was happening at the French Open, what was happening at Wimbledon. These were some of my indelible summer memories, despite not ever being anything more than a recreational player.
Were you always interested in sports communications and public relations?
When I was in high school, I wrote for my local paper. I grew up in Woodhaven, N.Y., but we moved to Tennessee when I was 11. We lived 15 minutes outside of a town of 7,000, but they had a bi-weekly newspaper that I was able to start writing for while I was in high school. So I was able to cut my teeth on journalism and communications at a young age.
And it was always to cover sports. My freshman year in high school, when the volleyball team made it to the State tournament, the only coverage they got was that they were undefeated and lost in the finals. So the one story was, “Volleyball Team Loses.” And I was like, “This isn’t fair.” So I started sending stuff in, and they made me the sports department — so to speak — for a paper so small.
You’ve been with the USTA since 1997. What was your first job there?
I worked in player development in Key Biscayne, Fla. for a year and a half. I was coordinator of player services, so it was more of an administrative job — doing grants, setting up camps. But I left to work with the American Basketball League, a women’s professional league, which started right before the WNBA and then went bankrupt the season I was there.
[I came back to the USTA] in a coordinator-level type job, where I was implementing other people’s plans and working on a variety of things from USTA player development to league tennis. And everybody also has U.S. Open assignments.
What’s your day-to-day role as director of corporate communications?
It ranges from following results at the French Open or dealing with Venus and Serena [Williams] not playing said Cup, or tracking their injuries to check on their status, to coming up with ways to promote our 10-and-under initiative to make tennis more easy for kids to learn and to develop an infrastructure to deliver that program. We’re staging events from tickets on sale for the U.S. Open, casting calls for our kid singers, anthem singers, to ball person tryouts.
We also have a recreational tennis league here and anything can come up with a company of our size. And the politics of navigating a campaign like the 10-and-under initiative can be as challenging as any political or branding or corporate policy.
What are the challenges of working at an international level?
We hire a diverse group of support staff for the two weeks of the Open, where we have people come from countries around the world — Spain, Germany — people who speak a variety of languages.
It’s universal issues, as far as what the media’s expecting. The International Tennis Federation has a media commission that meets at each Slam to give recommendations on areas of improvement. In that regard, there’s a good channel of communications between the media and us, so we know what the expectations are.
What challenges do you face at the community and professional levels?
On the professional side, it’s what anybody else is dealing with. It’s fighting for space in traditional media and coming up with the best solution in social and digital channels. Space is a premium. Newspapers have less money to send reporters to cover events. And getting information in people’s hands and keeping the interest high are paramount on the professional side.
On the community side, it’s more of the legwork of getting the message out there. It’s just spreading the word. It’s kind of being the Pied Piper of that, and coming up with a strategy that can be efficient with somewhat limited resources — trying to deliver that message to a country of this size.
What social media platforms has the USTA been using and how successful have they been?
We have a presence in the standard outlets: Twitter, Facebook and a YouTube channel. I’m the co-chair of the social media task force here at the USTA so we have both aspects of social media covered: the how-to and the why-to.
We definitely wouldn’t claim to have the riddle solved, but I don’t think anybody does, to a T. But we realize social is like just everything else. We can use the platform that the U.S. Open provides us to spread the message and information about our community initiatives.
And what we’ve seen is that there are more followers, more Likes and there is more interest right now in our social properties for the Open than for the National USTA. We have 17 sections across the country, and they have their success ranges as well. But the primary interest is in the Open, and that makes us different than most national governing bodies.
How has the association been able to stay true to its mission statement and become such a stronghold in the sports world?
It all comes down to the Open. At its simplest, it’s our bake sale. It’s what allows us to generate the funds necessary to run the operation that we do year-round on the community side, and it’s cyclical. We know the health of the game on the pro side is affected by interest at the recreational level.
The interest in the U.S. Open definitely correlates to the success of American players at the Open. So, to ensure that there are American players competing for the title and competing in the second week of the Open, we have to have a strong community tennis presence and a player development effort that allows the top talent to become world-class players. They definitely feed each other. You take the success of the Open and put it back into the health of the game, the growth of the game and the tennis industry, so it can continue to do well.
The Open has established itself as one of the top sporting events in the world, never mind in the United States. And because of that success, we’ve had more resources to devote to the community tennis efforts.
Talk about the importance of the USTA’s programs for volunteering, advocacy and diversity.
As a governing body of sports, we’ve always tried to be inclusive, and tennis has been at the forefront of that. It was one of the first sports to integrate. There was the first professional women’s championship. It’s always been somewhat progressive in that regard.
But there are always things we can do to improve in those areas, and as an organization, we are committed to spending resources and time and effort.
The phrase that our new executive director has brought with us is we want “to make tennis look like America.” It’s an inclusive environment that we need to foster in order to achieve that.
What is the best aspect of your job?
I don’t want to limit myself by saying I’m a tennis person, but tennis has given me so much. I enjoy working in a game that has given me so much, and can provide opportunities to give back, and to share the love of the game and the benefits that it can bring.
Favorite tennis venue?
My favorite court would be Centre Court at Wimbledon. It’s the cathedral of tennis. And my favorite venue is the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (including Arthur Ashe Stadium). It’s the Disney World of our sport and has something for everyone.
Favorite tennis player to watch?
I’m partial to Andy Roddick because I’ve known him since he was 14. We met the first week that I worked at the USTA in Key Biscayne, Fla. He was attending a camp that I help put on, so we’ve grown up together professionally. He came to our wedding; I went to his.
Any three dinner guests — past or present?
Billie Jean King, Robin Williams and Benjamin Franklin