Taking lessons from his time in the tennis world, Mark Ein knows the importance of bringing a fanbase together. He hopes to do that for the DMV.
At long last, Washington Commanders fans have something to celebrate. After decades at the helm, Dan Snyder is no longer the owner of the NFL franchise. Earlier this summer, a group shepherded by Josh Harris paid roughly $6.05 billion in one of the largest team takeovers ever. The cohort boasts a reputable list of minority owners like Magic Johnson, Mitch Rales, and a name that should sound familiar to tennis fans: Mark Ein.
A DMV native born in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Ein is a former tennis pro athlete who played in a number of ATP tournaments, becoming the oldest person to receive an ATP ranking in 2015 at age 46. Now 58, Ein serves as Chairman of the Mubadala Citi D.C. Open, D.C.’s annual hardcourt tennis tournament. During this year’s festivities, Ein and the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation (WTEF) hosted a free clinic for local youth. An avenue for underserved children to test out their tennis-playing potential, it was partly led by Judy Murray, mother of former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. This is part of a larger commitment to make our nation’s capital a sports town that will nurture a new generation of pro athletes.
Though his roots are buried in racket sports, Ein certainly understands the makings of a successful enterprise. Boardroom caught up with the Harvard Business School alum during the Mubadala Citi D.C. Open to discuss the success of one of the tour’s oldest competitions, fostering a new era of minority athletes, and what he wants to tell Commanders fans ahead of a new football season.
VINCIANE NGOMSI: You have played such a vital role in so many parts of D.C. sports and this has been quite the summer. What are some ways that you’re using the lessons learned from your experience being the chairman of Mubadala Citi D.C. Open Open in this new venture with the Commanders?
MARK EIN: It’s such a good question. I think the football team has lost its way a bit and the experience is not what the fans deserve or what it used to be. And so everyone involved in the football team has been at the Mubadala Citi D.C. Open Open and what they see is a sporting event wrapped in a food and wine festival and a community event. And when you do that, you appeal to everyone. It’s not just hardcore tennis fans, really where we are with football at the moment is the only people coming to games are hardcore football fans. But what we want to do is bring everyone back and be the biggest platform to unite our community that exists. To do that though, we’re going to have to really reimagine and reinvigorate the fan experience. And there’s tons of stuff that we’ve done here between the venues, the partners, the pricing that we’re going to incorporate with the football team.
VN: The Mubadala Citi D.C. Open Open gets more popular every year, but paddle sports, in general, have seen a resurgence. What do you attribute that to, especially when we talk about its popularity at the local level?
ME: We’ve had an amazing tennis community truly for decades. This town is a town that’s embraced this tournament. It’s been a hotbed of juniors who come from here and then reach the highest levels of the pro ranks like Francis Tiafoe. And now we have Hailey Baptiste and Robin Montgomery. And it’s been like that for years. Washington has always been a really good market for tennis. People love it. We’ve sold out every session for the last three years. I think that’s a real testament. And not to mention, this year we were able to create an equal-level men’s and women’s event. To me, one of the things that makes tennis so special is that it’s the only sport where men and women play on the same playing surface at the same time. Historically speaking, we had different levels of men’s and women’s events, so we couldn’t showcase them equally. Men got more time on the stadium court or we weren’t allowed the same number of top players. Now it’s the same. And so whenever you come you see the best of men’s tennis and the best of women’s tennis. People have really embraced that here in Washington.
VN: What are you hoping that not only the kids take away from their experience, but the larger effect it has on tennis?
ME: So I think the origin story of this event is really important to understand, because to me it’s still the heartbeat of the event, which is Donald Dell and John Harris. These two men decided to bring pro tennis to Washington in 1969. They got the tournament going, asked Arthur Ashe, ‘would you be part of it?’ And he said, ‘I’ll do it, but only if you put it in a public park.’ Because all tournaments, even the US Open, were in exclusive clubs. And so they put it right here in Rock Creek Park and it’s the longest-running tournament in its original location in the United States. But that feeling of accessibility for all is the essence of the tournament. And then shortly thereafter, they gave the tournament to the Washington [Tennis and] Education Foundation, one of the great after-school programs in America that combines tennis and education.
And you know, WTEF has been the beneficiary of this tournament pretty much since the beginning. That spirit of inclusivity and community is what this whole tournament is about. Inspiring kids to me is at the very core of what this is all about. And then our passion for this stems from the fact I was a ball kid here. I was inspired to find a place in the tennis world because I was here as a little kid, and when you see all the kids running around you can’t help but think, someday that could be the next Francis Tiafoe or Haley Baptiste.
VN: What message do you have for Commanders fans heading into the season?
ME: We are going to build a world-class organization. This is going to be one of those franchises that year in and year out is competitive on the field and off the field makes fans love coming to games. And again, it’s something that more than anything else in our community brings people together. That’s our goal. Josh Harris, the majority owner, has done it in Philly. I was there for his first game. The 76ers were bottom of the league in attendance. The fan experience wasn’t good. Now it’s top of the league. Mitch Rales is one of the great business builders of our time. Magic Johnson, the champion on the court and now off the court. So we have a team of people who know how to do this and we’re all totally aligned and committed to long-term world-class excellence.
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