Eddie Gonzalez hopes to turn the BB&T Atlanta Open into a smaller version of our country’s greatest tennis event.
Gonzalez, an Atlanta resident since 1990, was named the event’s executive director Tuesday.
At Atlantic Station, sitting in his new office whose only decorations are four old tennis rackets hanging on the wall, Gonzalez said he hopes to use the experience and connections built as a life-long tennis player and a sports marketing executive to create “more than just a tennis tournament, but an event.
“The goal and vision is to make this a mini-U.S. Open,” he said.
Gonzalez is taking over for Bob Bryant, who resigned earlier this year to accept a job with 500 Festival in Indianapolis.
Gonzalez, 47, brings a love for the sport to his new job. He has played tennis most of his life, growing up in Rome and then as captain of N.C. State’s team (he’s a former ALTA champion, as well). Before accepting the Atlanta Open job, Gonzalez spent the previous 14 years as vice president of sales with Athlon Sports. Before that, he was the United States Tennis Association’s director of sales and marketing in the Southern section from 1990-97.
“Being able to combine my passion for tennis and my passion for the business side of sports is really what attracted me (to the job),” he said.
Gonzalez said his first order of business will be to reach out to Atlanta’s business and tennis leaders over the next 60 days, while next year’s budgets are being put together, to renew or create more sponsorships to support the tournament, which is going on its fifth year.
“Our future long-term success solely depends upon the Atlanta tennis community and business community embracing it as our own event,” he said. “It’s our city; it’s our sport; it’s our tournament.”
Gonzalez envisions using many of the amenities already offered by Atlantic Station, which includes restaurants, bars and shops, to offer players, customers and tournament partners an encompassing experience similar to what is offered by the U.S. Open.
He talked about how at the U.S. Open, an event he has attended for the past 20 years, when you walk into the complex there is live music playing, something that he may bring to the BB&T Atlanta Open. He referenced the fireworks and postgame concerts offered by the Braves as ideas that he may pursue.
Making customers and sponsors happy is one part of his job. He also has to make the players happy and provide a competitive and interesting field.
The field for the past four Atlanta Opens has been filled with familiar names: John Isner, Mardy Fish and Kevin Anderson, for example.
Gonzalez discussed the challenges of trying to lure some of higher-rated players to his tournament, saying most of the European-based players aren’t ready to travel to the United States so soon after Wimbledon concludes.
That’s why he wants the Atlanta Open to continue to have a field composed of strong U.S. players, such as defending champion Isner.
“We need an opportunity for the top American players to come and play in front of the American public,” he said. “This is hopefully an event that can elevate the Rhyne Williams, Ryan Harrisons and Jack Socks of the world and hopefully be a springboard to the top 20.”
In turn, he hopes that if young players can see up-and-coming Americans, it will spark them to use tennis as a medium to possibly earn a college education, pursue a professional career, or simply make the sport a lifelong activity.
“That’s part of what this tournament should aspire to be doing,” he said.