I recently watched a very interesting doubles tennis match: Bill Gates had partnered with Roger Federer to challenge Warren Buffett and his pro, Rafa Nadal. Federer played almost the entire court, with his sponsor, Gates, given the job of trying to take a swing at the ball on the extreme left side of the court. On the other side of the net, Nadal played his entire side except that Buffett took a swing at any ball bouncing at the extreme right side. By and large, the pros avoided the extreme angled shots that would give the patrons a swing at the ball. They just played the game as if it were a singles match.
Gates and Buffett were beaming. They felt they looked really sexy, standing in their Nike Swoosh outfits in front of the crowd, their pale, wiry legs sticking out of their baggy shorts. They have each been playing tennis for ten to fifteen years. They started in a nice tennis school, but as soon as they figured out how to hold a racket (three months for Gates and two months for the more athletic Buffett), they joined the FDL (Fabulous Doubles League, with a total membership of 224 players in the US), hired pros and started playing in front of very small but adoring crowds. Pros like Federer and Nadal command huge fees, of course, but who worries about money when you can feel so sexy? Of course, Gates and Buffett never really get to hit the ball, but they do take a few swings at the ball over the course of a match. The way they play today is pretty much how they played when they first joined the FDL.
The cocktail party after the match was very interesting. The Federer/Gates team had won the match and so, the microphone was given to Gates. He graciously thanked Buffett for entering such a formidable team and then went on to say that he was pleased with how his own team performed that day. He explained how he sat down with his pro before the match to decide on strategy (have Federer hit winners from the baseline and at the net) and how pleased he was that the two of them were able to stick to their plan. "I love to win", he concluded.
The crowd loved it too. After the speech, with champagne flutes in every hand, the spectators discussed how wonderful it is to have players like Gates and Buffett who "really" support tennis. They all wished that all of those "low-level" players who don't do anything to really support tennis would simply get out of the sport. They were referring to those players who don't play in the FDL, but play in crummy leagues in their little clubs, among themselves, without pros.
I can tell you, as one of the delighted spectators, that both the game and the party afterward were intoxicating.
p.s.: I made up this little story to see what other sports would look like if we were to apply the polo model. My sincere apologies to both Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett if they actually know how to play tennis or if they don't have pale, wiry legs.
p.p.s: Once, at a meeting in which people were discussing how to grow polo, I interrupted the discussion to ask that participants first define the business of polo. Various people said the sports business. Someone said the entertainment business. I told them that, in my opinion, the way polo is currently run, we are in the fantasy business. To grow polo according to the same business plan, we need more people who want to spend a fortune to have a fantasy fulfilled. Alternatively, we could change our business plan and actually grow a sport...