Behind the scenes of the Dow Tennis Classic’s $1.5 million impact on the region

Operating for the 32nd year in 2020, the Dow Tennis Classic is the longest running tournament on the USTA pro circuit. For a week each winter, some of the big and up-and-coming names in tennis descend on Midland for an interactive event. 

Here are some of the behind the scenes efforts it takes to pull it all off.

Match play kicks off February 4 with plenty of activities before and during the tournament.

Community impact
Each year, the tournament reaches about 20,000 people, between the roughly 15,000 attendees that attend match play and the players visiting local schools.

In the days leading up to it, the Dow Tennis Classic runs the Net Generation Kids Fun Day for youth from kindergarten to eighth grade, so upcoming players can learn more about the sport while having fun.

Kids learn about tennis in the Net Generation program each year.

Once the tournament kicks off, when they are not in match play, the pros head to local elementary, middle and high schools to talk to kids about empowerment, cultural diversity and perusing personal excellence.

Greater Midland gets the player acceptance list about two to three weeks out, at which point they start finalizing different players for specific promotions, events and more.   

Pros visit schools during their downtime to teach kids about empowerment and more.

“This tournament is so much more than tennis,” says Talaya Schilb, Dow Tennis Classic Tournament Director. “Along with the high level of players that we get, the economic impact of the tournament is huge. It brings in thousands of people to our region, and also, with the Tennis Center being a nonprofit, everything that Greater Midland has a hand in can be impacted by this tournament. This tournament helps to support Greater Midland's mission and our work throughout the year."

In a first over the course of tournament history, this year will be the first year that certain day matches will be free for entry with donations accepted.

“Our mission is to be inclusive, and we want this tournament to reach out to everyone,” says Schilb. “By offering some free matches, we are guaranteeing that everyone has the chance to be part of this event and part of this great facility and the Greater Midland community.”

Ball runners with player Catherine McNally.

All suggested donation amounts will go towards funding to help support programming at Greater Midland Tennis Center as part of their scholarship fund, which helps area youth fund or bridge the gap to enroll in tennis lessons.

The impact is significant – the funds made off match play sales and donations fund the tennis center’s youth scholarship fun year-round.

For Melinda Grossmeyer, Marketing and Design Specialist at Greater Midland and Dow Tennis Classic marketing lead, the effort is one that demonstrates some of the reasons why it the longest running tournament in the USTA.

Melinda Grossmeyer, Marketing and Design Specialist at Greater Midland.

While Dow, ViaClean and Teneo are the lead sponsors, more than 80 community partners help in some way to pull the tournament off, ranging from coffee and food, to signage and more.

“It’s really impactful to see the community come together for this event in the way they do,” says Grossmeyer. “We get so much help from our sponsors, partners and volunteers – it couldn’t be done without them and makes the event that much more special.”

That amount of involvement is matched by quite a large community impact as well. Each year, the Dow Tennis Classic make an economic impact on the region of more than $1.5 million.

A player doing a media interview after match play.

That impact takes a ton of help to achieve and the efforts of tournament volunteers help to pull the event off each year, from housing players to running balls, to helping with transportation. They come in all shapes and sizes too – Greater Midland aims to make helping out with the tournament as family friendly as possible.

This year brings another first for the tournament with a partnership with the Eat Great Food Festival. On February 8, the Dow Tennis Classic will welcome more than 30 restaurants, wineries and breweries for a night of enjoying local food during the tournament’s semifinal round and featured night matches.

The Dow Tennis Classic makes an economic impact on the region of more then $1.5 million.

Industry experience
The tournament provides hands-on industry experience for university students as well. Each year, 30 interns work the tournament for real-world experience and help with everything from tournament preparation, press releases, hospitality, game day operations to social media.

For Kelly Klebba, the tournament’s head intern for 2020, the event has provided a second year of hands-on experience. Klebba is a junior at Northwood University majoring in sport management with a minor in business analytics and is returning in 2020 for another year and additional responsibilities as head intern.

Volunteers work as drivers, ball runners and more during the event.

Klebba works with Talaya Schilb, assisting as her go-to and right-hand person for the event, translating needs of the day or week to other interns. She emphasized that while she always heard professors at Northwood talk about the stress, pressure and long hours that come with putting on large sporting events, it never really hit home until her first time working the Dow Tennis Classic last year.

“It is really interesting to learn and see what goes on behind the scenes at a big tournament like this,” says Klebba. “And this year I was able to work in a role that allowed me to see how all the different aspects of the tournament and departments are ran.”

Klebba will use the hours of experience working with the Dow Tennis Classic to add to her practicum requirements at Northwood.

“It has been a really rewarding experience getting to dig in and problem solve for things that come up,” she says. “You quickly learn to keep an eye out for things that need to get done for everything to run smoothly. It’s been a great leadership development experience and I look forward to learning more this year.”

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Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.