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Savran: Williams sisters, Woods can take their ball, but to where?

Sunday, November 19, 2000

You've heard it before. Probably said it a time or two, although most likely it has been years since you did.

"If I don't get my way, I'm going to take my ball and go home!"

If you owned the ball, you pretty much owned the game when you were a kid. But now, chronological adults Tiger Woods and the tennis-ball-bashing Williams sisters, Venus and Serena -- behind the apron strings of their anything but subtle father/mouthpiece Richard, who sports a chip the size of Utah on each shoulder -- are threatening to take their ball and go home.

My question is, what will they do once they get there?

Woods and the Williamses are upset that they're not getting a fair share of the over-stuffed revenue pie. That they help attract the ingredients that make it over-stuffed is indisputable. Because of their presence, sponsors and TV networks are more willing to invest in tournaments.

But it also should be pointed out that in tennis, many of the top players are given appearance fees to lure them to a particular event. That allows tournament sponsors to advertise that Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi is scheduled to compete, which obviously helps to sell tickets and entice TV coverage. For the player, such substantial fees guarantee a tidy profit even if he or she loses, 6-0, 6-0, in the first round.

So, given that they are pre-paid on the basis of name value, with prize money in a pot at the end of the tournament rainbow , why should they get a bigger piece of that pie? Sounds like a classic double-dip to me.

Tiger Woods is the most compelling sports figure in the world today. He has revitalized golf, exposing the game to minorities who otherwise might not be interested. And he has taken the mantle from Arnie and Jack and walked with dignity among kings.

While he may be the most important member of the PGA tour, he is still just that -- a member. A tournament will be played, albeit less profitably, whether he's in it or not. And it seems to me that by being a member, you are either contractually or tacitly allowing the PGA to use your likeness to promote the product to its best advantage.

Two things remain unclear. What is it Tiger Woods really wants? A stipend for the use of his image in promotional announcements? Does he want PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem to be more deferential? Or reverential? Is this about having his rear quarter being kissed? And if Woods or the Williams sisters won't participate on their respective tours because of such slights, real or imagined, where would they play? Where would they ply their craft?

Woods could join the European or Asian tours, but where is the challenge and glory in those? How long would Tiger's competitive drive be satisfied knowing he was estranged from the rest of the best? How many artificial mano-a-mano battles with David Duval will the public watch? And how long would Nike or Buick pay gobs of endorsement money to a figure who's out of sight, and eventually out of the minds of a fickle American public?

Does that mean he would refuse to play the Masters or the U.S. Open, which don't need his presence to sell tickets or attract TV viewers? Would the Williamses boycott the Grand Slam events by which true greatness is measured? They will hold Wimbledon and the U.S. Open next year whether Venus, Serena, or Richard Williams attend or not. Their presence would be missed, but their absence wouldn't result in a cancellation.

It should not be forgotten that individuals in individual sports like golf and tennis are playing for prize money which is available to them dependent upon their performance. Why should they be pre-rewarded without sinking one putt or serving one ace?

Surely the PGA and WTA fully understand the respective value of Woods and the Williams siblings. Perhaps an accommodation can be reached.

But the governing bodies should also challenge the players' end-game strategy. Call their bluff.

If Woods and the Williams family take their respective balls and go home, where will they play, and who will they compete against when they get there?


Stan Savran is the co-host of "SportsBeat" on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh

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