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Madkour: Why Lew Sherr is the right choice for USTA

A number of people were as pleased as I was that the USTA board of directors named Chief Revenue Officer Lew Sherr as the association’s CEO. The 56-year-old has a lot of respect in the sports industry and will begin his new role May 2.

In February, I noted the challenges facing the new hire, who replaces outgoing CEO Michael Dowse, and that diplomacy, empathy and decisiveness would need to be the hallmarks of any new leader. The board landed those attributes with Sherr. 

Here’s why I like this selection: Lew Sherr is very familiar with the inner workings of the USTA and has a long history — more than 12 years — with the association. As CRO, every time he took on more responsibility — from sponsorship and partnership marketing, to broadcasting and ticketing — it led to exponential growth. He’s a straight shooter and those who have dealt with him admire his fairness and forthrightness. One insider noted Sherr never dodges the tough questions and brings a calm and steady demeanor needed at an association where so many competing agendas can cause unrest. Those that work for him directly appreciate the team-oriented, collaborative environment he’s established and his team and peers really enjoy working with him, which is incredibly important at a nonprofit like the USTA. In addition, media and corporate partners hold him in very high regard and Sherr won’t ever have to be introduced to others at a sports business event — he’s a known, respected entity. But he has a big challenge in front of him, evident by the mix of opinion I heard of what his administration should focus on.

Here’s what I took from my conversations: Those close to him are adamant that he will focus on shifting the perception of him as a U.S. Open suit focused on revenue to show the broader tennis community how he can deliver for the entire enterprise. He will attempt to replicate the successful model he has employed in his department and implement it association-wide and strengthen the connective tissue throughout the USTA. His approach will focus on what the national office can do to serve as a resource or business/participation driver for the front-line staff and local sectional operations. USTA insiders believe Sherr’s collaborative style will allow local organizations to have an important voice — even though their needs can be so disparate depending on market. The relationship between the USTA national and sectional office must improve. Some tension is inevitable, and sources tell me it has improved, but Sherr has to focus on improving the dialogue and mutual trust. To that, he must be very visible at sectional meetings and events. Insiders also hope he will push the USTA to be more creative and infuse his smart, sophisticated business mind to the entire organization.

The bottom line is he will want his team to think much bigger and broader about the value proposition of the USTA and what it delivers. And he’ll be true to the USTA’s mandate — that it is a mission-driven organization responsible for growing the game and promoting tennis. He will focus on reinvesting all available resources back into the game, as well as more overtly attaching the health benefits of tennis to everyday life. I also expect Sherr to amplify the game of tennis within pop culture in an effort to be as culturally relevant as possible, and while it won’t be a priority, I’m sure he’ll be thinking how tennis can somehow benefit from the massive influx of interest in both pickleball and padel. But Sherr can’t lose focus on the cash-cow U.S. Open and he must aim to reestablish it as the leading innovator among the Grand Slams. Within the tennis community, most cite the gains made by the Australian Open, which has grown in stature among players and fans. There is surely new technology to embrace and innovations to test. Many leaders in U.S. tennis are seen as too resistant to change, but Sherr must remember to take calculated risks to make sure the U.S. Open is the most important event in the sport. We all know how great and successful the U.S. Open is, but it can continue to demonstrate leadership through innovation. Such leadership will only boost the entire USTA’s confidence in the national office.

As demanding as his new CEO role will be, it’s not clear if he plans on bringing aboard a top business officer or filling his CRO role. While he is based in Lake Nona, Fla., look for Sherr to spend his early days traveling to meet community leaders. My sense is they will find the USTA’s new leader to be transparent and honest, with a vision to grow the game. 

Finally, as a tennis player myself, I look forward to seeing Sherr on the court. I propose we get out there and play an event or clinic and experience with other players the constant challenges of this great game!

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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