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Is this the golden age of tennis?

Djokovic-AP.jpg

Jan. 30, 2012: Australian Open men's singles champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic poses with his trophy at a park in central Melbourne, Australia. Djokovic defeated Spain's Rafael Nadal in five hours and 53 minutes to win a third Australian Open title earlier in the day. ((AP Photo/AAron Favila))

Here's our weekly look at the intersection of sports and business:

Rams/Edward Jones Dome

The St. Louis Rams’ plans to play home games in London in each of the next three seasons could be in jeopardy. The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission said the Rams’ lease requires the team to play all home games at Edward Jones Dome. Rams owner Stan Kroenke also owns the English Premier League club Liverpool, and viewed the London games as a way to grow his NFL team’s brand internationally. If a resolution isn’t quickly reached, the issue could go to litigation.

The prospect of losing three home games over three years is particularly worrisome for Rams fans. The team has long been rumored one of the leading candidates to relocate to Los Angeles should the NFL decide to move a team there. 

Additionally, the team’s Edward Jones Dome lease states that the venue has to be “first-tier” or in the top 25% of NFL stadiums by 2015, or the Rams can opt out.

Bottom Line: The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission proposed a $120 million renovation that would see the team pay half the costs, but ultimately, the Rams have the leverage in this negotiation.

WPS Suspends Season

The momentum from the Women’s World Cup wasn’t enough to save America’s biggest women’s soccer league. Women’s Professional Soccer cancelled the 2012 season as an ongoing legal battle with ex-owner Dan Borislow diverted too many resources from regular league operations. 

The league last year terminated Borislow, who owned the Boca Ration-based MagicJack franchise, for being too difficult to deal with. The team and league had been at odds over several issues, including sponsorship signage, stadium capacity and website maintenance.

The league hasn’t been immune to financial troubles. Since beginning play in 2009, three teams have folded, one left to join the inferior Women’s Premier Soccer League, and Borislow’s franchise relocated to Florida.

Bottom Line: WPS hopes to return to play in 2013 with eight teams, but given the league’s financial track record, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Panthers Renovating Arena

Broward County recently approved a $7.7 million loan to your Florida Panthers to renovate the BankAtlantic Center. The money will be used on a variety of projects, including new premium seating, digital signs, a new scoreboard, and a new curtain system will allow top level seats to be hidden during concerts.

The upgrades should help the team make more money from advertisers, which it can then spend on hockey operations, personnel and free agents. They’ll also help maintain the BankAtlantic Center’s status as one of the top venues in the country. Broward County owns the $185 million arena.

Bottom Line: Having worked on several arena projects in my career, public-private partnerships like these tend to work best for all parties involved. The team is able to generate new revenue from a renovated facility, which in turn creates a better gameday experience and puts a better product on the ice.

Growing Youth Tennis

Tennis is in somewhat of a golden age. Superstars such as Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are carrying the sport to unprecedented heights and interest, as last one of the three players has appeared in ever Grand Slam Final dating back to January 2005. Because of tennis’ increasing popularity, the USTA, the group charged with promoting the sport in the states, is attempting to grow youth participation with a new marketing campaign.

The USTA has launched “10 and Under Tennis” to develop the next batch of great American tennis players. The program is to tennis what little league is to baseball, minimizing court and equipment sizes to make the sport easier for youths to play. The campaign comes into effect on the heels of the International Tennis Federation standardizing rules for players under 10.

Bottom Line: While it remains to be seen whether the program produces the next great American tennis star, it should get a new group of youngsters interested in the sport, which is most important of all.

Rick Horrow is the "Sports Professor," and is the Sports Business Analyst for Fox Sports. He has been the Visiting Expert on Sports Law at the Harvard Law School, and has authored "When the Game Is on the Line" and "Beyond the Scoreboard: An Insider's Guide to the Business of Sports." His show "Beyond the Box Score" is posted on a weekly basis on FoxSports.com, and the latest emerging trends in sports business can be found at www.horrowsports.com.

Brian Finkel is Creative Director for Horrow Sports Ventures. You can follow him on Twitter @TheFinkTank.

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