The History of The Family Championships

The Family Tennis Championships were first played nationally in Great Britain during 1985 when Abbott Media Services (AMS) inaugurated a Father & Son championships with sponsorship support from Remington Consumer Products Limited.

The venture proved extremely successful so a Mother & Daughter competition was added the following year.

AMERICAN ROOTS

Victor Kiam and his son ToryParent and child competitions had been played in Britain prior to 1985 but only on a club or regional basis, never nationally.

The only country to have established a national history of Parent & Child competitions was the USA with a circuit consisting of individual championships on all surfaces and the success of their operation over the decades provided AMS with the initiative to go out and emulate the Americans.

Fortunately, Victor Kiam, the President and CEO of Remington Products USA and a keen player himself was surprised to find no similar opportunities existed in Britain.

Having enjoyed the experience of playing with his children on the American circuit, he committed Remington to sponsoring the British initiative.

Publicity was vital and to guarantee national exposure, the Daily Express was approached to act as co-sponsors on the understanding that they would publish regular reports of the events and promote the competition, especially during the entry stages.

This they did from that inaugural year though towards the end of the period, in view of the economic recession, they were only able to give limited exposure as space was at a premium.

ATTRACTIVE INCENTIVES

The 2014 Sponsorboard To enhance the competition, further co-sponsorship support was sought from companies providing goods rather than cash and, as a result, Fila, Diadora and Lotto featured prominently with their quality products helping to build up an attractive list of prizes over the years.

La Manga Club in the 1980sAgain, the competition required a glamorous venue in the early stages at which to hold the national Finals and La Manga Club provided that as part of their co-sponsorship arrangement, which included half-board accommodation for the week.

Travel to Spain came from the now defunct Peter Stuyvesant.Travel Company and, on their demise, the final venue had to be re-thought.

Change of ownership at La Manga, coupled with the expansion internationally of the competition (covered later), prompted the decision to hold the national finals in England from 1991 onwards.

POPULAR POSTAL FORMAT

The format of the competition had to be postal in the early stages in order for it to be a truly national event. To achieve this, the country was split into 16 regions where competitors played off until two pairs were left in each region.

The necessary organisation and controls were administered by AMS who, through the distribution of match Cards in the mail, advised participants of their opponents, whether the match was to be played at home or away, and the deadline by which it had to be played.

These had to be returned by the competitors with detailed results within a prescribed time limit. Winners progressed to the next round on the same basis.

The entry date was set at April 1st with the Regional Finals held over an October weekend in Coventry, the last two pairs from each region playing off for the Regional Championship and to qualify for the National Finals to be played in January or early February the following year.

This timetable and procedure, however, was changed in 1993 when AMS experimented with actual Regional Competitions replacing the postal stage and winners going through to the National Finals.

Despite the obvious merits of holding regional events over a given period at a single venue AMS decided to revert to the early postal competition once again in 2006 to increase the spread of entries at a grass roots level of the competition.

REMINGTON'S SUPPORT

Remington logoRemington's sponsorship was initially extremely successful but towards the end of the period, with the parent company going through troubled times, support of the British Family Championships inevitably was squeezed.

AMS tried to reduce costs but the effect of lack of sufficient sponsorship during a recession had a knock-on effect, particularly on the competition entry.

ENTRIES

In the first year, when it was only a Father & Son event, 1,000 pairs took part.

This increased to over 1,500 pairs (i.e. 3,000 players) when the Mother & Daughter competition was introduced with a ratio of one third female participants. This proportion has also been apparent in other countries where AMS initiated similar National Family Championships.

In 1993, however, the total entries numbered approximately 900 pairs, which was the result of a lack of sufficient publicity at the entry stage and a reluctance on the part of first round losers to expose their tennis expertise in a more formal competitive environment.

A £10 entry fee was also introduced to stop people playing tricks on friends or relations who entered them, sometimes without their consent or knowledge.

LTA SANCTIONED

Family Championships nevertheless grew substantially in stature with actual competitors since it was first played in 1985 and was accepted by the Lawn Tennis Association since that time as the premier National Family Championships of this country.

This was reflected in by the fact that though the event was organised outside the LTA, the sponsor was treated as an LTA Sponsor with their logo appeared in the Association's Annual Report while the company was able to purchase a table at the LTA's Sponsor's Marquee during the Wimbledon Championships, a valuable additional asset of the agreement.

THE KIAM CUP

FC Clint &  John Newcombe in action during the Kiam Cup in Lugano, Switzerland, 1990The introduction and quick acceptance by competitors of the Family Championships in Britain and the standard of play which is achieved, led the organisers to hold an invitation match against the Americans in 1987 for a Cup donated by Remington USA.

That proved another successful innovation resulting in AMS contacting other nations to establish similar national competitions.

As a consequence of these efforts, an international team event was established where nations competed for the Kiam Cup and individual Father & Son and Mother & Daughter titles.

Kiam Cup teams consist of the two male and one female pairings, namely each nation's Father & Son Champions plus the runners-up, and the Mother-&-Daughter Champions.

Nations which have competed in the competition included USA, Great Britain, Canada, Japan, the People's Republic of China, Australia, Thailand, Israel, Austria, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal and the Soviet Union.

PAST AND FUTURE STARS

Of most interest was the calibre of competitors which the Family Championships attracted for while it played an important part in developing grass roots, it also provided the opportunity for retired players to compete.

FC 1985 1986 F&S Champions, Rod & Mark Petchey (right) with finalists  Harry & Ross MathesonFor instance, the British nationals saw the likes of Mark Cox playing with his son Stephen, and Gerald Battrick with his son Jamie. Both pairs won the British title and went on to compete at the International.

Another well-known former British player, David Lloyd and son Scott participated regularly whilst Mark Petchey and Chris Wilkinson, who each at some time in their careers replaced Jeremy Bates as British number one, both took part with their respective fathers - the Petchey's claiming back-to-back titles in 1986 and 1987.

Elsewhere former Wimbledon champions played, including Australia's John Newcombe and the Czech Jan Kodes plus finalist Alex Metreveli from Russia.

FAMILY BONDS

Providing another opportunity for grass root players, however, remains one of the main objectives of the operation.

There is no doubt that an early introduction into any sport is usually through watching a parent play and the Family Championships is the only participant event where both parent and child can compete as a unit on a local, regional, national and, possibly, even an international basis.

This chance offers a rare incentive to build and cement lasting relationships between themselves both on and off the court though some of these can certainly be tumultuous at times!

SPONSORSHIP

FC 1985 & 1986 F&S chamnpios, Rod & Mark Petchey flanked by Victor & Tory Kiam and on the left, Ron Wilson of DiadoraRemington found their involvement beneficial and reluctantly stepped aside as Title Sponsors in 1994 as the company restructured itself in the US.

The British operation, in the nine years they were involved, were able to monitor an improvement in public awareness of their name and product range.

This was possible because they limited their advertising to pre-Christmas bursts and did not use any other form of marketing except for this one sponsorship.

Following its demise in the late 1990s, the Family Championships was revived in 2007 by AMS and, under the auspices of the TIA UK, a new Title Sponsor was actively sought in the full belief that the event would prove an ideal vehicle for any company interested in pursuing a family market place.

Prevailing economic strife proved to be a real set-back for the proposal and although considerable interest was shown by several prestigious companies keen to become more actively involved, either as Title or as co-sponsors, no cash sponsorship was forthcoming.

Nevertheless, there was on-going support in kind by the TIA UK, the LTA, David Lloyd Leisure, Maxim, J  R Price (Bath) Ltd, Tennis Today, The Gallery Wimbledon, and Fila.

A NEW IDENTITY

The Family Championship logo introduced in 2007AMS elected to continue running the Family Championships on a shoestring, minimal, budget by popular request of participants, who loyally compete year on year.

A new logo was developed and a website established while, through Tennis Today, a wide publicity campaign amongst clubs and sports centres now promotes entries annually.

The event was revised and expanded to cover a variety of family combinations on a postal basis leading to a knockout Finals weekend for all semi-finalists at Open level for Fathers & Sons, Mothers & Daughters, Father & Daughters and Mothers & Sons plus events for those same categories at 14&U and 10&U levels.

The only restriction is that players who have competed professionally aren't allowed to participate until they have been off the world computer for five years. In addition, step children must  be at least 20 years younger than their step parent.

Entry fees were increased to £15 per pair to help defray costs.

The finals were scheduled for November at the David Lloyd  Leisure Centre in Dudley where it has been held ever since the re-launch in 2007.Roger Draper, former Chief Executive of the LTA

At the re-launch, Roger Draper, LTA Chief Executive at the time, commented: “The Family Championships offer a great chance for players of all ages and abilities to play competitively.

"It was a highly successful competition when it was last in existence and many well-known family names within British tennis have participated over the years.

"It supports our Blueprint for British Tennis in that it provides yet another opportunity for young players to get involved in the game on a competitive level and we fully support its re-introduction into the British tennis calendar.

"Many of the sport's champions have been introduced to the game by their parents and the event will help reinforce the important role that families play in developing young tennis players.”

2015: ONWARDS AND UPWARDS

Another major review followed a low-point in the Family Championships over the winter of 2014-15 when the entry was at its lowest and several pairs did not show at the finals, which was a major disappointment to their opponents.

The decision to revert to what had made the event so popular was made and, as a result, only four open majors were to be held in 2015 - Father & Son, Mother & Daughter, Father & Daughter and Mother & Son - with the proviso that participants could only compete in one category.

The rules were revised and a major push made to securing a title sponsor to inject much needed capital to improve the website, promotion and communications, while entry fees were increased to £30 a pair to cover basic on-going costs.

The organisers have always believed that this competition can become as popular as its American counterpart, where it has been growing from strength to strength over a number of decades.

The incentive of playing with one's parent or child, against similar opponents remains strong.

No longer does the parent have to sit it out on the sidelines when he or she can show how it is done, or be guided by their off-springl

The experience could well result in a child going on to greater things in the sport, such John  McEnroe, who had his first introduction to competition in the US Father & Son tournament.

11 February 2015
Family Championships
Abbott Media Services, Cedar Lodge, Howe Road, Watlington, Oxon OX49 5ER
E-mail: info@familychampionships.org.uk