Davidson enjoys owning OC Breakers

Orange County Breakers Tennis Team Owner Eric Davidson on the court of the Palisades Tennis Club.
(Spencer Grant / Daily Pilot)

Eric Davidson, 55, is a local businessman from Laguna Beach. He also became the first local owner in Orange County Breakers history when he purchased the team from Canadian businessman Lorne Abney in January.

The Breakers won their first four home matches at Palisades Tennis Club and have three more home matches next week, beginning with one against San Diego on Monday. They are trying to finish top two in the six-team league in the regular season to advance to the World Team Tennis championship match, which is Aug. 5 in Carlsbad.

The Daily Pilot caught up to Davidson recently to ask him about his experience as a World Team Tennis franchise owner.

Question: What led to you owning the Orange County Breakers?

Answer: Rick Leach, our coach, is an old friend of mine. We were neighbors in Laguna for a long time, and we’ve known each other since we were kids, playing tennis. He called me in September and said that the owner, Lorne Abney, was interested in selling. Was I interested in buying the tennis team?

I was actually on my way to Europe on vacation and I had just sold my company, so I was kind of in the process of retiring. I said, ‘It’s never been on my bucket list of things to do, but it certainly sounds interesting and I’m happy to talk to the guy.’ I ended up having a couple of conversations with him, and I met with Allen Hardison, our general manager. I just kind of learned about the whole thing, and decided to do it. It’s kind of a full circle, because my father, Gary Davidson, was involved in with founding the league with Billie Jean King and her dead husband Larry King, back in the ’70s.

Q: Did you have any experience in sports management?

A: No, no experience in the sports business at all, other than hearing my dad talk about it for years and years. I was in the senior housing business, owned a group of assisted senior living communities … [but] I’m very passionate about tennis. I’m a member of [Palisades Tennis Club, where the Breakers are playing this summer]. I play a lot of tennis in the area, and it just sounded fun. It’s not a big financial commitment in the scheme of things, nor is it a big time commitment. I hope it will become bigger, both financially and from a time standpoint. At the end of the day, I just thought it would be fun.

Q: How did the partnership with Palisades come about?

A: The previous owner was based out of Austin, Texas, so he moved the team there for a couple of years [in 2014-15]. Then he moved it back here last year, and they played at Newport Beach Tennis Club. We just could not make a deal with the owners at Newport Beach Tennis Club, and Ken Stuart, who owns [Palisades], is a longtime friend of mine… It’s worked out really well so far. The club played here originally [from 2003 to 2006].

Q: You had some adversity before the season when your draftee Michael Venus won the French Open in men’s doubles, then decided not to play World Team Tennis this season.

A: I’m happy for him that he won the French Open. He was very excited about the Team Tennis, but because of the win, it was an opportunity to play in some bigger tournaments and play with Ryan Harrison, who’s a much higher ranked player. I don’t know if it was a good decision on his part – only time will tell – but it definitely threw a little bit of a wrench in the works. But Ken Skupski, the player that we got to take his place, has done really well. It’s one of those problems that turned into an opportunity.

Q: How beneficial has it been to have a player like Steve Johnson, who went to Orange High and USC, play the first four home matches for the team?

A: Steve’s great. Obviously, he’s a fabulous tennis player, but he’s an equally neat person. I’ve known him since he was in high school. I used to have a men’s group that played on Wednesday nights, and he played in it here [at Palisades] in high school. I joked that when he was 14 or 15, he was the worst player out there. And when he was 17 or 18, he was the best player out there. Having him here has been beneficial from a playing standpoint and an attendance standpoint, and he’s a great teammate. You see him out there cheering on as much as anybody else, which is really nice.

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge of owning the Breakers?

A: In the World Team Tennis format, our biggest challenge is getting the players. The tennis world has really changed quite a bit in the last 10 or 15 years, with the amount of prize money available for both the men and the women. For us to attract the players, from an economic standpoint, to take two or three weeks off and miss two or three tournaments? It needs to be economically worthwhile. At the end of the day, it’s a business for them and for us.

The second-biggest challenge is probably attendance, selling tickets. We’ve been fairly successful. We only have about 1,000 seats here. If we had 2,000 seats here, selling tickets might be a bigger challenge.

Q: How much of each match are you actually able to watch, between talking to people and your other duties?

A: I’m traveling to all of the matches this year, home and away. At the home matches, I’m the owner, and I feel like I’m the host also. It’s a social event, and so I’m trying to watch all the match. I probably get to watch 85, 90% of it. With the format, there’s a number of breaks, so there’s a few minutes here and there where I can get up and walk around and say hi to people. Mostly, I say thank you for the support we’re getting.

Q: Overall, how has your experience been as Breakers owner?

A: It’s been more fun than I thought, and I’m more involved than I thought I would be. I mean, I’m nervous watching a match.

Twitter: @mjszabo