Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Federer Receives Odd Gift From Will Smith

Tennis trophy presentation ceremonies are incredibly rote affairs. Usually.

Upon completion of the finals match, the tournament director and CEOs from the event's major sponsors take the hastily erected stage at center court, and they proceed to spout off about what a great week everyone has had. Next, the bigwigs present crystal or silver something or others to the losing finalist and the champion, and then the players take turns at the mic thanking their respective teams, the sponsors, ball boys, and most importantly, the fans.

That's pretty much how it goes at tournaments from Cincinnati to Shanghai, everywhere professional tennis is played, except apparently, in Madrid.

Djokovic was not a fan of the blue clay.
Photo: Reuters
As we learned last week, Madrid begs to be different in every way.

Fans debated the merits of the unique blue clay courts, players lamented the unexpected slipperiness of the surface, and event organizers struck a bizarre marketing deal that resulted in actor Will Smith being on stage to promote his new movie during the trophy ceremony.

On occasion, other tournaments have invited the rich and famous to join the lineup of dignitaries on the trophy stage as a means of glitzing up the proceedings, but the typical luminaries are former tennis stars, national royalty, or celebrities who love the sport. They are not usually actors who attended the match primarily to garishly promote the release of an upcoming film.

Tennis gets very little television respect, so it probably doesn't hurt that big Hollywood types show up to watch a final. Viewers see a famous face in a crowd shot or two, broadcasters mention the celebrity's latest "project," and everyone wins. But for Ion Tiriac, the Romanian billionaire, publicity hound, and former tennis player who runs the tournament in Madrid, that wasn't enough.

Federer, Smith, and the "gift."
Photo: AP
At Tiriac's tournament, Will Smith attends the match, mugs adorably for televised crowd shots, appears on stage during the trophy ceremony, and then presents tournament winner Roger Federer with a "gift" - a glass-framed Men In Black suit, presumably worn by Smith during filming.

Nothing says "congratulations" like a tacky unusable gift that promotes the giver's self-interest, right?

I like Will Smith and I've enjoyed much of his film work, but his presentation of that suit to Roger Federer on the center court in Madrid makes about as much sense as Ron Popeil presenting Sally Field with a RonCo Pocket Fisherman after her win at the Oscars.

As I moved beyond the surrealistic image of Will Smith's presence on the tennis dais, I began to obsess even more on the awkward worthlessness of the gift itself.

It was a used suit...a used Men In Black suit...encased in glass, which I suppose may prove useful if you're curating a museum of shitty films, or if you're charged with decorating a college dorm in a tasteless outdated 90s era motif. Beyond those circumstances, the value of this particular gift is lost on me.

As it turns out, my mother, who was watching the tournament's closing ceremony at her house, put it more succinctly when she texted me about the congratulatory gift - "what the Hell is he supposed to do with that?"

I suppose if Federer happens to also be a size 42 Long, he could break open the frame and wear the suit (to a Blue Brothers concert?). Or, in the unlikely event that Fed is a big fan of the MIB movie franchise, he might choose to hang his new framed black suit near the "Girls of Budweiser" poster adjacent to his pool table. Not likely, though.

What will Federer actually do with a framed Men In Black suit? I don't know for sure, but my guess is he will auction it and donate the proceeds to his foundation or to some other charity. That's about the only classy way to handle this less-than-tasteful marketing "gift."

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