Down the line is mortgage bank maven Steve Kuhn of Pine River Capital Management, who flew down on the shuttle from New York. Chris Tavlarides, who owns Capital Outdoor Media, is also in the lineup. Former mayor Adrian Fenty arrives later.
In the seat in front of me is Valerie Jarrett, one of the senior members of the Obama administration brain trust. Sitting to my right is Heather Bresch, chief executive officer of Mylan Pharmaceutical. A few seats to my left is former North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan (D), now with Arent Fox. Farther down is former Louisiana senator John Breaux (D), now a lobbyist with Patton Boggs. Around the corner and down the sideline is John Kane of the Kane Company.
Welcome to Mark Ein’s tennis party, which has become one of the go-to social scenes in the Washington summer.
Entrepreneur Ein, 47, who attended the Harvard Business School and made a pile investing in various businesses over the past 20 years, is sitting one row in front of me and two seats to the right, dressed in a perfect blue suit. He is in his element, entertaining, laughing, working the crowd, doing television interviews. I have attended only two Kastles matches, but my best description is that of an upscale summer party filled with good wine and food, pleasant surroundings — and world-class tennis.
Ein bought the team five years ago as an expansion World TeamTennis franchise, paying an expansion fee and investing a few million on start-up costs. He named it for his Rosslyn-based electronic security badge company, Kastle Systems.
Ein’s sports start-up, in its fifth season, had its home opener Thursday night at Kastles Stadium at The Wharf in Southwest D.C., where this particular guest roster glittered.
The Kastles play seven matches during a three-week season. The league includes the Boston Lobsters, Philadelphia Freedoms, Sacramento Capitals, Orange County Breakers, Kansas City Explorers and the Sportimes. It was founded 38 years ago and is still majority-owned by tennis legend Billie Jean King.
Ein said he is not in it for the money. Of course he isn’t. Who would put their capital in a tiny, professional tennis team? Like many professional sports teams, the Kastles are not profitable.
“As I dug into [researching the economics], I thought generating lots of profits on an annual basis would probably be tough,” Ein explained. “But if you could build audience and a brand, you might build franchise value.”
But like many sports team owners, he is betting that he can build long-term value and sell the team for two or more times the revenue, which would bring him a return of several million dollars. His strategy is to create buzz through winning and drawing bold-faced spectators like Michelle Obama, who attended last year with her children.