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Tennis Fans: A Stadium Roof Is Coming. So Is Regis Philbin

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The ugliest, most ill-conceived physical addition to sports scenery was the construction, a few years ago, of the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium at the U.S. Open. Typical U.S. supersize. We'll be bigger than everyone else, so there.

Alas, in the upper reaches of this charmless behemoth you need a GPS to find the players somewhere down there at sea level. Worse, should it rain, which it has a wont to do in New York, there are no players on the court and you get wet.

The United States Tennis Association should have spent the money to build a roof over an attractively smaller stadium, but it was not the wise little pig. The USTA likes to advertise the Open, which starts Monday, as the largest annual athletic event in the world. And indeed it is, indisputably, a huge moneymaker, both for New York and for tennis. What makes the Open so especially financially attractive for the host city is that so many of the fans come from out of town and do it up big, staying in hotels, eating out, going shopping –– unlike typical team-sports fans who just pop on over to see their local heroes play, and maybe spring for a beer and a hot dog.

And, of course, along with New York, the USTA really cleans up, putting some of that profit into what is always called "developing" American tennis players, although none seem to develop anymore.

But faithful U.S. tennis devotees are now happy in the knowledge that the USTA has finally promised to also develop a roof. The greater irony is, too, that fans of all sports are generally being more selective about going out to see sports rather than just staying at home as viewers. Television sports are a bonanza.

For example, even if you personally can't stand sports, if you are gritting your teeth having to read me on NPR, like it or not, you are still anteing up more than $5 every month on your standard cable contract for ESPN –– far more than you pay for any other network. Never mind that you don't want ESPN. At least I come free.

To get in on this sports TV humbug, Fox just opened its new all-sports network. The centerpiece is a talk show hosted by Regis Philbin, who says his credentials for the job are that he's a fan.

I hate to tell the Fox people this, but the last thing sports fans want to listen to is another fan. If you are a fan, you don't want to hear jack from another fan, because, hey, you know more. Instead, you want to hear from experts and analysts, and fired ex-coaches and washed-up ex-players, the artless in-the-know crowd.

Poor Fox. Poor Regis Philbin. This is no way to start a sports network. Better a fan pay to sit in the top row of the Arthur Ashe Stadium and hope it doesn't pour down rain on the poor devil.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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