Yes, there was an American professional tennis team league once upon a time, and yes, Chicago had a team. Unfortunately, the league folded quickly, and the Chicago Aces, our franchise here in the windy city, collapsed like a house of cards you could say.
The Chicago Aces probably peaked as a franchise when they named themselves- referencing both the tennis terminology and the city’s gangster past, alluding to the gambling rackets once run by Roaring ’20s organized crime kingpins.
Most, okay damn near all, okay every bit of research from this article comes from the book Bustin’ Balls: World Team Tennis 1974-1978, Pro Sports, Pop Culture, and Progressive Politics by Steven Blush.
Just released last month, the tome is a rollicking snapshot of the anything goes 1970s era of professional sports. The book is a detailed, photo-filled, and fun look at the hard-to-believe-it-even-
In addition to all the photos, the book contains tables and statistics that provide a comprehensive look at all the records from each of the now obviously defunct franchise. There is a ton of entertainment value is just the team logos and hilarious names alone.
Look at Houston’s Tennisified Yosemite Sam:
As for the Chicago Aces, well people here just weren’t ready for this, and those who actually did show up, really only went to have another excuse to get drunk. The Aces threw a booze fueled party (earning the nickname “Chicago Cases”) for all involved, including the team before a match, and it showed in the result, where they lost 37-13.
The Aces’ individual players finished dead last in all the key statistics and they suffered a massively losing record. They were only able to compete for one season (1974), because, like a handful of other clubs, they couldn’t make payroll.
People DO play tennis here, and Wilson Sporting Goods (based in Chicago) did better in tennis equipment sales in the 1970s than in golf even. But Chicagoans just did. not. care. about the Aces.
In fact, Bustin Balls lists the “high point” for the Chicago Aces as an appellate court case in which the team defeated a player who was suing for $12 grand and change in back pay. Yes, this was their biggest win. Their “low point” well, pick one, maybe it was any of the nights in which their attendance was somewhere in the 200s or 300s at the Lakeshore Racquet Club, their home venue.
Known today as Lakeshore Sport and Fitness, the club is located adjacent to the DePaul University campus and this franchise provided real life lessons on how not to succeed for the college’s business school students.
Lakeshore had a capacity of about 4,200 and they needed to draw 3,000 in order for the team to break even.
A “good” night for the Aces, and these were extremely rare, was somewhere in the 1,400s. They drafted Bobby Riggs, yes, he of the infamous “Battle of the Sexes” game, but he never played for them. The closest he game was doing 25 minutes of tennis against local women, rehashing his “Male Chauvinist Pig” routine for which he was infamous prior to a Chicago Aces game.
This was about as well as the club ever did at the box office, as it attracted about 2,600. Looking at a couple of the lines written about the team, it appears some of the Chicago sportswriters of the day weren’t too much more enlightened than Riggs when it comes to female tennis players.
Overall, it wasn’t too uncommon to see more media their than fans, and if the club was indeed pouring open bar for the reporters, well, I for one would have gotten a season credential.
Remember, this is the “toddlin town that even Billy Sunday could not shut down.”
I have no clue what that sentence actually means, but because it’s from an old song synonymous with the city, and the context with which that lyric is used, I’m taking it has something to do with us being a bunch of party animals.
Overall, the story of the Chicago Aces was one of big promises, never coming close to being fulfilled. They were pretty bad on the court, but at the gate is where they were cataclysmic- the worst drawing team in the WTT.
Simply put, they couldn’t sell tickets, busted, and couldn’t stake themselves for another season.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.
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