It is a busy mid-summer Friday night, with the heat and humidity clinging to grass and concrete alike in New York. The traffic in and around the five boroughs has brought many looking to escape the city to a halt, and for sure tempers are flaring as another summer exodus is underway. But one person not looking to escape, one who is probably used to year-round 90 degree temperatures, is Tony Luftman. On this recent Friday night the Southern California native is gleefully busy having finished a bit of a reverse commute — from his home in Queens across the RFK Bridge to Randall’s Island, where he will be the PA announcer for the New York Sportimes of World TeamTennis when they take on the Philadelphia Freedoms.
Forget the traffic and the heat — Luftman couldn’t be happier.
“I love tennis, and to get to see Martina Hingis now and John McEnroe and Andre Agassi next week up close, that’s a dream for me.” The 35 year old probably couldn’t have predicted a year ago that this is where he would be spending a few nights thus summer, making sure that the crowds are keyed into the rule changes, the fan-friendly contests, and all the fun that makes the 37th season of World TeamTennis different from what fans normally see at an ATP or WTA event. But that interaction and call to action is what Luftman enjoys, and what makes him essential to keeping the night going and all in the stands engaged.
“It is certainly an education and is different from other things I have done, but it really is fun, and I hope more people come out an experience what is going on here.”
Luftman is certainly no stranger to big time athletics or fun events. A former basketball manager during his collegiate days at UCLA, the sometime actor has worked NBA broadcasts for the Portland Trailblazers and Memphis Grizzlies, called college sports at UCLA and Cal-Irvine and has even done some PA for the Brooklyn Cyclones. However his move to Gotham came late last summer, when his friend and mentor, St. John’s head hoops coach Steve Lavin, encouraged him to come east and pursue a dream broadcasting on sports’ biggest stage — the talent and event rich New York market. Luftman moved from SoCal to Queens and spent last winter calling St. John’s sports on their new and innovative digital sports network, everything from soccer to hoops.
That platform, which gets exposure for a huge swath of Red Storm events at a fraction of the cost and at broadcast quality, will also be expanding from the web to more national networks, and Luftman) who also hosts Red Storm Report on SNY) at the mic. His unique pedigree, behind the scenes and in front of the camera, was also bolstered during his time in Southern California by a class he took at UCLA — a tutorial where he spent several days a week with the legendary John Wooden talking sports, business and life at the home of “The Wizard of Westwood.”
“Those days with Coach Wooden, and the time as a basketball manager, gave me insight into this business and the way things can be done right and with attention to detail, that I could not have gotten anywhere else,” he added. “I think all of that experience has helped me move along and work in some very unique places, it’s been a great run thus far.”
That attention to detail is certainly beneficial in his role with the Sportimes. Whereas a “traditional” tennis PA would spend time calling a point here or there, Luftman has a constant barrage of messaging, inciting and updating to go through around each and every point. There are contests to announce, sponsors to thank, scoring to update for those in the crowd new to WTT. It is part minor league baseball, part tennis and lots of up-close fun.
And then there are the stars, especially this coming week. A lifelong John McEnroe fan, Luftman will get to be on court when McEnroe faces Andre Agassi on Thursday, when the Sportimes take on the Boston Lobsters in a match that will benefit McEnroe’s Academy, also housed at Sportime. It is that type of perk which he still appreciates and will file away into the memory bank for the future.
“John on the court was my idol growing up in Southern California, his style both in and off the court always amazed me, so being able to call a match against Andre no less, will be pretty special to me,” he added. “It is another advantage of being in and around the New York sports scene — opportunities like this probably don’t exist anywhere else, and who knows where it will lead?”
At least for the month of July, it has led a rising broadcaster to a small island hard by the shores of Manhattan, a unique outpost to call tennis and see some world class and fun action, that can fill the time and create exposure that one might not have known about prior. After all, isn’t that what New York and the unique media market is all about? Opportunity? For Tony Luftman, it seems like those opportunities are just beginning.