The event format is a single elimination tournament with active and retired players competing in a one set, no-ad scoring semifinal, with the winners advancing to a best-of-three set final with regular scoring.
The BNP Paribas Showdown serves as the kick off to the tennis season in North America, as it is part of one of the United States Tennis Association's grassroots initiative Tennis Night in America.
March 2, 2009, marked the inaugural year of the Billie Jean King Cup and the first time women's tennis had been played at Madison Square Garden since 2000, when the year-ending Chase Championships were held there. Broadcast internationally on HBO, the inaugural year featured 2008 US Open Champion Serena Williams, 2008 Wimbledon Champion Venus Williams, 2008 French Open Champion Ana Ivanovic and 2008 year end world number 1 ranked player Jelena Janković, who filled in as a wild card for the injured 2008 Australian Open Champion Maria Sharapova.
Serena Williams won her semifinal match against Ana Ivanovic 6–3, which succeeded Venus Williams's 6–4 semifinal win against Jelena Janković. The final was won by Serena 6–4, 6–3.
In 2009, Tennis Night in America launched as one of the United States Tennis Association's (USTA) top national marketing initiatives specifically designed to increase grassroots tennis participation across the country. The promotion underscored a "National Junior Tennis Registration Night" at over 700 locations on March 2, the date of the 2009 Showdown at Madison Square Garden, which also coincides with the start of the professional tennis season in North America.
Connecting grassroots tennis with professional tennis, Tennis Night in America was able to deliver the 2009 Showdown via closed circuit television to tennis clubs throughout the country, allowing one night in March to bring together tennis players of all ages and abilities, as they pay tribute to the game that they love so much.
The 2009 Billie Jean King Cup was questioned by some for the element of spectacle and prize money at the event. Attendance of the event was described as "so-so" (though inclement weather was cited as a valid factor). The semifinal matches, because of their brevity due to the scoring structure, were criticized as being played "largely with something like a clock-puncher's resignation". The final match between Venus and Serena Williams, however, was considered more engaging, as another match in the continuing rivalry between the Williams sisters.
Well known sports and tennis writer, Jon Wertheim praised the event in one of his SI.com mailbag entries, "Here it is, early March, traditionally, a time in the sports calendar when tennis is off the radar. And—as was the case last year when Federer played Sampras—tennis not only gets some buzz, but also 12,000 or so fans on the East Coast (and a few hundred thousand with HBO) can watch the sport live. The players get some extra cash, as well as a chance to penetrate the New York market, not insignificant if you're trying to build Ivanovic as a global star. The USTA wisely used the occasion to market the sport nationwide. BNP Paribas gets some value for their tennis investment. Everyone comes away happy. Here's hoping this is an annual event. Maybe next year you combine genders?"
The Billie Jean King Cup returned for its second year on March 1, 2010. Seven time grandslam champion Venus Williams, 2009 French Open Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and 2009 US Open Champion Kim Clijsters participated. 2009 Australian Open and Wimbledon Champion Serena Williams had to withdraw from the event due to a leg injury. She was replaced by 2008 French Open Champion Ana Ivanovic. In the first semifinal, Clijsters defeated Ivanovic in a tiebreaker (7–2), despite Ivanovic having match point at 5–4 up. Williams defeated Kuznetsova in the second semifinal, 6–4. Williams defeated Clijsters in the championship match by a score of 6–4 3–6 7–5.
The success of the 2013 BNP Paribas Showdown in both New York and Hong Kong extended further in 2014 as the event became a part of a global tennis participation effort called World Tennis Day. This is an initiative to increase tennis participation around the world with the support of the ITF.