Pro tennis set to serve new image

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In pro sports marketing, tennis is still looking for a big-time serve.

Starting next year, the Association of Tennis Professionals will try to ace the sport's image by standardizing major events, radically changing the player scoring system and hiring an ad agency.

"This will allow tennis to enter the modern era of sports," said Mark Miles, the organization's CEO.

Tennis has benefited in recent years from personalities such as Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and, more recently, sisters Serena and Venus Williams. But it hasn't done well with ratings on TV or in providing sponsors tourwide merchandising and marketing support.

Professional tennis also suffers because its events have different names--some with sponsor names attached, some not, which prevents the casual fan from understanding how events relate to each other.


"The proliferation of event names didn't help anybody to know what was going on, and the ranking system was so difficult to understand," said Chris Lightfoot, creative director of Interbrand, London, an Omnicom Group branding agency that worked with ATP in developing its new marketing initiative.

So beginning next month, ATP's "Mercedes Super 9" events--a series of major tournaments that don't include the four Grand Slam events such as the U.S. Open--will be rebranded. Events such as the Newsweek Championships or the Eurocard Open will be replaced with a consistent banner name: "The Tennis Masters Series."

Each event will be identified around its location, such as "Tennis Masters Series--Indian Wells, Calif.," or "Tennis Masters Series--Rome."

"While we have grown in attendance over the last 10 years at our events, we have not made the progress in television ratings," Mr. Miles said. "One of the reasons is fans don't know the structure of tennis."

ATP earlier this year teamed with international sports marketing company ISL Worldwide to buy up all TV and merchandising rights of 10 worldwide tournaments, previously controlled by individual event producers, in order to standardize TV production and sponsorship opportunities. This includes the ATP's season-ending event, which will now be called the Tennis Masters Cup.


As for a new ad agency, Mr. Miles said it hopes to appoint one sometime next year, with a budget initially put at $3 million to $5 million. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., has done some project work for the organization.

"You count on the promotional support of sponsors and your TV partners, but they didn't have any reason to do this because they were involved in just [one event]," Mr. Miles said. "This will bring more ability to promote the series."

ISL Television, the TV division of ISL Worldwide, will produce all 10 events.

For each tournament, there'll be a presenting sponsor that will get credit in the title; one event, for example, will be the Tennis Masters Series--Indian Wells, Calif., Presented by Newsweek. Such a sponsorship will cost from $8 million to $10 million, and will include category exclusivity rights.

Mercedes-Benz, the "Super 9" series sponsor since 1996, will continue as series sponsor for the new tourney, as well as being the official car of the ATP, starting in January 2001.

The automaker has spent $11 million annually on the event since '96.

Fila USA also has signed on as technical sponsor of the new series; it will sponsor either a scoring or a timing segment of the tournaments.

Copyright December 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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