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The Women's Tennis Association maintains its search for a new title sponsor. For an update yesterday, THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY spoke with HARLAN STONE -- Executive VP of Advantage International and director of the search. Excerpts of our conversation follow: THE DAILY: What is the status of your sponsor search? STONE: Extremely active. We had a very close call about three weeks ago that unfortunately did not work out. But, in the meantime, we've probably got six to seven discussions going on right now, in four to five different product categories. We're very optimistic -- particularly given the fact that the product seems to be coming out of a bit of a down cycle from early '94. The on-the-court product has really improved, and it is finally getting recognition for that in the press. THE DAILY: What is your time-table for getting a sponsor? Chris Evert said the tour could go one year without a title sponsor, is that a correct assessment? STONE: That's very accurate, and because the tour is healthy, we're able to offer some flexibility in terms of 1995 -- and we are able to be a little bit selective on our end, in terms of choosing the right sponsor and making sure that they have a real long-term commitment to the tour. THE DAILY: What have been some of the hurdles? Why has this taken longer than you would have wished? STONE: Pricing is always a hurdle. It's a six to seven million dollar package and anytime you talk about six to seven million dollar packages -- no matter what you're selling -- it's not for every company. The second issue, candidly, is that there was some concern about the on-court product with Capriati out and with Seles out. It was also before the debut of Hinges and Venus Williams. Now with the return of Capriati and Graf's continued great play -- and the positive early reviews on Hinges and Williams -- all of a sudden, people are believing what we were saying....that tennis -- which went through a little bit of the up-and-down cycles --is now a great buy for sponsors. Earlier in the year, companies were listening, but not really hearing that. Now they really do believe that, yes, women's tennis is on the upswing -- and, quite honestly, the press has come on board. We had the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED article, "What's Wrong with Tennis," earlier in the year, and now if you read the papers over the last four to six weeks, it's "Gee, women's tennis is recovered." That very much effects the marketplace. THE DAILY: When will an announcement be made? STONE: We're optimistic that by year's end we're going to have someone in place. Having said that, we've been close three times this year, and for a variety of reasons, each of those did not come to fruition. But, at least one of those companies is looking at us again because of the improvement in the product....Ideally the WTA is looking for a three-year commitment. THE DAILY: Are there other WTA sponsorship opportunities available outside of the title? STONE: There are a number of companies that would like to be associated with women's tennis, but they are either regional or are not candidates for the umbrella. What we've said is that until we settle on the title sponsor, we really can't make any of those agreements because it may be in a category that the title sponsor will come from. THE DAILY: Have the players helped in the search? STONE: The players, after 24 years of taking a very good sponsor for granted in Philip Morris, have banded together and have been outstanding in terms of articulating the commitments that they will make to the sponsor. They want to go hunt sales calls, they want to have a real marriage with the sponsor. I think that part of the problem is that women's tennis is tainted with the broad brush that tennis players are bunch of whiners, or that they're just overpaid athletes. But I can assure anybody that is not the case in women's tennis. They understand where their bread is buttered and the need to work hard for the sponsor.
Raycom CEO RICK RAY announced yesterday that former CBS Sales Executive BRIAN NEUWIRTH has been named VP of Sales and Marketing for Raycom (Raycom)....Universal Marketing Associates has named former Delta Air Lines Account Exec ERIC CURRY as Universals National Sales Director. Curry's responsibilities will include sales for UMA Properties, which among others includes Hula Bowl marketing rights, the Fans' Choice National Balloting Program, and Golf's "King of the Beach" skills competition (UMA)....BARRY BONDS has been hit by a paternity suit by 23-year old JENNIFER PEACE. She is seeking sole custody and child support in an unspecified amount (Bollinger & Hoffman, N.Y. POST, 11/18).