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The Champions Tennis Tour, the 35-and-over men's circuit founded in '93 by former ProServ President & Co-Founder Ray Benton and Jimmy Connors, is in the midst of their most successful season. Benton and Connors began Net Assets to manage and promote the Champions Tour, and it has overseen the growth from three events in '93 to 12 events this year, including their first international stop in Moscow last April. The Tour, which features Connors, Bjorn Borg, and Guillermo Vilas, has established itself in small venues by stressing a fan-friendly environment, with relaxed access to players for fans and sponsors alike. The recent Citibank Champions event in Westchester, NY, drew a record attendance of 34,000 people over the five-day event. THE GOLF COMPARISON: Benton told THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY that he and Connors formed the Tour "because we had seen what the Senior PGA had done and we thought we could capture some of the success the Senior PGA had caught." Although it is the model, senior golf also poses the greatest threat to the Champions Tour. Benton says golf is "so hot right now, and such a high proportion of corporate executives play golf, that it has been a challenge to get their attention for tennis." Although they currently have presenting sponsor U.S. News & World Report, along with Citibank, Coopers & Lybrand, and John Nuveen & Co. among others, Benton said his main challenge has been generating corporate interest. Roger Williams, a contributing editor to TENNIS magazine, praises the Tour, but says sponsorship dollars are "very very tough for tennis these days." Williams: "The bloom is off the rose in that regard. I know that they had great difficulty getting an umbrella sponsor." Benton said companies are less generous with their marketing dollars than in the past, but stressed the Tour is "doing fine. But we can always do better. ... Tennis has bottomed out. It is on its way back." WORD FROM THEIR SPONSORS: Karen Scott Happer, Tournament Director for the Citibank Champions event, has worked in tennis for over twenty years including the Australian Open, and said she has never been affiliated on a project with "such excellent value for the money." Happer: "If you are a sponsor I can genuinely say to you that a half dozen players are going to be coming to your cocktail party tonight. I can honestly say ... you are going to have a clinic for over an hour with a Champions Tour professional working with your 20 kids." TV TIME: Liberty's Prime Sports covers each event through their multi-year TV deal. Benton said their "main breakthrough" was ABC's telecast of "The Challenge" held in May in Pebble Beach. Benton, on the ABC telecast: "We did a 1.8 on a Sunday afternoon against the NBA playoffs. We hope to move it to June next year and get away from the NBA, and I think we will do well." THE FUTURE: Looking ahead to the year 2000, Benton sees 20 events, with 26-man draws and a minimum of $250,000 in prize money, along with 10-15 smaller satellite events, three or four events on national TV, and a major event at the end of the year. Benton said they will keep the venues small, and doesn't foresee sites with capacity greater than 5,000. Roger Williams likes the Tour and commends the quality of play: "The guys are trying hard, and most are in shape. Benton and Connors made sure of that." But to succeed, TENNIS Magazine's Williams believes it will "require very astute marketing ... If Ray Benton can't do it, it can't be done. It has to have big names, the McEnroe's, Lendl's and others to join. ... Nostalgia is a very big part of the attraction here. The big question is what will happen when Connors isn't there" (THE DAILY).
Yesterday's NBPA regional meetings in Dallas, San Antonio, and Atlanta drew five, two, and 13 players to each meeting, respectively. FROM DALLAS: Brad Townsend reports that "by all indications, it was not a productive stop" for the union. Mavs' Popeye Jones: "You've got a deal here in place, but at the same time, it's not as good as the old deal, in my opinion. You wonder if the owners are going to give you more -- or if you're just going to miss the season." Jamal Mashburn: "I'm in the middle now." (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/25). Roy Tarpley: "It stinks a little bit. There's just something about it, like how they agreed on it overnight. It just gives me a funny feeling. I think we all want to play ball next season and we don't want to strike, but I don't know if that's safe to say for sure right now" (Richie Witt, FT. WORTH STAR TELEGRAM, 8/25). FROM SAN ANTONIO: Former Spur Sean Higgins: "Decertifying probably would be best for the long run, better for the young guys coming into the league. The present plan could ruin free agency. ... I want to look at the plan, study it, and then decide." Former Spur Antoine Carr: "I feel more informed now. Right now, I'm in the middle" (Glenn Rogers, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS, 8/25). FROM ATLANTA: Former Hawks captain Tree Rollins: "If guys want to eat, they better vote." Hawk Craig Ehlo: "Guys have to get out and vote. You can't just assume this is going to pass" (Jeffrey Denberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 8/25). HOW'M I DOIN'? NBPA Exec Dir Simon Gourdine, in San Antonio: "We've talked to about 67 players so far and expect to speak to about 100 all told when we've finished the tour. ... Reaction at the meetings has been good. We've had some players who are in favor of decertifying come to our meetings and they've helped spur some free-wheeling conversation. We always know when those players arrive because they have kind of a fixed question list. But we want to talk to all the players because we believe that this deal, although not perfect, is a good one and it's far superior to decertifying the union. It could be chaos if that happens and the season could be in jeopardy" (Glenn Rogers, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS, 8/25). WE FEAR NOTHING: Pro-decertification agent Marc Fleisher called Gourdine's August 21 letter to agents "an act of desperation." Fleisher: "He infers that the agents fear retaliation (from the union), which is a flat-out joke. I know of no agents, with one possible exception, who aren't supportive of decertification" (PHILA. DAILY NEWS, 8/25).
The Int'l Skating Union has "linked five existing competitions to form what it calls a Grand Prix circuit and has added a new event, the Grand Prix Final," according to Neil Stevens of the CANADIAN PRESS. Now the world's top skaters will be vying for more than $2.5M this season. Much of the financing comes from a TV deal with Fox. The '97 Grand Prix has been awarded to Canada. The purpose of the "bold initiative" is to keep skaters on the Int'l Skating Union scene longer (CP/Vancouver PROVINCE, 8/25).
The Packers have filed a $1.5M grievance against hold-out tight end Keith Jackson and the NFLPA. Jackson's attorney called it a "thinly veiled threat designed to persuade him to report" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 8/24). ...Arena Football is profiled by Roger Thurow in this morning's WALL STREET JOURNAL. Thurow writes Arena football "has grown up to become a respectable commodity, particularly sought after by owners of professional teams in other sports who also own arenas they need to fill during the summer" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/24)....NEW YORK magazine's Richard Turner writes on the state of horse racing: "Telegenic and interactive, horse racing looked like a sure bet in the dawning electronic age. But it was passed in the stretch" (NEW YORK, 8/28 issue)...MLB's Public Relations Manager Jim Small was interviewed by KYODO NEWS. Small spoke on Hideo Nomo and suggested a baseball "World Cup" with a U.S. team playing other nations in an int'l tournament (KYODO NEWS, 8/24).