SBJ/May 4 - 10, 1998/No Topic Name

With no sponsor and few fans, WTA cancels Chicago stop

The Women’s Tennis Association circuit will skip Chicago in 1998 due to declining attendance and the lack of a sponsor.

The decision to pull the event from the 1998 WTA calendar ends 25 consecutive years that Chicago has hosted a WTA tour event.

Attendance in Chicago had dwindled to around 4,000 per session for the tournament, causing Ameritech Corp to drop its sponsorship of the event. The company also was unhappy with the WTA draw system under which players were selected for the tournament.

IMG, the tournament’s promoter, wasn’t able to find a suitable title sponsor to replace Ameritech, forcing officials to scrub the event that had been set for Nov. 2-8.

"We’ve sponsored it for the past three years, but we were disappointed in the way the WTA handled the organization of the tournament itself," said an Ameritech spokesman. "The WTA chooses to have their [tournament paring] brackets more flexible so nobody really knows who will be playing. That doesn’t maximize the opportunity for a sponsor to maximize draw in customers."

WTA officials said last year’s total attendance in Chicago increased to 51,000 from 46,000 for the six-day event, which was held at the UIC Pavilion.

"It was a combination of things," said Joe Favorito, a WTA spokesman. "It’s disappointing, but our attendance is up around the world. This gives IMG the opportunity to find the right sponsor."

IMG senior vice president Gary Swain said a WTA event will return to Chicago in 1999.

"There are several ways we can reposition the event, including combining it with a men’s senior tournament, relocating to a new venue and seeking a summer date on the WTA calendar," Swain said. "The change in sponsorship coupled with the movement of the Leipzig, Germany, tournament into the same week as Chicago presented new challenges to the event."

IMG is expected to announce another tennis event for Chicago in 1998 by mid May.

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