SBJ/August 31 - September 6, 1998/No Topic Name

Tennis tournament is latest event to jump on beanbag bandwagon

Tennis has caught the beanie bug.

After watching baseball attract tens of thousands of children to games with beanbag animal toys, professional tennis has gotten into the act. Last week, the first Pilot Pen International Championships for women began by handing out 2,500 Champ the Bean Bears.

In the past decade, tennis' appeal has diminished among children as alternative sports like in-line skating and soccer have increased in popularity. Recently, tennis promoters and organizers have made children an important strategic target audience.

And Pilot Pen is no different. Asked if attracting kids to the tournament motivated the beanie giveaway, Anne Worcester, a marketing consultant to the Pilot Pen and former chief executive of the Women's Tennis Association, replied: "Absolutely."

Thousands of kids attended the event and took part in clinics, T-shirt signings and other games that made up the first day of the tournament, she said.

"Oh yeah, there was tennis going on too," Worcester quipped.

After attending baseball's All-Star game in July where Beanie Babies, manufactured by Oakbrook, Ill.-based Ty Inc., were handed out, Worcester decided to transplant the promotion to tennis.

Worcester said Ty was too backlogged with orders to meet her August deadline, so she instead used Market Identity, which manufactured the Boston Red Sox's Wally the Bean Bag Pal. Ty did not return calls seeking comment.

Worcester conceded that because the Pilot Pen's giveaway was not manufactured by Ty, the animal may not attract the fanatical devoted collectors who have made Beanie Babies a national craze. But young children do not seem to care who manufactures the toy as long as it contains beans, she concluded.

The Pilot Pen tournament marks the first time a tennis event has handed out a beanie animal, Worcester said. More than half the teams in Major League Baseball have handed out a beanie animal this year.

It also is also one of the first times a tennis tournament has had a non-sponsor-related giveaway. However, children at last Monday's Kids Day received a bag with the animal, plus giveaways from sponsors.

The tournament, Monday through Saturday, was the event's first year in New Haven, Conn., moving from Atlanta. Earl "Butch" Buchholz, who also owns the Lipton Championships, acquired it from the U.S. Tennis Association and signed Pilot Pen as a title sponsor.

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