SBJ/March 15 - 21, 1999/No Topic Name

McEnroe's at home in health club ads

He may no longer hold center court in tennis, but John McEnroe is still a big draw in New York City.

The irascible, former No. 1-ranked player in the world is in a new series of advertisements for the New York Health & Racquet Club, a local fitness chain. It marks the first time McEnroe has been in a local ad. While he has endorsed products ranging from Rogaine to Pizza Hut, all have been through national campaigns.

The fitness club ads are uncommon for two reasons: They appear long after McEnroe was a household name, and non-team athletes, who are less identified with specific regions, are more apt to endorse national brands.

"John is a New Yorker — he was raised and lives in New York, and he is very well-identified with New York," said J.P. McEnroe, the tennis player's father, who arranged the ad for his son.

The club approached the senior McEnroe about hiring his son, who occasionally uses the facilities. While the ads boast that John McEnroe is a member of the club, membership was included as part of the ad deal. A 15-month membership costs $1,495.

Terms of McEnroe's deal were not disclosed, but celebrity endorsement experts said he has in the past commanded at least $1 million.

"He is usually very costly," said Nova Lanktree, head of Lanktree Sports Celebrity Network, which matches endorsers with companies. "Regional advertisers usually don't pay that much."

The 25-year-old gym, however, may be trying to go more upscale or have plans to expand nationally, she said. The club, which is in the higher price range of New York athletic chains, has nine Manhattan locations and is perhaps best known as the health club on "Seinfeld." The exterior of its 13th Street gym was frequently seen on the hit TV show.

But the club said through its ad agency that there are no current plans to expand nationally. Instead, McEnroe's use of the club, particularly the tennis courts, moved the company to approach him, said Duke Brodsky, a managing partner with Kovant & Brodsky.

The McEnroe ads will run for the next year, with an option for two more years. They are running on CNN, CNBC, A&E, WCBS and during basketball games on MSG and TNT. The ads could run hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the next few years.

Notably, before the filming of the tennis scene, which shows the player known for throwing tantrums measuring the height of the net after botching a shot, McEnroe switched into an outfit from Nike Inc. His contract with the apparel company requires him to wear one while playing tennis. By contrast, when he appears riding a stationary bike, he is not wearing a Nike shirt.

McEnroe now plays tennis on the men's senior tennis circuit and is an announcer for the U.S. Open on CBS. He also owns an art gallery in SoHo, which, because of financial problems, was recently closed to the public.

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