SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

U.S. Open gear going nationwide

The U.S. Open Tennis Championships have given the green light to sponsor Fila for national, year-round sales of such merchandise as sneakers and sweatshirts adorned with the Open's logo, a significant departure for the country's largest tennis tournament.

Unlike such tennis events as Wimbledon and most major sports leagues, which sell an array of merchandise nationally and internationally, the Open has not excelled in selling products bearing its logo, so-called licensed products. If you wanted to buy a U.S. Open cap or T-shirt, attending the tournament was the primary way.

As a result, licensed-product sales represent only about 6 percent of the more than $150 million in revenue the event reaps annually. The bulk comes from TV, sponsorships, hospitality and gate.

Now in conjunction with Fila, the tournament plans early next month to launch the first U.S. Open national apparel and footwear collection.

Previously, Fila offered only a limited range of merchandise tied to the tournament, such as replica umpire uniforms and T-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps. The sales were either on-site during the tournament or at local New York City stores around the time of the event.

Fila's new Open collection is designed as a significant change in that approach. It will include a full range of tennis gear, from sneakers to women's tennis skirts. Fila plans to make it available year-round across the country in specialty stores and national retails chains such as The Sports Authority.

"We've been looking to extend our licensed merchandise program off-site for several years," said Pierce O'Neil, the chief marketing officer of the U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and runs the Open. "We have taken some steps to do that, but this is the most significant step."

Until recently, U.S. Open merchandise could be bought only at the actual event. Last year, Fila began selling a limited amount of apparel in New York City retail outlets like The Sports Authority and Macy's around the time of the tournament. But there had never been a full-scale endeavor to market U.S. Open licensed merchandise nationally during the entire year.

O'Neil blamed the Open's recent initiatives, from the building of the Arthur Ashe Stadium to a new focus on entertainment, for keeping the tournament from boosting merchandise sales.

Fila plans to clothe its top endorsers, including Jennifer Capriati, in the collection's outfits during the Open, said Howe Burch, the company's head of sports marketing. The apparel will bear the Fila logo and the Open's trademark flaming tennis ball.

"We think the U.S. Open has equity outside of New York," Burch said. "It is one of the top 10 events in the world."

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Fila, Sports Authority

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