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Renewal talks on tap for Heineken, U.S. Open

Heineken expects to begin renewal talks with the U.S. Open soon after this fortnight ends, even though there is one year left on its deal. The beermaker has kept its 17-year sponsorship of the Open even as it has moved away from other sports efforts and into music. It is closely associated with the Open and has spent as much money activating the sponsorship this year as it has in past years despite the down economy, said Christian McMahan, chief marketing officer of Heineken USA.

“We haven’t backed off our investment,” he said without disclosing specifics of the spend.

Heineken opened a new lounge on-site at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this year and sponsored the player party for the second year in a row the Friday night before the event. McMahan said he expects the brewer to extend the deal.

Heineken has been on the scene as
a U.S. Open sponsor for 17 years.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL: Three of the top five ranked male players have their apparel and sneaker deals expiring at the end of the year, making this an interesting time in that area given the down economy. The most high profile is Andy Murray, the No. 2 player in the world, who has worn the British brand Fred Perry since he was a junior but is widely expected to move to a more global company. Novak Djokovic, at No. 4, has his contract with Adidas expiring, while Andy Roddick, No. 5, has his deal with Lacoste coming to an end.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 and No. 3 players, respectively, have long-term deals with Nike in place.

Not to be outdone, Sam Querrey, the fast-rising American who won the U.S. Open Series and is ranked No. 22, has an Adidas contract expiring, and American John Isner, currently ranked 55th, has his Nike deal expiring.

BRITTON PICKS K-SWISS: At least one deal got done here, though relatively small. Devin Britton, the NCAA champion who lost in the first round to No. 1 seed Federer, though not without showing some skill, signed a multiyear deal with K-Swiss, an increasingly active company in signing players. Financial terms could not be determined. Sources said Britton is expected to sign a racket deal with Prince, as well. Britton’s agent is Tom Ross of Octagon.

DELL SHOWCASES BOOK: Newly minted tennis hall of famer Donald Dell, who founded ProServ, was captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team and currently is helping run BEST’s tennis group, hosted a book signing last Wednesday evening in SoHo for his just-released “Never Make the First Offer.” The event was at Jack Olive, an upscale clothing boutique that provides gift bags to many of BEST’s clients. Attending the event were Ken Solomon, CEO of Tennis Channel, and Phil de Picciotto, head of athlete representation at Octagon and whom Dell hired as an intern in 1983.

A MORE-OPEN IMG?: IMG Tennis was notoriously tight-lipped under its late founder Mark McCormack: Good luck, as a member of the fourth estate, trying to needle information out of them. But now, at least on the surface, five years into the ownership of Ted Forstmann, some of that has changed. Witness the reporter roundtable IMG Tennis hosted last week at its New York headquarters, with breathtaking views of Central Park.

Attending were Fernando Soler, head of IMG’s tennis division; Nick Bollettieri, the famed tennis coach at IMG Academies; and George Pyne, president of IMG. Little in the way of news was made — Soler did say that the ATP was making progress on finding a top sponsor — but one amusing moment came when this publication asked for Soler’s thoughts on some of the dustup from IMG client Federer donning specialized Nike apparel featuring the number “15” immediately after wining Wimbledon, representing his record-breaking number of Grand Slam titles. The move was criticized in some quarters as disrespectful to his opponent, Roddick, as it showed Federer presumed he would win. Soler, a former player himself, professed to have never heard of the criticism.

Maybe at least a little tight-lipped, still …

RATINGS UP IN EARLY RETURNS: Tennis insiders have predicted that ESPN2, in its first year of coverage of the Open, could bring in more casual fans than did predecessor USA Network and that ratings could double. The increase wasn’t to that degree, but for the first two days of the tournament, the average rating was up, to a 0.7 from a 0.6, and the household count was up 9 percent, to 650,000. Perhaps most significantly, the average rating for men ages 18 to 49 doubled, to a 0.4. In prime time for all viewers, ratings were up to a 0.9 from a 0.7, and households were up 34 percent, to 910,000.

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