SBJ/20100308/This Week's News

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  • 2012 athletes could reap rewards

    Team USA’s historic medal haul at the Vancouver Olympics has resulted in more endorsement and appearance opportunities for Olympians than after the 2006 Winter Games, but the biggest beneficiaries of the increase in corporate interest may be athletes competing in the London Games, Olympic agents and marketers say.

    In the week since the Vancouver Games closed, several medalists have renewed with existing partners or signed new deals. Gold-medal snowboarder Seth Wescott and silver-medal skier Julia Mancuso renewed agreements with Visa; gold-, silver- and bronze-medal skier Bode Miller renewed an agreement with Swiss watchmaker Hublot; and silver-medal hockey player Jessie Vetter signed a new grassroots marketing deal with American Family Insurance.

    Seth Wescott (below) and Julia Mancuso
    are two 2010 athletes to renew deals
    with an existing partner.

    “Because it was North America and because there were huge hockey games, there have been a lot of inquiries,” said Patrick Quinn, a partner at Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners who represents Vetter and speedskaters Chad Hedrick and Katherine Reutter.

    The level of interest has encouraged Quinn and other agents to believe that the athlete endorsement landscape may have begun to recover after freezing up in September 2008 during the height of the recession.

    “We are approaching pre-September ’08 activity levels on a marketing front,” said CAA’s Lowell Taub, who represents Miller and Mancuso. “My team and I are happy with the level of interest and deals across the board.”

    While the thaw in the endorsement landscape may net some deals for Vancouver medalists, Taub and others said that the biggest beneficiaries will be athletes participating in the 2012 London Games.

    Olympic sponsors and non-Olympic sponsors increasingly focus on signing athlete endorsements ahead of Olympic Games rather than afterward. That forward-looking strategy means few sponsors will expand activation after Vancouver, but many will be motivated to look for new opportunities ahead of London in 2012.

    Olympic Agency Gold
    How Olympic marketing agencies fared in Vancouver, based on their number of client medals
    Firm
    Gold
    Silver
    Bronze
    Total medals
    Octagon
    2
    4
    7
    13
    CAA*
    4
    5
    1
    10
    IMG
    5
    0
    1
    6
    J. Kenneth Sowles PC**
    2
    3
    1
    6
    Chicago Sports & Entertainment
    0
    3
    3
    6
    The Agency Sports Management
    0
    1
    2
    3
    Wasserman Media Group
    1
    0
    1
    2
    * Represents Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso for marketing
    ** Represents Miller and Mancuso for endemic endorsements
    Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

    “The notion of achieving success at the Games and having the phone ring off the hook [afterward] with companies that want to do massive advertising campaigns just doesn’t happen anymore,” said Peter Carlisle, Octagon’s director of Olympic and action sports, who represents Wescott and swimmer Michael Phelps.

    In terms of overall opportunities, there are more now than after Torino in 2006, he said, but “there is more of an impact on summer athletes.”

    Davie Brown account director Matt Delzell said that each Olympics can help or hurt the subsequent Olympics, and that Team USA’s success at winning the Vancouver medal count would help 2012 athletes considerably by raising the profile of the Olympics.

    Taub agreed, saying, “What happened over the last three weeks is a boon for the 2012 Summer Olympians. Because of the level of creative and the way the country was swept up in the competition, I do believe that sponsors will try to replicate that model around London.”

    Evan Morgenstein, CEO of Premier Management Group, which specializes in representing Summer Olympians, said that corporate sponsors in Vancouver were excited about the television numbers and that U.S. athletes fared well, but said he hasn’t gotten any calls yet about deals for London. He added that the window for Vancouver athletes to sign deals is closing fast.

    “Nothing has changed for athletes,” Morgenstein said. “The snow will melt and athletes are running around and trying to cash in on this. Some will, but most won’t.”

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  • ACC faced with tepid TV response

    The Atlantic Coast Conference and ESPN entered into a 60-day exclusive  window March 1 to negotiate the conference’s next media deal.

    However, the two sides are not expected to reach a deal by the time the  window closes at the end of April, leading the conference to reach out to other networks — including NFL Network — about picking up a package, according to several sources. In fact, negotiations for the ACC’s media package aren’t expected to heat up until May, at the earliest.

    ESPN has made it clear in private discussions with the ACC that it does not plan to approach the ACC’s lofty target rights fee of around $120 million per year, an aggressive 60 to 70 percent increase over its current deal. Media executives say the weakness of the ACC’s football teams puts the conference at a level below the Big Ten and SEC, putting it more on a par with the Pac-10 and Big 12.

    ESPN’s position has caused IMG’s Barry Frank, representing the ACC in talks, to reach out to several networks to gauge interest in various media packages.

    The most intriguing possibility has been discussions the ACC has had with NFL Network, which has expressed some interest on a potential package of football — not basketball — games, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation. Such a deal would help NFL Network pressure Time Warner Cable and Bright House Communications to begin carrying the channel, since the cable operators own systems through North and South Carolina and Florida.

    The ACC also has reached out to Fox and Versus. Versus has established a college football programming lineup by sublicensing college games from Fox Sports Net. A move by Versus to pick up ACC rights would be, perhaps, the network’s most significant rights purchase to date and create sorely needed competition against ESPN in the college marketplace.

    In the past two years, ESPN has signed deals worth a total of more than $2.5 billion in rights fees with the SEC and BCS. The ACC is the first college conference rights deal to hit the market in two years.

    Fox already has a relationship with the ACC through FSN, which carries weekly Sunday night basketball games purchased from Raycom.

    Fox lost the BCS rights to ESPN in 2008, but Fox has started receiving retransmission consent cash from cable operators and is believed to be looking to use that money to purchase sports rights.

    The ACC also has not ruled out the idea of starting its own channel, though few people believe that’s likely.

    Rival conference SEC negotiated a rights fee for football and basketball with ESPN and CBS of more than $200 million a year, but the ACC is not expected to reach that neighborhood. Industry insiders say the ACC would like to see a 60 to 70 percent increase over its current deal, which would put its target at $120 million a year for both of the major sports. The ACC’s media rights expire after the 2010-11 season. The Pac-10’s media rights and the Big 12’s cable football rights are up the following year.

    The ACC’s deals with ESPN and Raycom Sports pay a little over $70 million a year combined. The agreement with ESPN for football rights pays $35 million, while Raycom’s basketball rights and the syndicated package pays another $35 million and change.

    For the record, ESPN has said that it wants to keep the ACC’s rights. “We have every intention to be in the ACC business going forward,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming.

    Raycom has said it will seek a cable partner to increase its bidding power. Raycom Media, parent company of Raycom Sports, owns more than 40 over-the-air stations, many in the Southeast, which has made it an effective distributor of the syndicated games. But its ad-supported business model has been hurt by the recession and it failed to retain the SEC’s syndicated package, which went to ESPN.

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  • Acquisition adds surfing to Octagon’s stable

    Octagon’s action sports practice is adding surfing to its sports representation mix, which already includes skateboarding, snowboarding and BMX.

    The company acquired Australian surf management agency Revolver Athlete Management and will bring the agency’s founder, Matt Syms, on board along with seven surfing clients. Syms’ top surfers are Australians Bede Durbidge, Ry Craike and Mitch Coleborn.

    Terms of the acquisition weren’t available.

    Peter Carlisle, who will manage the surfing business as Octagon’s managing director of Olympics and action sports, said that revenue from representing surfers could be as compelling as revenue from representing snowboarders because of the high value of endemic sponsorships in surfing. He added that the upside of adding endorsements with mainstream marketers can make the surfing business more lucrative.

    “With a decent roster, there’s some significant revenue there,” Carlisle said. “As the TV exposure increases, we hope to get more out-of-the-industry business.”

    Octagon agent Amen Teter will work with Syms on the surfing business. Syms also will be supported by Octagon’s sales, marketing and public relations experts in Australia, where it has offices in Melbourne and Sydney, and the U.S.

    Octagon was last involved in surfing in 2006 when agents Circe Wallace and Dan Levy worked for the company. But Wallace and Levy left the agency to join Wasserman Media Group, and Octagon hasn’t been involved in surfing since then.

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  • CBS Sports adds carrier networks to MMOD mobile

    CBS Sports will distribute this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament via mobile carrier-enabled networks and have a free application serving  highlights, scores and news, all part of an expanded wireless version of March Madness on Demand.

    Last year, the first time CBS distributed MMOD through mobile platforms, the network sold a $4.99 iPhone and iPod touch application that provided live game video using the device’s Wi-Fi connection. User reviews were decidedly mixed as to the quality of the streams, depending heavily on the strength of those Wi-Fi connections, but the expansion to mobile broke new ground for MMOD.

    CBS Sports and the network’s mobile division this year have developed a $9.99 application for the iPhone and iPod touch that makes live game video available via Wi-Fi or carrier 3G and EDGE networks, permitting an adaptive streaming that automatically calibrates video to the strength of the wireless connection. This premium-level version will also include score alerts and live game radio broadcasts from Westwood One.

    A free, “lite” version of the MMOD application, sponsored by Microsoft, is also being released that will include on-demand game highlights, live scores and brackets.

    Both versions of the MMOD application will have direct access to Facebook and Twitter to enable sharing of content.

    “We think there’s going to be a big change this year in the accessibility and true portability of this application with the inclusion of the carrier networks,” said Rob Gelick, CBS Mobile senior vice president and general manager.

    Gelick said he wasn’t concerned about any user pushback from the doubling of the MMOD application price. MLB Advanced Media, which aided CBS in the creation of the MMOD applications, last week released its 2010 version of the MLB.com At Bat application at a $14.99 price point, and it immediately shot up to the No. 2 position among paid applications in Apple’s iTunes App Store.

    “People will pay premium prices if it’s a best-in-class application, and we obviously believe this is one,” Gelick said of MMOD.

    CBS will also distribute tournament video through the Flo TV mobile service, an offering that started last year. Games will be available on the wireless television service through several major wireless carriers as well as on Flo’s new Personal Television device.

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  • Compact design doesn’t skimp on amenities

    A first glimpse inside Barclays Center’s interior bowl reveals one of the tightest designs to date for pro basketball.

    The New Jersey Nets provided images exclusively to SportsBusiness Journal, giving an early look at the $800 million project set to break ground Thursday in Brooklyn.

    The upper level of suites at Barclays runs along the
    sidelines only.

    The 18,350-seat building measures 375 feet in length, from the last seat in the upper deck to the same location at the other end. The distance is much shorter than the average big league arena, which stretches 430 feet to 450 feet, said Alex Diaz, Barclays Center’s general manager. The compact design, completed by Ellerbe Becket and SHoP Architects, was developed with intimacy and sight lines in mind. Eighty-five percent of lower-bowl seats are along the sidelines and corners, increasing to 95 percent in the upper deck. The result is a smaller overall footprint but with no compromise in fan amenities. In fact, the concourses are significantly wider than they were in the previous design done by architect Frank Gehry, Diaz said.

    A primary distinction is the upper suite level, restricted to 30 loft suites on the sides, selling for an average of $281,000 a year. That’s a departure from the two 360-degree levels of skyboxes common at major league arenas.

    Graphically, the word “Barclays” is painted across upper deck seats on both sides, giving the building a European flair embraced by the Nets’ London-based naming-rights partner, Diaz said. The words “Brooklyn Nets” are painted on the floor along the baselines.

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  • FSG extends deal with ISP Sports for Boston College radio rights

    Fenway Sports Group has signed a nine-year extension with ISP Sports for the college sports marketer to manage radio initiatives for Boston College football and men’s basketball.

    ISP, whose five-year deal with FSG was to expire later this year, will handle advertising and sponsorship sales, programming and production for Boston College radio broadcasts through June 2019. The school continues as one of more than 60 that ISP represents.

    Financial terms were not disclosed, but industry insiders say the rights are worth in the middle to high six figures annually.

    The deal was purposely structured to line up with a long-term extension FSG signed in 2007 with Boston College, in which the New England Sports Ventures unit oversees a comprehensive marketing and sales effort for the school’s athletic department.

    “The status quo in this instance has been very good to us, and this was a move to keep that structure in place,” said Billy Hogan, FSG managing director.

    ISP will seek to sell more national advertising for Boston College radio broadcasts that would be part of broader buys across ISP’s network of schools. Boston College radio broadcasts for men’s basketball and football are heard in all six New England states.

    “We’ve had a really good five-year run with these guys so far, and we’re looking forward to building upon that,” said Janeen Lalik, ISP Sports senior vice president.

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  • IRL hopes sales efforts result in bigger fields

    When the Indy Racing League drops the green flag this week in Brazil, the sport’s sanctioning body hopes to have anywhere from 22 to 25 cars participating in the season opener.

    One of the chief knocks against the sport has been car counts in the teens. The more cars a series has, the healthier the sport — or at least that’s the general consensus.

    The IRL has even begun to shift more of its sales efforts to help the teams obtain sponsorship, with the hope that car counts will continue to grow.

    “We always say, ‘Healthy teams, healthy league,’ and we’ve got to walk that walk,” said Greg Gruning, the IRL’s vice president of sales. “You build relationships when you sell sponsorships, but we’ve also got to build relationships with the teams and do what you say you’re going to do.”

    There’s often a healthy level of distrust in racing between any sanctioning body and its teams because both are in the business of seeking sponsorship. Breaking down that distrust has been among Gruning’s chief goals in his three years with the league.

    Bit by bit, Gruning has put certain tools in place to share information with the teams, and 2010 represents the first full year with all of these tools in place.

    Some are measurement tools, like data from league research partners Image Impact and Experian Simmons. Image Impact measures exposure, while Experian Simmons gauges consumer behavior. That and other information from the IRL’s own sponsor pitches is available to the teams through a password-protected Web portal.

    “It’s not static information,” Gruning said. “It’s fresh and changing, and sharing that with the teams helps all of us keep moving in the same direction.”

    Dan Griffis, vice president of business development at Chip Ganassi Racing, said the IRL’s outreach to the teams “helps because there is some pretty good information. It’s something that hasn’t been provided in the past and it helps communicate value back to the sponsors. … You see the IRL guys coming to more of the teams’ hospitality events, asking questions, and that’s good.”

    The IRL also is inviting more team executives and sponsors to its other events, like the Disney Ride & Drive, which allows sponsors to drive an IndyCar Series car, and bNet, the IRL’s business-to-business council. Those events and meetings had previously been reserved for league sponsors only.

    Mark Sibla, the IRL’s manager of team business development, was brought on last year to work with the teams, another indication of the league’s commitment, Gruning said.

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  • Johnson covered $80 million in Bobcats losses

    Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson absorbed roughly $80 million in operating losses over the course of his NBA investment, driving the billionaire founder of BET to sell the team earlier this month to Michael Jordan.

    According to a source familiar with the deal, the team has suffered about $100 million in operating losses since Johnson bought it for $300 million in 2003. Johnson’s ownership stake was about 80 percent at the time of the sale, up from the 65 percent when he first bought the franchise. Last season, the team lost about $30 million, and as losses mounted, Johnson assumed more ownership as some partners diluted their shares instead of funding capital calls.

    The NBA put the sale price of the franchise between $275 million and $290 million, short of Johnson’s $300 million original investment. “It used to be that you’d never lose money on a sports team because you could make it up on the sale,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports consultancy SportsCorp Ltd. “That conventional wisdom is no longer the case.”

    “It is not common where you will see a team sell for less than it was bought for,” agreed Rob Tilliss, a former sports banker who now runs advisory Inner Circle Sports. He added that Johnson was hurt by the NBA collective-bargaining agreement. “What we have seen recently is that player costs have grown at a higher rate than the ability to drive revenue.”

    Johnson is selling the team to limited partner
    Michael Jordan.

    Sal Galatioto, president of Galatioto Sports Partners, who represented Johnson in the sale of the team to Jordan, refused to comment.

    “Johnson happened to own the team at a time when the imbalance between player salaries and revenue was at its worst, and you combine that with a series of bad business moves and an absentee owner and you have shot yourself in both feet,” Ganis said.

    Johnson, who saw his net worth soar to more than $1 billion after selling BET to Viacom in 2000, operated the Bobcats under his privately held RLJ Cos., which includes holdings in banking, private equity and automobile dealerships, industries hit hard by the recession.

    The NBA was pushing for the deal to Jordan, who as a previous limited partner in the team had the right of first refusal of a sale. A group led by former Houston Rockets president George Postolos had a deal in place to buy the team if Jordan failed to meet a Feb. 26 sale deadline.

    One indication of Johnson’s — and the NBA’s — desire to complete the sale is a statement from NBA Commissioner David Stern that he expected the deal to be completed by the end of March. It’s rare that a sale of the team is put on such a fast track, but given that the Bobcats could have an operating loss between $30 million and $40 million this year, selling the team was critical to Johnson. Consider that the New Jersey Nets announced a sale agreement to Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov last September for $200 million, and the NBA has yet to approve the deal.

     “The NBA has been working on this for months and they are in a position to respond to it more quickly,” Ganis said.  “And it is not like they don’t know Michael Jordan very well.”

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  • MLBAM, Yahoo! build official fantasy game

    MLB Advanced Media and Yahoo! have expanded their video and advertising partnership to create the official MLB.com fantasy baseball game that will be powered by Yahoo!.

    The commissioner-style fantasy game will be accessible via both MLB.com and Yahoo! Sports. In addition to traditional postgame video highlights, the new game will offer in-game highlights that will synchronize with live scoring. Users will be able to customize those highlights for their individual fantasy teams, as well.

    This premium version of the game will cost $9.99 for the season after a two-week free trial. A free version of the co-branded game, without the video content, will also be available.

    Yahoo! will sell ads for the new game.

    The move parallels Yahoo! deals with the NHL and PGA Tour in which the portal produces official fantasy games for those leagues. The new deal also builds on the original MLBAM-Yahoo! agreement from 2008 through which Yahoo! makes the MLB.TV live game package available from its site and sells the advertising inventory against that content. Yahoo! last year also began to incorporate MLB.com material into its own fantasy baseball games, serving as another forerunner to the expanded deal.

    Yahoo! will sell the advertising for the new fantasy game, creating a situation where it will pitch brands on joint advertising buys for the game and MLB.TV.

    “This is a very much a continuation of our strategy to be a place leagues go to help reach a broad audience,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Yahoo! vice president of media.

    The deal marks a first for MLBAM in having a retail-level syndication of in-game highlights outside of MLB.com. Key partners such as ESPN and Yahoo! have existing rights deals with MLBAM that grant them access to such material on a wholesale level, but here the material will be sold on an a la carte basis.

    The deal also continues a resurgence in fantasy baseball for MLBAM after a prior operating strategy, which focused on licensing deals with fantasy game providers, fizzled in the wake of the CDM Fantasy Sports legal case. In the last year, baseball’s digital arm has created several prominent, differentiated fantasy experiences, including a mobile version of its popular Beat The Streak casual game and an alliance with Bloomberg Sports for an array of analytical fantasy products.

    “It’s always been our strategy to try and work with the major players out there and not look to steal [fantasy] players from other leagues,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive. “Perhaps that’s more apparent and more visible now, but it’s long been our desire to do something like this. … We’ve never put our highlights somewhere else like this, and we think we’re going to learn a lot.”

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  • ‘Much healthier’ licensing model for NASCAR near

    Seven months of negotiations have put NASCAR and its top teams in position to create the first NASCAR Properties, a trust that will serve as a centralized licensing agency for the sport.

    The unnamed unit will operate as a one-stop shop for licensees, but a key difference from other previously established league-licensing divisions is that revenue will be distributed to the teams based on sales and not a revenue-share agreement.

    The licensing body is being called a trust because one body — NASCAR Properties — will hold the rights and grant licenses on behalf of the teams. Participation by the teams will be voluntary, but the top teams such as JR Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing are in, as are several others that own valuable rights, like Dale Earnhardt Inc., which manages the late racing icon’s legacy business.

    The teams have agreed to include only certain categories  so far, like apparel. Which categories are in and which are out remains to be determined.

    “There are so many different organizations with so many different issues that it takes a long time and it’s highly complex,” said Jeff Steiner, general manager of DEI. “But the nature of discussions are positive and it’s moving forward with very good collaboration from the teams.

    NASCAR teams have managed
    licensing rights in-house, leading
    to confusion.

    “This is going to be a much healthier model for licensees and retailers.”

    In the past, NASCAR teams managed their licensing rights in-house — each team operates as an independent contractor, separate from the sanctioning body. That model was considered cumbersome and confusing for licensees because they had to negotiate five different contracts to get the licensing rights to five different drivers. Rights to the NASCAR mark were a separate conversation as well.

    But in the new trust, those team, driver and NASCAR marks will be available under the umbrella of NASCAR Properties, or whatever the trust is eventually called, thus the one-stop shopping model.

    Team executives involved in the formation of the trust say it might take the rest of the spring to finalize the arrangement, but it’s been called “imminent” by multiple sources. Talks began on Sept. 24 at NASCAR’s offices in Charlotte and have continued with multiple meetings each month. All of the top teams have been represented, while Paul Brooks, NASCAR senior vice president, has mediated the negotiations.

    The trust will be run by a board of industry licensing executives, although it has not been determined how many will serve or how long the terms will be. The board will mostly consist of team executives, although officials from NASCAR also could be considered.

    Never before have NASCAR’s teams and the sanctioning body combined their rights into one entity, making the formation of a NASCAR Properties a first for the sport.

    “It’s long overdue,” said Joe Mattes, the vice president of marketing and licensing at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports. “Teams realize that we can’t continue on as independent contractors, at least in licensing. There has to be a set of standards that we all work by.”

    The negotiations to unify the licensing rights were prompted by the financial troubles of Motorsports Authentics, the dominant licensee in the industry. MA, which has been on the verge of bankruptcy for the past year, owes millions to several teams. As part of the arrangement to create NASCAR Properties, teams will forgive MA for most of its debt.

    Industry insiders say that even the most ardent opponents of MA have come to grips with losing that revenue. MA’s contracts with the top teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing guaranteed as much as $3 million a year, but MA has been paying only a third to a half of the guarantee to the teams.

    MA’s die-cast car business will be spun off into a separate entity and will be managed by a third party, industry sources said. Revenue from the die-cast business will be shared among the teams as a way to satisfy part of MA’s debt. MA is expected to continue as a much leaner company that focuses strictly on trackside retail sales.

    MA just two years ago took in more than $200 million in annual revenue, but that number was cut in half in 2009 as the recession took a bite out of sales and business plummeted.

    “Hopefully this licensing strategy works and this can become a testimonial for what can happen when teams pool their rights and work together,” Mattes said. “Some teams are already doing that in other areas, like engines and other equipment, so at least conceptually it’s a good thing.”

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  • NCAA adding Kraft, Capital One

    Just days before its flagship event begins, the NCAA is adding Kraft as a corporate partner and is closing a deal with Capital One as a corporate champion, the highest level of sponsorship.

    Both new sponsors plan significant activation around the NCAA tournament and Final Four, from ad buys on tournament broadcaster CBS to a presence in Bracket Town, the interactive fan event at the Final Four in Indianapolis. Those elements, as well as spots on CBSSports.com and NCAA.com, are assets built into the sponsorships.

    CBS, which owns and sells the NCAA’s marketing and sponsorship rights as part of the 11-year, $6 billion broadcast agreement, confirmed the addition of Kraft as a corporate partner, but had no comment on Capital One’s entry as a corporate champion in the retail banking category.

    Financial terms of both multiyear deals were not available, but corporate partners typically pay in the high seven figures annually, while the corporate champions go for the low eight figures a year.

    “In the last year or so, we really feel like the corporate program has gained a lot of momentum,” said Chris Simko, a CBS senior vice president and director of CBS Sports Properties.

    The NCAA recently lost General Motors as a corporate champion and Sheraton dropped out as a corporate partner last year. GM had been in talks with the NCAA and CBS for nearly a year as it evaluated all of its sports sponsorships during bankruptcy proceedings, but it eventually decided to exit.

    At the champion level, Capital One will join AT&T and Coca-Cola, both longtime sponsors with the NCAA. Sponsors at the partner level include LG, Lowe’s, State Farm, Enterprise, The Hartford and Hershey’s, in addition to Kraft. At the champion level, sponsors receive more ad time and integration into the broadcasts on CBS, although each deal has its own characteristics.

    Capital One’s entry at the champion level will give the company a college basketball platform to go with its substantial marketing against college football.

    Capital One is the title sponsor of the New Year’s Day bowl game in Orlando, as well as the sponsor of the Mascot of the Year award to go with its major ad buys on ESPN during Capital One Bowl Week. The company hired former quarterback Doug Flutie to be its spokesman for its ad campaign during the last football season.

    The multiyear agreement for Kraft to become an NCAA corporate partner begins immediately with in-store activation and a plan for extensive sampling at the Final Four. Kraft, which had been an NCAA partner in the past, gave an assist on the new deal to IMG, which helped arrange the sponsorship agreement with CBS. Momentum will lead creative development and implementation of in-store and on-site activation, as well as experiential marketing.

    “We feel like big stages are the right place for our big brands,” said Stephen Chriss, senior director of marketing partnerships for Kraft Foods.

    Kraft’s deal includes official status, promotional and marketing rights for its Planters, Ritz, Oreo and Wheat Thins brands across the NCAA’s 88 men’s and women’s championships. Kraft’s spend gives it exclusive status for the nut, cracker and cookie categories.

    As part of Kraft’s plan to activate around the tournament, it will conduct product sampling, contests and promotions, details of which are being worked out. The company also is working on an in-store program with Coca-Cola that will include college-themed displays in grocery stores with the official NCAA and Final Four marks.

    “Big displays in grocery stores is a strength of ours, and a partnership with the NCAA certainly helps elevate our credibility and gets more displays up in stores,” Chriss said. “That’s the win for us. You’ll see various offers in stores, and this will also help us launch two new products.”

    Planters will introduce a new almonds and cashews product, Flavor Grove, in the next month, while Ritz is coming out with Munchables, a combination cracker-pretzel snack. Both will be part of Kraft’s sampling at the Final Four.

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  • Nets, IMG team up to bring college hoops to Barclays

    IMG has signed a deal with the New Jersey Nets to lure major collegiate sports into the planned Barclays Center as the team looks to boost the number of events in its $800 million new arena.

    The deal calls for IMG College to focus on booking top college basketball games into the facility, which is scheduled to open in Brooklyn by late 2012.

    “We are looking at 25-plus major college matches while developing a collegiate franchise” at the Barclays Center, said Brett Yormark, president and CEO of Nets Sports and Entertainment. “We are looking at IMG to leverage their relationships from a content perspective.”

    Yormark is promising more than 200 events in the new arena and hopes that IMG College will be able to convince top basketball schools to play neutral site games in Brooklyn. IMG College sells marketing, sponsorship and media rights for 23 major programs, including basketball powerhouses such as Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State and Florida.

    This is the first time that IMG College has signed a booking deal directly with an arena.

    “We have worked with different venues, but this is the first time under IMG College that we have gone out and represented an arena for these type of events,” said Tom Stultz, senior vice president and managing director of IMG College.

    Both IMG and the Nets believe that schools would trade a home date to play in the Barclays Center in order to gain media coverage while using an appearance in the New York area as a recruiting tool.

    “The Nets need content and the schools like to have the media and recruiting exposure in the large New York market with a tournament feel,” Stultz said. “Our deal with the Nets is to try to leverage our relationships that we have with top-tier programs. If it evolves that our partners are interested, we would work with the Nets on how to get the most out of sponsorship opportunities.”

    IMG College would also likely broker title sponsorships for any college events it brings to the facility. The Nets and IMG face stiff competition with Madison Square Garden, an arena considered the mecca of basketball and host of the NIT and the Big East tournament.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Yormark is hoping the lure of hosting big-time college basketball will help sell 104 suites in the Barclays Center in an already crowded New York premium seating market.

    “As we sell our suites, it is critical that our programming is aligned with IMG,” Yormark said. “We are looking to develop a collegiate franchise and IMG has the relationships.”

    Yormark has a relationship with IMG, as, prior to joining the Nets in 2005, he worked for IMG President George Pyne at NASCAR.

    The Nets will hold a Barclays Center groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, giving IMG College and the Nets two years to develop arena content.

    “We still have to sit down and map out a timetable,” Stultz said. “Part of our role is to help the Barclays Center navigate through NCAA compliance and it takes time to make the scheduling and financial arrangements. The lead time is a benefit.”

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  • NFL to make major content push on Hulu

    The NFL is rolling out elements of a new digital syndication strategy that reverses previous efforts to push all of the league’s key online content to NFL.com.

    The league this week plans to announce an alliance with prominent video portal Hulu in which more than 600 clips of NFL content, encompassing more than 400 hours, will be made available. The clips will be mostly archival material and NFL Films-produced shows on NFL Network, such as “Game Of The Week” and “America’s Game.”

    The partnership began on an experimental basis in late January. Plans call for expanding the effort to more than 1,000 clips by the start of the 2010 season. The material is quickly sortable by team.

    NFL content, including some game highlights, also began quietly showing up on Yahoo! Sports and on MySpace during the latter portions of the 2009 season, with an NFL.com-branded video player launching from each site. The league now is actively pursuing other distribution partners, as well, though league officials declined to identify specific targets.

    The moves are a marked turn following a 2006 vote by league owners to bring their Internet rights in-house and relaunch NFL.com the following summer based on a model of content exclusivity.

    “This is really the next step or phase in the development of our Internet business,” said Hans Schroeder, vice president of NFL Digital Media. “The first phase was definitely built around a model of exclusivity, particularly with regard to game footage and highlights, but we’re now out looking at strategic syndication opportunities and want to have more content in more places.”

    Hulu will get 400+ hours of NFL content.

    The NFL’s immediate focus is at the league level. While the recent deals do aim to provide additional touchpoints for team-specific content, efforts to bolster content available directly on the team sites are secondary to a focus on NFL.com.

    Financial terms of the pacts with Hulu, Yahoo! and MySpace were not available, but the Hulu deal in particular is built around revenue sharing with minimum guarantees pledged to the NFL. Users will be able to access the material for free.

    Despite the idea of decentralization, the moves are intended to complement the user experience at NFL.com. The league hopes to engage fans who might not necessarily visit NFL.com and also supplement the digital revenue being generated there.

    “Our big thing is about content discovery,” said Andy Forssell, Hulu senior vice president of content and distribution. “We think we can help bring further life to great content [that] people may not know is available. We’re looking to make a difference for the NFL in that regard.”

    Forssell said the new NFL alliance will likely prompt Hulu to more prominently spotlight all of its sports content on the site.

    Many major online companies have been pressing the NFL to make more of its content available since the move to bring its digital rights in-house. Hulu first approached the league in 2007, prior to its early 2008 launch, and others did so as well around the same time.

    “We’re already looking do more with the NFL for next season,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Yahoo! vice president of media. “We think we can give them a big opportunity to reach a new audience, more casual fans. We’re very bullish on where we think this can go.”

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  • Rowdy.com broadens focus to events beyond NASCAR tracks

    Rowdy.com, the edgy and irreverent sports Web site that formerly focused its cameras solely on NASCAR, is relaunching its site this week to provide users with a new look that will include coverage of other major sports.

    The site will now address the seven core
    sports covered by Sporting News.

    Operating under the Sporting News flag, Rowdy’s video-centric site will broaden its coverage to include the seven core sports covered by Sporting News — the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR and college football and basketball.

    Rowdy and Sporting News are owned by American City Business Journals, which also owns SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.

    In addition to a redesigned site by San Diego-based Digitaria, Rowdy is introducing a new video platform that’s being powered by its new Web partner, Ooyala, whose other clients include Dell, Warner Bros. and Electronic Arts.

    With the tag line “Say it like it is,” Rowdy’s site includes original videos, blogs, discussion groups and highlighted posts from Twitter and Facebook. Rowdy’s videos are shot from events and also from its own sets. Two new videos debut each day, along with a sports podcast.

    — Michael Smith

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  • Sale of Rangers hits snag as Opening Day approaches

    The sale of the Texas Rangers stalled last week, sources said, after MLB informed the team’s creditors that there would be delays in responding to the lenders’ concerns about the deal.

    The developments serve as a challenge to would-be buyer Chuck Greenberg’s stated goal of having the transaction closed by Opening Day, if it can close at all, the sources said.

    The Rangers are owned by Tom Hicks, whose Hicks Sports Group also owns the Dallas Stars. HSG last March defaulted on $525 million of debt. Under pressure from MLB, Hicks agreed to sell the Rangers and chose Greenberg as the buyer in mid-December, reaching a formal agreement a little more than a month later.

    The creditors are unhappy with the structure of the proposed $570 million deal because only $230 million would flow to the lenders, according to terms of the initial deal submitted to them in late January. They are looking for at least $300 million.

    MLB, acting as intermediary between the creditors and HSG, was scheduled to respond by Feb. 26 to their demand for more cash. On March 1, MLB informed the lenders that there were delays but did not offer details for why the delays were happening, the sources said.

    Of the delays, one financial source said, “I don’t even think a deal gets done at $300 million from the banks’ perspective. It feels like they are spinning their wheels.” Another financial source was not as pessimistic but conceded that the clock was approaching midnight for getting a deal done by Opening Day.

    Hicks, through a spokesman, declined to comment. Greenberg spokesman Kevin Sullivan said his client remains confident of the Opening Day target.

    “As with any deal of this complexity, there are a myriad of matters to be addressed, but nothing has happened, or not happened, to delay the April timeline,” Sullivan said.

    Greenberg is moving on another front to get the deal done. He has arranged a loan commitment from Bank of America for $140 million to help fund the deal in the event the creditors agree to it, sources said. He plans to tap only $80 million of the funding immediately, one source said, leaving the remainder in reserve.

    Bank of America and Greenberg, through Sullivan, declined to comment.

    MLB’s chief financial officer, Jonathan Mariner, who along with MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy is leading the talks at the league level, also declined to comment.

    The reason for the disparity between the $570 million purchase price and the money flowing to the banks is monetary offsets. For example, the Rangers owe $57 million to the MLB credit facility and $17 million to the league to pay back payroll cash the team borrowed. The parking lot around the ballpark is appraised at $75 million, and that money goes directly to Hicks. There also are tens of millions of dollars in investment banking fees.

    The lead creditors are Galatioto Sports Partners, Monarch Alternative Capital, Metropolitan Life, Bain Capital affiliate Sankaty Advisors and JPMorgan Chase. GSP, Monarch and JPMorgan declined to comment. Sankaty and Met Life did not return calls.

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  • Solar company picks SportsMark for Cup activation

    Yingli Solar, the newest tier-one sponsor of the 2010 World Cup, hired the Omnicom agency SportsMark to manage its sponsorship, hospitality and activation in South Africa this summer.

    SportsMark will work on a short five-month time frame to help the solar energy company develop plans to activate its first global sports sponsorship. The agency will not only develop hospitality and ticketing programs for Yingli guests and business partners but also advise the company on its in-venue signs and commercial displays.

    Yingli hired SportsMark because it liked the agency’s proposal and felt it had the requisite sports hospitality experience to help the company navigate and effectively activate its first global sports sponsorship, said Judy Tzeng Lee, Yingli’s director of corporate development.

    Jason Liu, vice president of marketing, added: “We look forward to leveraging SportsMark’s knowledge and expertise in the development of our ticketing and hospitality programs.”

    Yingli signed its World Cup sponsorship because it believed soccer’s popularity would help the company raise brand awareness in key markets such as Germany, Italy and Spain, and potential markets such as Brazil and Africa. It’s a big gamble that the company hopes to make work by emphasizing business-to-business hospitality programs.

    Tier-one FIFA sponsors typically pay $100 million.

    The company hasn’t determined how many guests it will host in South Africa, but SportsMark already has begun to develop three hospitality programs targeting clients from Europe, China and the Americas.

    “It will be a sprint,” said SportsMark President Keith Bruce. “We have 100 days to put the programs together.”

    SportsMark is the exclusive sales agent in the United States for FIFA’s official hospitality programs. In addition to Yingli, it is managing hospitality programs for Visa, Sony, Univision and Soccer United Marketing.

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  • Some conferences cut athletes’ tourney gifts

    Several major college conferences have decided that the practice of providing gift packages to student athletes playing in end-of-season tournaments is, well, madness.

    Administrators at the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Mid-American conferences voted last summer to suspend the distribution of all gifts for tournaments and championships played this school year. 

    “It was strictly a cost-containment decision,” said Pac-10 Assistant Commissioner Dave Hirsch. “It was just part of a bigger budget plan.”

    Big Ten and MAC officials echoed that sentiment, and each conference suggested that the decision will be revisited this summer.

    TOURNEY TIME
    Gifts being provided to teams by select college conferences and the NCAA for participation in March tournaments this year.
    CONFERENCE
    (No. of packages being distributed)
    GIFTS
    ACC (600)* Nintendo Wii package, Under Armour backpack
    Atlantic 10 (NA) Choose one: iPod dock audio system; Bose earbuds; digital camera; portable DVD player; SwissGear Army backpack. Plus, a jacket and eco-friendly water bottle.
    Big 12 (720) Flip UltraHD camcorder
    Big East (704) Nintendo Wii package
    Conference USA (600) Choose one Sony item: Portable DVD player; micro hi-fi shelf system; multifunction clock radio for iPod/iPhone; 7-inch digital photo frame; noise-canceling earbuds; wireless headphones; 16GB S series Walkman video MP3 player; Cyber-shot digital camera
    Mountain West (400) Choose one: Sony 7-inch portable DVD/CD/MP3 player with case; Samsung 10 MP digital camera; Ogio rolling suitcase; iLuv iPod dock audio system with dual alarm clock
    SEC (NA) Choose one: Garmin Nuvi GPS, Sony digital camera, Apple iPod Touch 8GB, Flip MinoHD camcorder, Wenger two-tone watch
    NCAA (NA) Bench chair, Jostens ring, Fossil watch, backpack, Wilson mini-basketball and commemorative ticket. Final Four participants also will receive a piece of the playing court.
    * Gifts are paid for by the tournament host committees rather than the conference.
    NA: Not available
    Sources: NCAA, conferences

    Significant dollars are at stake. Once the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball champions are crowned in a few weeks, the players participating in this year’s March Madness will have been eligible to rack up more than $3,000 in gifts from their schools, conferences and the NCAA (see chart). Up to 25 gift packages can be provided to a team by its school and by its conference for participating in this month’s conference tournaments, according to NCAA bylaws. An unlimited number of additional packages can be bought and given to guests, such as sponsors and media partners.

    The limits set up by the NCAA are similar across most sports and sanctioned events; they are in play not only for basketball players. There are, however, variances based on whether the sport is individual or team-based, among other factors.

    By eliminating the distribution of these packages for all sports this school year, the MAC expects to save $40,000. The Pac-10 and Big Ten figure to cut at least $300,000 from their annual expenses. Men’s and women’s basketball tournament gift packages typically make up about 75 percent of the major conferences’ annual gift budgets.

    Players are not the only ones who will be going home empty-handed.

    “There will also be no gifts for VIPs,” said Scott Chipman, Big Ten assistant commissioner of communications. “And we have not done media gifts for years.”

    The MAC, Big East and Pac-10 are among the conferences that also have eliminated those perks.

    The majority of the major conferences, however, are continuing with gift allocations.

    “We discussed it last spring,” said Mountain West Conference Associate Commissioner Dan Butterly. “We debated cutting basketball and we talked about cutting all sports, but we decided that the overall cost was worth it.”

    The roughly $100,000 that the conference will spend this year on gift packages represents 1 percent of its total expenditures for the fiscal year. The conference is, however, buying only 22 gift packages a school for this year’s basketball tournaments instead of the allowable 25 it has bought in years past.

    Nearly all of the gifts offered by the conferences are brokered by a third-party promotions company, such as Memphis-based Davene Inc.

    “Davene handles everything. I don’t need to ask any questions about it other than ‘What’s our price?’” said Monay Scholle, Conference USA director of events. “I just gave each school an order form to turn in to me no later than Feb. 1.”

    Nashville-based Goldner Associates negotiated with vendors on behalf of several other conferences, including the ACC, Mountain West and SEC.

    A BASKETBALL BONANZA
    NCAA Division I basketball players can receive gifts totaling up to $3,380 from their schools, conferences and the NCAA.
    Participation awards
    Type of award Maximum value Maximum possible total
    Playing in regular season (from the school) $175 to underclassmen/$325 to seniors $175 (underclassmen) / $325 (seniors)
    Conference tournament $325 from school, $325 from conference $650
    NCAA tournament $325 from school, no limit from the NCAA $925*
    • TOTAL   $1,750 / $1,900
    Championship awards
    Conference regular season $325 from school, $325 from conference $650**
    Conference tournament $325 from school, $325 from conference $650**
    NCAA tournament $415 from school, $415 from conference $830
    • TOTAL   $1,480
    GRAND TOTAL   $3,230 / $3,380
    * According to the NCAA, this year’s participant gift package has an estimated value of approximately $600.
    ** The combined value of both awards shall not exceed $650 if the same institution wins conference regular-season and postseason championships.
    Source: NCAA

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  • Some conferences cut athletes’ tourney gifts

    Several major college conferences have decided that the practice of providing gift packages to student athletes playing in end-of-season tournaments is, well, madness.

    Administrators at the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Mid-American conferences voted last summer to suspend the distribution of all gifts for tournaments and championships played this school year. 

    “It was strictly a cost-containment decision,” said Pac-10 Assistant Commissioner Dave Hirsch. “It was just part of a bigger budget plan.”

    Big Ten and MAC officials echoed that sentiment, and each conference suggested that the decision will be revisited this summer.

    TOURNEY TIME
    Gifts being provided to teams by select college conferences and the NCAA for participation in March tournaments this year.
    CONFERENCE
    (No. of packages being distributed)
    GIFTS
    ACC (600)* Nintendo Wii package, Under Armour backpack
    Atlantic 10 (NA) Choose one: iPod dock audio system; Bose earbuds; digital camera; portable DVD player; SwissGear Army backpack. Plus, a jacket and eco-friendly water bottle.
    Big 12 (720) Flip UltraHD camcorder
    Big East (704) Nintendo Wii package
    Conference USA (600) Choose one Sony item: Portable DVD player; micro hi-fi shelf system; multifunction clock radio for iPod/iPhone; 7-inch digital photo frame; noise-canceling earbuds; wireless headphones; 16GB S series Walkman video MP3 player; Cyber-shot digital camera
    Mountain West (400) Choose one: Sony 7-inch portable DVD/CD/MP3 player with case; Samsung 10 MP digital camera; Ogio rolling suitcase; iLuv iPod dock audio system with dual alarm clock
    SEC (NA) Choose one: Garmin Nuvi GPS, Sony digital camera, Apple iPod Touch 8GB, Flip MinoHD camcorder, Wenger two-tone watch
    NCAA (NA) Bench chair, Jostens ring, Fossil watch, backpack, Wilson mini-basketball and commemorative ticket. Final Four participants also will receive a piece of the playing court.
    * Gifts are paid for by the tournament host committees rather than the conference.
    NA: Not available
    Sources: NCAA, conferences

    Significant dollars are at stake. Once the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball champions are crowned in a few weeks, the players participating in this year’s March Madness will have been eligible to rack up more than $3,000 in gifts from their schools, conferences and the NCAA (see chart). Up to 25 gift packages can be provided to a team by its school and by its conference for participating in this month’s conference tournaments, according to NCAA bylaws. An unlimited number of additional packages can be bought and given to guests, such as sponsors and media partners.

    The limits set up by the NCAA are similar across most sports and sanctioned events; they are in play not only for basketball players. There are, however, variances based on whether the sport is individual or team-based, among other factors.

    By eliminating the distribution of these packages for all sports this school year, the MAC expects to save $40,000. The Pac-10 and Big Ten figure to cut at least $300,000 from their annual expenses. Men’s and women’s basketball tournament gift packages typically make up about 75 percent of the major conferences’ annual gift budgets.

    Players are not the only ones who will be going home empty-handed.

    “There will also be no gifts for VIPs,” said Scott Chipman, Big Ten assistant commissioner of communications. “And we have not done media gifts for years.”

    The MAC, Big East and Pac-10 are among the conferences that also have eliminated those perks.

    The majority of the major conferences, however, are continuing with gift allocations.

    “We discussed it last spring,” said Mountain West Conference Associate Commissioner Dan Butterly. “We debated cutting basketball and we talked about cutting all sports, but we decided that the overall cost was worth it.”

    The roughly $100,000 that the conference will spend this year on gift packages represents 1 percent of its total expenditures for the fiscal year. The conference is, however, buying only 22 gift packages a school for this year’s basketball tournaments instead of the allowable 25 it has bought in years past.

    Nearly all of the gifts offered by the conferences are brokered by a third-party promotions company, such as Memphis-based Davene Inc.

    “Davene handles everything. I don’t need to ask any questions about it other than ‘What’s our price?’” said Monay Scholle, Conference USA director of events. “I just gave each school an order form to turn in to me no later than Feb. 1.”

    Nashville-based Goldner Associates negotiated with vendors on behalf of several other conferences, including the ACC, Mountain West and SEC.

    A BASKETBALL BONANZA
    NCAA Division I basketball players can receive gifts totaling up to $3,380 from their schools, conferences and the NCAA.
    Participation awards
    Type of award Maximum value Maximum possible total
    Playing in regular season (from the school) $175 to underclassmen/$325 to seniors $175 (underclassmen) / $325 (seniors)
    Conference tournament $325 from school, $325 from conference $650
    NCAA tournament $325 from school, no limit from the NCAA $925*
    • TOTAL   $1,750 / $1,900
    Championship awards
    Conference regular season $325 from school, $325 from conference $650**
    Conference tournament $325 from school, $325 from conference $650**
    NCAA tournament $415 from school, $415 from conference $830
    • TOTAL   $1,480
    GRAND TOTAL   $3,230 / $3,380
    * According to the NCAA, this year’s participant gift package has an estimated value of approximately $600.
    ** The combined value of both awards shall not exceed $650 if the same institution wins conference regular-season and postseason championships.
    Source: NCAA

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  • Virgin Mobile signs Oudin to 4-year deal

    Melanie Oudin, the surprising 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist, has agreed to an endorsement deal with cellular phone service provider Virgin Mobile. The deal is scheduled to be announced Tuesday.

    The four-year agreement could be worth as much as $2 million depending on how Oudin performs. It guarantees her at least around $500,000.

    Virgin Mobile will contribute $1 million to homeless-youth organizations if 18-year-old Oudin wins this year’s U.S. Open. Virgin Mobile’s The RE*Generation program raises awareness on the issue in the United States.

    Virgin Mobile joins BackOffice Associates and AirTran in having reached deals with Oudin after her U.S. Open run last year, said John Tobias, head of tennis at BEST, Oudin’s agency,

    Because the deal is for cellular phone service, as opposed to hardware, it does not conflict with the WTA’s sponsor relationship with Sony Ericsson, even though WTA players, as independent contractors, are free to sign conflicting deals. Nevertheless, Tobias said Virgin Mobile and Oudin held off announcing the deal until Sony Ericsson and the WTA had reached an extension of their agreement.

    — Daniel Kaplan

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  • Winter tennis gets warm reception

    Jerry Solomon might be best known for being married to figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, but with the continuing success of his Billie Jean King Cup, he can certainly take a bow.

    The idea that there was a demand for exhibition tennis during the winter in New York seemed unlikely when he first proposed it three years ago. New York already has the U.S. Open in September, and meaningful tennis fled Madison Square Garden years ago in the form of the WTA and ATP finals.

    Solomon and his firm, StarGames, have found a niche, though.

    The event promoter’s third annual tennis exhibition at MSG last week featured four top-ranked Sony Ericsson WTA Tour players and drew a crowd of 11,702, down slightly from 2009 and well off the 19,690 who showed up for the classic Roger Federer-Pete Sampras matchup that launched the series. Nevertheless, last week’s crowd was enthusiastic, and the sponsors, led by BNP Paribas, were filling Solomon’s coffers, though he declined to offer specific financial figures.

    Other sponsors with a notable presence included Fila and Fiji Water.

    Venus Williams (above) played Kim Clijsters in
    the BNP Paribas Showdown last week.

    “We’re maxed out on sponsorship,” Solomon said just before the final between Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters.

    The format of the event called for two opening one-set matches, with those winners playing a best-of-three-set final. Total prize money was $1.2 million; Williams took the crown and $400,000. Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova also competed.

    The event is a partnership with MSG. Solomon hopes that by 2012, when the ATP and WTA tennis calendars allow it, the event will stretch over two days and involve both men and women.

    Last year, HBO televised the showcase and looked to be using the exhibition as a way to get back into tennis after dropping Wimbledon a decade ago. This year, MSG Plus and ESPN2 televised the evening.

    Solomon was noncommittal about why HBO was not involved this year other than to say it was tough to find a home among the channel’s sports properties. He said his deals with ESPN2 and MSG Plus are not time buys, but he declined to offer other details. Asked if the deals were for more than just this year, he said that was not decided.

    NAMES OF NOTE: Spotted in the crowd were Adam Silver, deputy commissioner at the NBA and a big tennis fan; David Levy, president of Turner Sports; Jonathan Blue, chairman of BEST; former NFL marketing executive Howard Handler; Andrew Murstein, the Medallion Financial executive always on the prowl for pro sports teams; and Bob Basche, chairman of Millsport and the man who coined the phrase “Breakfast at Wimbledon” for NBC. … Condolences to the family of Georgina Clark, the retired and longtime Sony Ericsson WTA supervisor who passed away last week.

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  • WTA retains Sony Ericsson

    Sony Ericsson will remain the WTA Tour’s lead financial backer but will drop its title sponsorship of the tour under terms of a new deal that stretches through 2012.

    The agreement, which is scheduled to be announced in London early this week, calls for the Sony Ericsson brand to be taken off the tour’s name at a time still to be determined later this year.

    The tour is essentially ripping up the final 10 months of its existing six-year deal with the company and creating a nearly three-year, $27 million sponsorship contract. The old deal averaged $14.7 million annually.

    While the deal’s average annual fee is dropping by almost 40 percent, the development is likely to be viewed as a great win for the WTA because most observers had written off the chances the financially ailing cellular phone company would stay on. In addition, while the tour is losing some of the assets that Sony Ericsson sponsored, it is also picking up new inventory to sell.

    Sony Ericsson is dropping its title sponsorship of the tour’s season-ending championship, so the WTA could recoup some of the loss by selling naming rights to that tournament. It also could sell licensed merchandise around the WTA brand.

    “We are thrilled to be able to keep one of the best sponsors in the history of women’s tennis,” said Stacey Allaster, chief executive of the WTA, in an interview last week.

    Sony Ericsson signed its initial agreement with
    the WTA in 2004.

    The WTA signed the initial deal in late 2004. It was the largest sponsorship in women’s sports and in tennis overall. Under that deal, Sony Ericsson owed the WTA $16 million this year, but that payment will be shaved to about $10 million, sources said, with the tour receiving about $16 million to $17 million over the following two years.

    A tennis source said the WTA would enjoy the same level of net profitability even with the reduced fees, pointing to fewer tickets being required in the new sponsorship package and Sony Ericsson dropping the requirement that past stars of the game appear at events. The WTA had to pay them appearance fees.

    Sony Ericsson will keep its logo on the netposts of all 53 tournaments, and players whose apparel contracts do not forbid it will still be required to wear a patch that incorporates the Sony Ericsson name in some fashion.

    The deal underscores an emerging trend in sports: Title deals are tough to renew, and when they are, it’s frequently for reduced rates.

    “These global sponsorship properties are really tough sells,” said Bob Basche, chairman of Millsport. “But on the other hand, to salvage the sponsorship at even below-percent costs was a good move for the tour.” Pointing in part to the difficulties of selling naming rights to stadiums in the current economy, Basche added, “All but the most prestigious title sponsorships are really under the microscope.”

    Aldo Liguori, Sony Ericsson’s corporate vice president and head of global communications and public relations, said the company’s strategy had changed since signing the initial deal in 2004. At that time, the company was only three years old and needed the global brand exposure a title deal offered, he said.

    Now, Liguori said, the company is looking for more activation on-site at events and more use of social media, an area in which the tour plans to expand aggressively. It is planning an announcement in this regard at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami later this month, but tour officials declined to comment on details.

    Sony Ericsson’s sponsorship of that event is separate from its WTA deal.

    Sony Ericsson posted a $1.2 billion loss in 2009 and saw leadership changes at the company in October. Still, Allaster, who took on the chief executive’s job in July, never looked at a new deal as being a lost cause. She also shared a fresh partner at Sony Ericsson in the company’s new president, Bert Nordberg.

    Perhaps the critical moment in reaching a new deal came on Oct. 15, when Allaster, WTA communications executive Andrew Walker, Venus Williams, Melanie Oudin and Billie Jean King met at Sony headquarters in New York with Nordberg and his team. Allaster pointed to that meeting as giving the tour confidence a deal could be struck and showing Sony Ericsson just how committed the tour, and its players, were to keeping the deal.

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