SBJ/20100308/This Week's News

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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