SBJ/20100315/This Week's News

Tour strengthens sponsor activation with Sony Ericsson patch

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is stepping up its requirement that players wear a clothing patch with the tour’s name, tennis sources said, even as the name of the title sponsor will be dropped from the official circuit moniker later this year.

Under terms of a deal announced earlier this month, Sony Ericsson is ending its title sponsorship of the tour but will remain its lead financial backer. That continued involvement includes having its name appear in some fashion on a patch worn by tour players.

The tour also has informed players they can no longer wear the patch on their shoulder straps. Instead, the patch is to be worn on a player’s chest, sleeve or collar.

Clijsters was expected to wear the
Sony Ericsson patch after a
previous deal expired.

A tour spokesman said there is no more than the usual tweaking that occurs normally with any rule and that there is not some sense of stepped up enforcement of the patch rule, despite what several tennis sources have said.

The patch has been the source of a long-running drama in women’s tennis. Many players’ clothing contracts preclude them from wearing the patch, setting up a divide between players who wear it and those who do not. The latest twist, however, comes as a bit of a surprise to some, because Sony Ericsson is reducing its financial commitment to the tour.

Reigning U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters was scheduled last week to wear the patch for the first time since before 2005.

John Dolan, Clijsters’ agent and a former tour official, said Clijsters for many years had an endorsement deal with a Belgian telecommunications company that conflicted with Sony Ericsson. She switched the endorsement to another company, Telenet, late last year and presumed that the tour would still give her a pass, Dolan said, but the tour told her she must begin wearing the patch.

Players with deals that are so-called “clean” contracts, meaning they cannot put any logo on their dress or shirt, are exempt from the tour’s patch program. Most Nike contracts, for example, are clean. These players instead must fulfill their obligations to the tour in other ways, like appearances on behalf of Sony Ericsson or another WTA cause.

“EVERYTHING will get tougher,” player agent Ken Meyerson wrote in an e-mail. Meyerson’s clients include 2010 Australian Open finalist and former world No. 1 Justin Henin. “Sony Ericsson is looking for more return, more activation, and more player support.”

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