SBJ/Dec. 20-26, 2010/This Week's Issue

Olympus countersues USTA, claims pattern of sponsor conflict

Olympus Corp. of the Americas countersued the U.S. Tennis Association in New York state court last week, seeking reimbursement of a significant amount of the more than $10 million in sponsorship fees it has paid the tennis group since 2003.

The USTA last month sued Olympus, a key U.S. Open sponsor and title sponsor of the U.S. Open Series, for breaking its sponsorship deal in September, one year before the contract allowed. In its first public response, a reply filed Dec. 15, Olympus said that a new Panasonic sponsorship at this year’s Open no only violated Olympus’ deal with the USTA, but that there had been a continuing pattern of conflict with the tennis group. In fact, Olympus alleged in its legal filing that in 2006 and 2007 the USTA reimbursed Olympus some of its fees because of sponsorship conflicts that occurred at the U.S. Open during those years.

“The USTA ... did not live up to its promises,” the complaint states. “In particular, Olympus was not pleased that the USTA continued to court its primary competitors in the camera market.”

Olympus also blasted the new USTA leadership, contending that under the old regime the camera maker’s concerns were ultimately addressed. The complaint specifically named Harlan Stone, the USTA’s chief business and marketing officer, for this year failing to address issues with Panasonic’s sponsorship.

“Unlike its prior management team, the USTA’s new management team largely dismissed Olympus’ concerns,” the complaint stated. The USTA hired Stone in 2009, shortly after Arlen Kantarian stepped down as head of the tennis body.

The USTA could not be reached for comment on Olympus’ allegations. In its initial complaint, the USTA argued that the Panasonic sponsorship covered televisions only and did not compete with Olympus’ camera category.

Olympus rejected that distinction. “Olympus and Panasonic compete for virtually the same consumers by offering similar cameras with identical lens mounts,” the complaint said.

Olympus is seeking damages to be determined at trial, plus attorney fees. It also wants a declaration from the court that its sponsorship is ended.

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