SBJ/April 11-17, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

WTA, ATP take aim at online gambling sites

The WTA and ATP World Tour want to crack down on online gaming sites that use live scoring of their matches, women’s tennis Chief Executive Stacey Allaster said.

The two governing bodies have jointly hired London law firm Couchmans to represent them and advise on how best to sell the data. Couchmans estimates, Allaster said, that tennis online gambling is a $22 billion annual business, or 8 percent of global online gaming, so the tours want to capitalize on the importance of live scoring by charging outlets that use it.

In the United States, Stats Inc. is the go-to licensee for live scoring. Many leagues sign some type of omnibus licensing deal with Stats — the company essentially owns the market, but there are others — and Stats deals with individual media entities, fantasy hubs, legal gambling outfits, and so forth, to resell the data. Stats and the league share the revenue.

Overseas, the business is a country-by-country affair, with the answer varying to the legal question of whether live scores are proprietary content. The online gaming sites send “spotters” to the tennis matches to report back the live scores, Allaster said, and currently, the tournaments handle the issue independently. Over the next few years, Allaster expects the tours to adopt a uniform policy and to earn money selling the scores.

BUILDING A RESERVE: Speaking of the WTA, the body has sold naming rights to its season-ending championships event, which later this year starts a three-year run in Istanbul, Turkey. The identity of the company that acquired the rights could not be determined — an announcement is expected soon — but the money expected from the deal will push the tour’s reserves to $13.5 million by year end, up from $12.5 million at the end of 2010. The WTA reached bottom in 2003, when it had a deficit, but under Allaster and previous CEO Larry Scott, the tour has steadily built a reserve. Allaster hopes to get the reserve, which is funded by WTA surplus, to $18 million.

The group at its board meetings held here during the tournament committed that half of all surpluses go into reserve, a quarter be reinvested in areas like marketing, and the remaining quarter be split between the players and tournaments.

GETTY IMAGES
Fans walk through the entrance to the grounds at Crandon Park Tennis Center.
OPEN FOR DEBATE: Talk among the media at this year’s event is that this tournament, owned by IMG, is losing ground to the BNP Paribas Open. The two events are the two biggest non-Slam events in the world and are staged back-to-back, so they are inevitably compared. In the 1990s and earlier 2000s, the Miami event was touted as “the fifth Slam” while the tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., struggled with debt incurred from building a new stadium. Now, under new owner Larry Ellison, one of the 10 wealthiest men in the world, Indian Wells has gone on a spending spree. It has outfitted each of its courts with replay technology, something the Slams do not even have. Ellison also bought a nearby golf course, allowing the players to use it after they complained about not getting tee times.

A Sony Ericsson rep was even asked by a reporter during a media briefing whether the company is concerned its sponsored Miami event is falling behind, to which the company replied no.

The Sony Ericsson Open is far more constrained in terms of space than BNP, so the equipment necessary to install instant replay may not be possible on all courts here, but Adam Barrett, the tourney director, said it is silly to compare the two tournaments because they are so different. The Sony Ericsson Open prides itself on its Latin American party atmosphere, and BNP, set in the desert, is more of a serene and sedate affair.

In addition, while the BNP Paribas Open several years ago surpassed this one in attendance, they both still draw well over 300,000.

EARLY CALL: It was somewhat strange that there were no phones for sale at the Sony Ericsson Open. The naming-rights sponsor used the event to promote its Xperia line, a set of new mobile devices that the company touts as being the first phone and game console, but the offering was not ready to be released in time for the event. (As an aside, the games offered do not include tennis). In the past, the company, which has a minimal handset presence in the United States, has used the event for branding. Tournament execs hope that next year Sony Ericsson will sell phones on site.

Roger Federer turned to Facebook for help with his ad for Mercedes-Benz.
The company is committed to expanding its U.S. presence.

FEDERER TURNS TO FANS: Roger Federer used his Facebook page to poll his fans on what slogan he should use in his latest Mercedes-Benz ad. He narrowed the choice down to three and gave the fans the final say. The winner: “The Roger Federer of automobiles meets the Mercedes-Benz of tennis.”

DROP SHOTS: Congratulations are in order for Fernando Soler, head of IMG Tennis, who is a first-time papa. He has a baby daughter, Rosa. … Nike is looking for a new head of tennis, with Nicolas Barthes moving to another area of the company. … Sony Ericsson has a new head of communications and public relations: Cathy Davies, who replaces Aldo Liguori. … The WTA plans to go slow in replacing David Shoemaker, the outgoing president who is leaving to run NBA China. The tour could tap an internal candidate.

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