SBJ/April 9-15, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

IMG planning to move Memphis tennis events to Brazil

IMG has agreed to buy the ATP and WTA tour events in Memphis and move them to Rio de Janeiro to be part of its Brazil venture, IMX, sources said last week.

The ATP must still sign off on the move of its event. The WTA has granted its approval conditioned on the events remaining combined as one tournament.

The Regions Morgan Keegan Championship in Memphis is one of two ATP 500 events in the U.S.
Photo by: ICON SMI
If the events do move, the tournament would become the second acquisition for IMX, a 50-50 venture between IMG and Brazilian mining and energy conglomerate EBX. IMG announced the IMX venture in November 2010 and added its first deal four months ago with the purchase of local sports marketing firm Brasil1.

IMG officials declined to comment.

The activity in Brazil comes with the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics both heading to the country in the next four years. But the moves also serve to underscore the continuing decline of professional tennis in the United States, particularly outside the major events.

The U.S. Tennis Association, which previously has fought potential moves of tournaments outside the country, appeared resigned to the move of the Memphis events.

“We are committed to keeping professional tennis thriving in the U.S., but we recognize the final decision of the tournaments rests with the owners, along with the ATP and WTA tours,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier.

The Memphis stops are currently owned by Sharks Sports & Entertainment, the San Jose-based outfit that owns the NHL Sharks as well as the ATP’s SAP Open in San Jose. Jim Sparaco, a spokesman for the ownership group, said, “At this time, we have no comment.”

The Memphis events are played at a private, indoor club, and the men’s tourney specifically has been a staple the last 35 years of the early winter swing in the United States. Known as the Regions Morgan Keegan Championship, it is one of two ATP 500 events in the United States. The event awards more than $1.15 million in prize money and also can pay appearance money to entice players to compete.

The ATP has nine top-level ATP 1000 events (three of which are in the United States), followed by 11 500-level events worldwide. As a 500, an event is likely to get a top-10 player, as those players are required to compete in four 500s annually.

If the Memphis ATP event were to move, it would become the highest-level tennis tournament ever played in South America. The ATP has two lower-level events there now; the WTA has one, in Colombia. The Memphis women’s event is a lower-rung event as well, awarding $220,000 in prize money.

There are currently 12 ATP events and 10 WTA stops in the United States, but those totals include four combined events, including Memphis.

An ATP spokeswoman said, “We don’t have any comment at this point.” She added, however, that there could be an update following the ATP’s next board meeting, which occurs in Monte Carlo next week. The board has three tournament members, one of whom represents American events. That is Gavin Forbes, a senior vice president at IMG.

Said the WTA via email, “[At] Our Board meeting in Miami [last month] our Board conditionally approved the transfer of the women’s Memphis tournament sanction to Brazil for the 2013 Calendar and beyond.”

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