The Women's Tennis Association maintains its search for a
new title sponsor. For an update yesterday, THE SPORTS BUSINESS
DAILY spoke with HARLAN STONE -- Executive VP of Advantage
International and director of the search. Excerpts of our
THE DAILY: What is the status of your sponsor search?
STONE: Extremely active. We had a very close call about
three weeks ago that unfortunately did not work out. But, in the
meantime, we've probably got six to seven discussions going on
right now, in four to five different product categories. We're
very optimistic -- particularly given the fact that the product
seems to be coming out of a bit of a down cycle from early '94.
The on-the-court product has really improved, and it is finally
getting recognition for that in the press.
THE DAILY: What is your time-table for getting a sponsor?
Chris Evert said the tour could go one year without a title
sponsor, is that a correct assessment?
STONE: That's very accurate, and because the tour is
healthy, we're able to offer some flexibility in terms of 1995 --
and we are able to be a little bit selective on our end, in
terms of choosing the right sponsor and making sure that they
have a real long-term commitment to the tour.
THE DAILY: What have been some of the hurdles? Why has this
taken longer than you would have wished?
STONE: Pricing is always a hurdle. It's a six to seven
million dollar package and anytime you talk about six to seven
million dollar packages -- no matter what you're selling -- it's
not for every company. The second issue, candidly, is that there
was some concern about the on-court product with Capriati out and
with Seles out. It was also before the debut of Hinges and Venus
Williams. Now with the return of Capriati and Graf's continued
great play -- and the positive early reviews on Hinges and
Williams -- all of a sudden, people are believing what we were
saying....that tennis -- which went through a little bit of the
up-and-down cycles --is now a great buy for sponsors.
Earlier in the year, companies were listening, but not
really hearing that. Now they really do believe that, yes,
women's tennis is on the upswing -- and, quite honestly, the
press has come on board. We had the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED article,
"What's Wrong with Tennis," earlier in the year, and now if you
read the papers over the last four to six weeks, it's "Gee,
women's tennis is recovered." That very much effects the
THE DAILY: When will an announcement be made?
STONE: We're optimistic that by year's end we're going to
have someone in place. Having said that, we've been close three
times this year, and for a variety of reasons, each of those did
not come to fruition. But, at least one of those companies is
looking at us again because of the improvement in the
product....Ideally the WTA is looking for a three-year
THE DAILY: Are there other WTA sponsorship opportunities
available outside of the title?
STONE: There are a number of companies that would like to
be associated with women's tennis, but they are either regional
or are not candidates for the umbrella. What we've said is that
until we settle on the title sponsor, we really can't make any of
those agreements because it may be in a category that the title
sponsor will come from.
THE DAILY: Have the players helped in the search?
STONE: The players, after 24 years of taking a very good
sponsor for granted in Philip Morris, have banded together and
have been outstanding in terms of articulating the commitments
that they will make to the sponsor. They want to go hunt sales
calls, they want to have a real marriage with the sponsor. I
think that part of the problem is that women's tennis is tainted
with the broad brush that tennis players are bunch of whiners, or
that they're just overpaid athletes. But I can assure anybody
that is not the case in women's tennis. They understand where
their bread is buttered and the need to work hard for the
Raycom CEO RICK RAY announced yesterday that former CBS
Sales Executive BRIAN NEUWIRTH has been named VP of Sales and
Marketing for Raycom (Raycom)....Universal Marketing Associates
has named former Delta Air Lines Account Exec ERIC CURRY as
Universals National Sales Director. Curry's responsibilities
will include sales for UMA Properties, which among others
includes Hula Bowl marketing rights, the Fans' Choice National
Balloting Program, and Golf's "King of the Beach" skills
competition (UMA)....BARRY BONDS has been hit by a paternity suit
by 23-year old JENNIFER PEACE. She is seeking sole custody and
child support in an unspecified amount (Bollinger & Hoffman, N.Y.