The Champions Tennis Tour, the 35-and-over men's circuit
founded in '93 by former ProServ President & Co-Founder Ray
Benton and Jimmy Connors, is in the midst of their most
successful season. Benton and Connors began Net Assets to manage
and promote the Champions Tour, and it has overseen the growth
from three events in '93 to 12 events this year, including their
first international stop in Moscow last April. The Tour, which
features Connors, Bjorn Borg, and Guillermo Vilas, has
established itself in small venues by stressing a fan-friendly
environment, with relaxed access to players for fans and sponsors
alike. The recent Citibank Champions event in Westchester, NY,
drew a record attendance of 34,000 people over the five-day
THE GOLF COMPARISON: Benton told THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY
that he and Connors formed the Tour "because we had seen what the
Senior PGA had done and we thought we could capture some of the
success the Senior PGA had caught." Although it is the model,
senior golf also poses the greatest threat to the Champions Tour.
Benton says golf is "so hot right now, and such a high proportion
of corporate executives play golf, that it has been a challenge
to get their attention for tennis." Although they currently have
presenting sponsor U.S. News & World Report, along with Citibank,
Coopers & Lybrand, and John Nuveen & Co. among others, Benton
said his main challenge has been generating corporate interest.
Roger Williams, a contributing editor to TENNIS magazine, praises
the Tour, but says sponsorship dollars are "very very tough for
tennis these days." Williams: "The bloom is off the rose in
that regard. I know that they had great difficulty getting an
umbrella sponsor." Benton said companies are less generous with
their marketing dollars than in the past, but stressed the Tour
is "doing fine. But we can always do better. ... Tennis has
bottomed out. It is on its way back."
WORD FROM THEIR SPONSORS: Karen Scott Happer, Tournament
Director for the Citibank Champions event, has worked in tennis
for over twenty years including the Australian Open, and said she
has never been affiliated on a project with "such excellent value
for the money." Happer: "If you are a sponsor I can genuinely
say to you that a half dozen players are going to be coming to
your cocktail party tonight. I can honestly say ... you are
going to have a clinic for over an hour with a Champions Tour
professional working with your 20 kids."
TV TIME: Liberty's Prime Sports covers each event through
their multi-year TV deal. Benton said their "main breakthrough"
was ABC's telecast of "The Challenge" held in May in Pebble
Beach. Benton, on the ABC telecast: "We did a 1.8 on a Sunday
afternoon against the NBA playoffs. We hope to move it to June
next year and get away from the NBA, and I think we will do
THE FUTURE: Looking ahead to the year 2000, Benton sees 20
events, with 26-man draws and a minimum of $250,000 in prize
money, along with 10-15 smaller satellite events, three or four
events on national TV, and a major event at the end of the year.
Benton said they will keep the venues small, and doesn't foresee
sites with capacity greater than 5,000. Roger Williams likes the
Tour and commends the quality of play: "The guys are trying
hard, and most are in shape. Benton and Connors made sure of
that." But to succeed, TENNIS Magazine's Williams believes it
will "require very astute marketing ... If Ray Benton can't do
it, it can't be done. It has to have big names, the McEnroe's,
Lendl's and others to join. ... Nostalgia is a very big part of
the attraction here. The big question is what will happen when
Connors isn't there" (THE DAILY).
Yesterday's NBPA regional meetings in Dallas, San Antonio,
and Atlanta drew five, two, and 13 players to each meeting,
respectively. FROM DALLAS: Brad Townsend reports that "by all
indications, it was not a productive stop" for the union. Mavs'
Popeye Jones: "You've got a deal here in place, but at the same
time, it's not as good as the old deal, in my opinion. You
wonder if the owners are going to give you more -- or if you're
just going to miss the season." Jamal Mashburn: "I'm in the
middle now." (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/25). Roy Tarpley: "It
stinks a little bit. There's just something about it, like how
they agreed on it overnight. It just gives me a funny feeling.
I think we all want to play ball next season and we don't want to
strike, but I don't know if that's safe to say for sure right
now" (Richie Witt, FT. WORTH STAR TELEGRAM, 8/25).
FROM SAN ANTONIO: Former Spur Sean Higgins: "Decertifying
probably would be best for the long run, better for the young
guys coming into the league. The present plan could ruin free
agency. ... I want to look at the plan, study it, and then
decide." Former Spur Antoine Carr: "I feel more informed now.
Right now, I'm in the middle" (Glenn Rogers, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS
NEWS, 8/25). FROM ATLANTA: Former Hawks captain Tree Rollins:
"If guys want to eat, they better vote." Hawk Craig Ehlo: "Guys
have to get out and vote. You can't just assume this is going to
pass" (Jeffrey Denberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 8/25).
HOW'M I DOIN'? NBPA Exec Dir Simon Gourdine, in San
Antonio: "We've talked to about 67 players so far and expect to
speak to about 100 all told when we've finished the tour. ...
Reaction at the meetings has been good. We've had some players
who are in favor of decertifying come to our meetings and they've
helped spur some free-wheeling conversation. We always know when
those players arrive because they have kind of a fixed question
list. But we want to talk to all the players because we believe
that this deal, although not perfect, is a good one and it's far
superior to decertifying the union. It could be chaos if that
happens and the season could be in jeopardy" (Glenn Rogers, SAN
ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS, 8/25).
WE FEAR NOTHING: Pro-decertification agent Marc Fleisher
called Gourdine's August 21 letter to agents "an act of
desperation." Fleisher: "He infers that the agents fear
retaliation (from the union), which is a flat-out joke. I know
of no agents, with one possible exception, who aren't supportive
of decertification" (PHILA. DAILY NEWS, 8/25).
The Int'l Skating Union has "linked five existing
competitions to form what it calls a Grand Prix circuit and has
added a new event, the Grand Prix Final," according to Neil
Stevens of the CANADIAN PRESS. Now the world's top skaters will
be vying for more than $2.5M this season. Much of the financing
comes from a TV deal with Fox. The '97 Grand Prix has been
awarded to Canada. The purpose of the "bold initiative" is to
keep skaters on the Int'l Skating Union scene longer
(CP/Vancouver PROVINCE, 8/25).
The Packers have filed a $1.5M grievance against hold-out
tight end Keith Jackson and the NFLPA. Jackson's attorney called
it a "thinly veiled threat designed to persuade him to report"
(MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 8/24). ...Arena Football is profiled
by Roger Thurow in this morning's WALL STREET JOURNAL. Thurow
writes Arena football "has grown up to become a respectable
commodity, particularly sought after by owners of professional
teams in other sports who also own arenas they need to fill
during the summer" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/24)....NEW YORK
magazine's Richard Turner writes on the state of horse racing:
"Telegenic and interactive, horse racing looked like a sure bet
in the dawning electronic age. But it was passed in the stretch"
(NEW YORK, 8/28 issue)...MLB's Public Relations Manager Jim Small
was interviewed by KYODO NEWS. Small spoke on Hideo Nomo and
suggested a baseball "World Cup" with a U.S. team playing other
nations in an int'l tournament (KYODO NEWS, 8/24).