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Volume 20 No. 42
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WTA Tour bringing on Xerox

Sponsor won’t take Sony Ericsson’s role

The WTA Tour this week is set to finalize a three-year, multimillion-dollar sponsorship with Xerox, a deal that would be the circuit’s most significant such pact since Sony Ericsson departed as lead backer last year.

An official announcement of the deal is expected today. WTA board approval would follow.

While the new deal will be the tour’s largest sponsorship, the WTA will continue to seek a partner to fill the role of lead sponsor. The WTA initially wanted Xerox to take that top sponsorship position, a slot the tour has been shopping since early 2012, but the business services and documents company did not want to spend that requisite amount of money.

“Part of it was affordability,” said Christa Carone, Xerox’s chief marketing officer, explaining why the company did not go for the full package. Xerox becomes the WTA’s business services and office document technology sponsor.

WTA Chief Executive Stacey Allaster said the circuit is in fine financial shape because of revenue from the season-ending championship event, a new international TV package, and reserves accumulated during Sony Ericsson’s run as title sponsor and then lead backer. The mobile company ended its eight-year run in December.

“The board had the foresight many years ago that we might not have Sony Ericsson, and today we have diversified revenues,” Allaster said.

The WTA’s original title sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson was announced in late 2004. That six-year, $88 million deal was touted at the time as the largest in pro tennis and the largest in women’s sports.

In March 2010, the two sides agreed to an extension of the partnership, but with a deal that amended the final 10 months of the original sponsorship. The agreement made Sony Ericsson lead global sponsor for the tour through 2012 but ended its role as title sponsor. That deal was valued at $27 million over its nearly three-year term.

Allaster said the WTA is happy to work with an international brand like Xerox, calling it a very significant deal.

While Xerox is known to many as a copy company, more than half of its revenue derives from business services. For example, the company performs the transactional back-office work for many states’ EZPass transit systems, Carone said.

As part of the new sponsorship, Xerox will perform audits on the WTA and the 19 tournaments that initially will take part in the sponsorship, assessing their business processes and informational technology systems. At those events, Xerox will have on-court branding, though not net signage as Sony Ericsson had.

The WTA has made a big push into Asia, though none of the 19 events affected by the deal are in that region. Eight are in Europe, eight are in the United States or Canada, one is in Brazil, and one is in Mexico. The final one is the season-ending championship, which this year is in Turkey.

The WTA and Xerox will assess after this year if the sponsorship can expand to any of the WTA’s other 35 events.

Xerox, with $22 billion in revenue, is not a major sponsor in sports. It’s the official document company of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships (IBM has the business services category), and it sponsors the New York Mets and Buffalo Bills.

The company several years ago began a review of its sponsor portfolio, Carone said, and felt it needed a global deal but also one that would allow it to activate locally and reach business managers. The WTA fit that need, Carone said.

GroupM ESP advised Xerox on the negotiations. Asked if IMG, the WTA’s marketing agent, advised the tour on the deal, Allaster responded that the agency “was part of the process.”