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Volume 20 No. 41
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Emirates takes name off Open Series

Emirates is out as naming-rights sponsor of the U.S. Open Series, ending the airline’s seven-year deal 24 months before it is set to expire.

The U.S. Tennis Association will use the extra commercial space to promote an as yet unnamed youth initiative that it plans to invest in heavily in the coming years.

“This is not just a platform to make money,” Stacey Allaster, USTA CEO of pro tennis, said of the series, which brands five weeks of North American summer tournaments. “We want to use pro tennis in the United States to get more kids on the court.”

Emirates, which reportedly is paying $90 million over seven years to the USTA, will not pay less but will shift resources into its U.S. Open sponsorship and now name the line-calling technology on ESPN’s U.S. Open Series broadcasts, Allaster said. JPMorgan Chase had named it.

Emirates is an ATP sponsor and so had some overlap with U.S. Open Series events. The airline, which is one of the largest sponsors in tennis, did not reply for comment.

The USTA will use the space to promote a youth initiative.

The USTA will pay the eight U.S. Open Series tournaments the same amount they would have received had Emirates stayed in, on average about a quarter-million dollars per event.

The USTA created the U.S. Open Series 14 years ago to bring greater order to what had been a jumble of summer events. ESPN televises the series, and remaining umbrella sponsors include American Express and Citizens.

The USTA, however, is doing away with the bonus pool, millions of dollars in prize money awarded annually to players who accumulated the most points based on how they performed in the series.

Many of the winners were playing only the events that they were required to under ATP and WTA rules.

While Allaster did not rule out a naming-rights company for the series, she is eager to use the mini-circuit to promote kids playing tennis.

The USTA’s youth efforts in the past focused on making the game easier to play for those 10 and under, and that will be rolled into the new program. But what Allaster envisions is a meshing of pro events with youth tennis. For example, kids and their coaches will get invites to events, walk on court and perhaps have roles in pregame events like coin tosses.

The idea came from Craig Morris, the USTA general manager of youth and community tennis, who joined the USTA 18 months ago from Tennis Australia. There he ran the Hot Shots program, which has features like those Allaster wants to roll out this summer.

The USTA does not have a brand name for the effort yet but expects to announce one, along with the details, in March.

The USTA, which owns and operates the U.S. Open, also plans to find a commercial partner for the new youth brand. The USTA does not own the events on the U.S. Open Series, other than the Cincinnati stop.