Mobile telephony company Sony Ericsson has announced the largest sponsorship deal in both tennis and in women's professional sport after it reached agreement with the Womens Tennis Association Tour to become their title sponsor. The six-year deal is worth $88m (£66m).
This figure exceeds the current title sponsorship of the men's ATP Tour, held by Mercedes-Benz and estimated at about $10m per year. The move highlights the popularity of women's tennis among both women and men in the key demographic of well paid, young people across the major international markets. As Dee Dutta, marketing director for Sony Ericsson, says of the leading women players: "These are not just sporting icons, these are cultural icons."
The deal represents a brave move on the parts of both the sponsor and the sport. For Sony Ericsson, there is always the risk that injuries to some of the most glamorous stars of the circuit may deny them key publicity opportunities. There is no telling as to whether the game might be diminished as a spectacle, in the way that the men's game has, by developments in racket and ball technology. And there are no guarantees that the Tour may become stulted by the dominance of one particular player. For the WTA, the move represents a U-turn in its sponsorship strategy. WTA chairman and CEO Larry Scott actually persued a regional sponsorship strategy when he joined from the men's ATP Tour in 2003. He felt that relying on a single company for global sponsorship was too risky, and would deter other companies and brands from becoming minor sponsors. But he was persuaded to change tack by Dee Dutta, who was seeking a global sport that was a good fit for their global brand. Women's tennis, with its current crop of sexy young players and the favourable profile of its live and TV audiences, seems a perfect match. For the bravery of both parties in this high stakes deal ... we salute you!