The Tennis Week Interview: WTA CEO Larry Scott -
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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old Jan 7th, 2005, 01:46 AM Thread Starter
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The Tennis Week Interview: WTA CEO Larry Scott

The Tennis Week Interview: WTA CEO Larry Scott

Photo By Michael Baz By Richard Pagliaro

The beeping bleat of the busy signal was the welcomed sound of success for women's tennis. WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott could have used a new cell phone while fielding a flood of congratulatory calls yesterday. Instead, Scott was busy conducting conference calls to discuss the most momentous contractual commitment the Tour has made in his near two-year tenure as Tour chief.
A few hours after announcing a landmark global sponsorship deal with Sony Ericsson ó a six-year, $88 million title sponsorship commitment that dwarfs the Tour's past deals with Sanex and Corel in its size and scope ó Scott and sat down with Tennis Week for an interview about the contract and the future of the WTA Tour. Scott spoke from his Manhattan hotel on a three-way conference call accompanied by Dee Dutta, Corporate VP of Worldwide Marketing, Sony Ericsson, who was in London.

The deal, brokered by IMG, "is the largest and most comprehensive sponsorship in the history of tennis and of women's professional sport," according to the WTA Tour's announcement of the agreement. Sony Ericsson will become the title sponsor of the season-ending WTA Tour Championships, currently staged at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. Sony Ericsson will also enjoy significant on-court presence at many WTA Tour tournaments throughout the world.

"Today is a landmark occasion for women's sport, tennis and the WTA Tour," WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott said. "This partnership will take women's tennis to a new level of global popularity by immersing new technology and significantly enhancing the entertainment value of our sport. We could not be happier to be partnering with such a world-class, innovative company that shares our vision for the future of the sport."

Certainly the CEO had cause for celebration. A Tour whose sponsorship commitments short-circuited before Scott took over in March of 2003 had resigned itself to seek out regional sponsors in recent months before dialing up its biggest sponsorship commitment.

So what does it all mean for women's tennis and tennis fans?

The immediate impact should be greater exposure for the women's game as Sony Ericsson has already invested in billboard and broadcast advertising of next week's Sydney event featuring Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Alicia Molik.

Assuming IMG, which brokered the deal, receives an agent's fee and some of the money is redistributed back to the tournaments, the WTA Tour will still have multi-million dollar resources to work with, which it can use to promote the game in an effort to build both the brand and its fan base.

In addition to the obvious financial benefits, both the Tour and Sony Ericsson seem genuinely eager about the prospect of using technology to break down the barriers between players and fans. In the global game of tennis, fans may someday carry the ticket to every tournament in their pocket in the form of a cell phone.

"I see fans being able to get closer to the players too and have more interactive communication," Scott says. "It will help us get the players' personalities known and allow better communication with the public allowing fans to more easily follow the sport and follow it in a more fun way and in a way that is exciting and utilizes the modern technology. Sony Ericsson will help bring us to the forefront of all sporting organizations in terms of how we use technology to communicate and support our fans who want to follow the sport."

Currently, chair umpires commonly ask audiences to "turn off all cell phones please" during the course of a match. Now, fans may be turning on their phones to tune into the game.

Potentially, both Scott and Sony Ericsson envision utilizing technology to change the way tennis is presented to fans and transforming a two-person sport into an interactive event where fans have immediate access to information.

Imagine a future where you could use your cell phone to dial into the WTA Tour web site to get real-time point-by-point scoring from any women's tournament in the world, check the head-to-head records of prospective opponents or watch a highly-anticipated clash between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati then call in to the player press conferences conducted immediately after the match to hear both competitors comments. Imagine text messaging questions for your favorite player from wherever you are in the world and hearing that player answer your question moments later in a live television interview or using your cell phone to take a photo of a match you attend then sending the photo to the WTA Tour site or a video wall at the tournament that features fan photos of players. Looking into the future, imagine being able to bypass TV networks and tune into any match you want to see via web streaming over the WTA Tour web site. While some of these enhancements may never materialize at all, the possibilities technology provides are intriguing.

"With the mobile phones now being Internet-enabled (tennis fans) are going to be able to get access to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour web site from anywhere," Dutta says. "Theyíre going to be able to get more information about the game and get the game in real-time information. For a tennis fan, the whole interactive element will be great."

Scott sees the sponsorship of the mobile phone maker potentially carrying over to tennis as a whole. And while Sony Ericsson will have a sponsorship presence at the Australian Open, after investing $88 million in the WTA Tour you wonder how much more money the company can conceivably commit to other tennis events.

"With this new relationship, while I donít want to get ahead of ourselves, the vision is for the benefits from this agreement to flow beyond the WTA Tour per se and go to tennis as a whole," Scott says. "One of the things is that while we donít control the rights to the Grand Slams, Sony Ericsson will be an official partner at the Australian Open. The vision is to reach out to have it go beyond the WTA Tour and the Grand Slams too, which is an indication of the broad vision Sony Ericsson has in terms of being a partner for the game indirectly."

Sony Ericsson's existing relationships with television networks may possibly lead to further alliances and expanded television audiences for the Tour. The new partners also plan to eventually explore technological advances that can make tennis a more exciting and entertaining television sport. Television is critical to the success of any sport. Ask Scott if he's satisfied with the Tour's television exposure in the United States and his response is as emphatic as Davenport delivering a devastating overhead off a head-high lob.

"Am I satisfied with the level of TV exposure we have in the U.S.? The answer is no," Scott says. "I think there is greater potential for us to reach broader audiences through traditional television and through other means, many of which we will explore with Sony Ericsson. In a sense this is the dawning of a new day for the WTA. We've now got a committed, dynamic partner that's got a shared vision and we are going to be sitting down and talking together about the ways we can improve the presentation of the sport on TV, whether it's through TV graphics or through some of the interactive ideas that Dee has talked about that can maybe be transmitted to TV audiences."

One potential project is restructuring the top Tour events themselves. Domestically, combined men's and women's events such as the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells and the Nasdaq-100 Open have been the most popular tournaments outside of the majors. As former ATP COO, Scott recognizes the power and appeal combined events carry and has been a proponent more joint events between the two Tours as well as coordinating a more cohesive calendar for the sport.

"I definitely see at the broadest levels the game and all the constituencies in the game working more closely together," Scott says. "Itís something I feel very strongly about and something Iíve tried to work toward with the "one game" initiative with the ATP and closer alliances with the Grand Slams, who sit on my board, and the ITF, who sit on my board."

It is an ambitious ó and admirable aim ó but Scott is well aware of that getting the game's governing bodies to agree on anything can sometimes be as easy as getting the WTA Tour top 10 divas to agree to wear the same clothes on court. Add to the mix the fact that Sony Ericsson's competitors will be eager to protect their own investments in tennis ó Motorola signed Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova to a three-year, seven-figure endorsement contract and rumor has it the USTA is negotiating with another mobile phone maker for a major sponsorship of the U.S. Open ó and you might begin to believe that Anna Kournikova has a better shot of sweeping a Grand Slam than tennis' top organizations have of creating a more cohesive future for the sport, but the signing of Sony Ericsson as title sponsor gives the WTA more leverage and resources to establish itself as a viable partner for the ATP.

One issue where Sony Ericsson will likely exert almost immediate influence is the future home of the WTA Tour Championships. After a dismal debut in Los Angeles in 2002, the WTA Tour Championships enjoyed its greatest success since the days it was staged at Manhattan's Madison Square Garden as the Chase Championships with this year's final featuring a rematch of the Wimbledon final between Sharapova and Serena. The current contract expires with the completion of the 2005 tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angels and Scott said a decision on where the tournament eventually winds up will be made in the coming months. Clearly, Sony Ericsson will have a major voice in deciding the destination for the tournament and given the fact the new partners are striving to incorporate fashion, technology and entertainment elements into the sport it's not out of the question it could remain in L.A.

"From our point of view, we will sit with Larry and decide where it makes sense for the Tour Championships to be," Dutta says. "It has to make sense from both the fans' perspective and our kind of business objectives and I think Larry and us, we have a very good working understanding. And we want to make sure that the Championships are a big hit and therefore where the crowds come and where the fans can get to, that's where we want to be."

In this interview, Scott discusses the impact Sony Ericsson's sponsorship will have on tennis, the future of the WTA Tour, the Tour's efforts to reduce player injuries and predicts the outcome of a hypothetical match featuring himself and fellow Harvard all-American James Blake against the Williams sisters.

To read the interview please click this link: The Tennis Week Interview: Larry Scott

Related Story: Sony Ericsson Signs On As WTA Tour Title Sponsor
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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old Jan 7th, 2005, 02:33 AM
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Originally Posted by tennisIlove09
Looking into the future, imagine being able to bypass TV networks and tune into any match you want to see via web streaming over the WTA Tour web site.
Don't tease me like this!!
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old Jan 7th, 2005, 03:33 AM
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Hmm. Isn't it rather dumb to pay for billboards with Serena and
Amelie at Sydney when they're not scheduled to play this tournament?

(cough, cough) Do you suppose they meant Myskina and Justine?

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Paul Weller & Morrissey + Tennis - Singing = Justine!

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It is something that is in me, it is me." - JH
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