View Full Version : Wonderful Williamses can't turn on sponsors

Sep 8th, 2002, 04:07 PM
Wonderful Williamses can't turn on sponsors

Iain Carter in New York
Sunday September 8, 2002
The Observer

For the second year running, women's tennis has topped the bill. The CBS network was using last night's US Open final at Flushing Meadows between Venus and Serena Williams as its weapon to win the strategically vital coast-to-coast ratings war for the prime Saturday evening slot. But, despite carrying such prominence and having two such charismatic figures at the top, the women's game is facing a future of growing uncertainty and is desperate to find a new sponsor. At a time when it can boast the world's most famous sportswomen, ranging from the athletically sublime Williams sisters to the omnipresent Anna Kournikova, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour struggles to sell their wares.
The women's game still produces vast quantities of sporting soap, but for Sanex, who manufacture soap of a different kind, it no longer remains an attractive proposition to be the tour's title sponsor. A WTA spokesman admitted that Sanex's position within the women's game was undergoing 'restructuring' and their departure as title backers left the tour seeking to fill a financial void of $6 million a year. WTA executives have spent the US Open fortnight courting new sponsors, but one source says no deal is on the immediate horizon.

It's an extraordinary scenario because there's no doubting the potential pulling power of the women. About 22,000 seats were empty during the men's fourth-round match in the Arthur Ashe Stadium between former world number one Gustavo Kuerten and Sjeng Schalken while at the same time 10,000 fans packed the Louis Armstrong court to witness Kournikova and Martina Hingis playing doubles.

In the US, the women are the biggest stars. Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles have been appearing in nationwide television commercials promoting a credit card and Serena Williams in her catsuit has been the most photographed player at Flushing Meadows.

But the sport is still struggling to sell itself globally and one reason is that the competition has become too predictable and lacking in edge. Amélie Mauresmo said: 'To me people are maybe going to get bored of seeing always the same final.' The French player did her best to avert an all-Williams showdown here, but even her Gallic guile and powerful sorties to the net in Friday night's semi-final could not stop Venus from progressing to her fourth final.

Of course there have been dominant pairs at the top of women's tennis before. The big difference from the eras of Navratilova and Evert, who met in six successive grand-slam finals in 1984-85, and Graf and Seles is that there's not the slightest hint of enmity between the Williamses, and why should there be when they are sisters? After her quarter-final defeat by Venus, Seles needed just two words to confirm that the view in the locker room is that the sisters have become untouchable. Asked if she believed that six or seven players were in the mix for tournament victories a year ago and that now the figure is down to two, Seles shrugged: 'Yeah definitely.'

Undoubtedly the Williams sisters have raised the bar in terms of the standard of tennis being played. Seles, who won nine grand slams from 1991-96, admitted that in her era of domination she didn't have to cope with opponents who could crack serves at 115mph, as Venus does with regularity. Seles added: 'You had someone like Navratilova and Steffi who were great athletes, but I think both Serena and Venus are even better. I don't think Martina or Steffi could serve as hard as Serena or Venus can right now.' Lindsay Davenport, who three times was within a point of taking Serena to a deciding set in their semi-final, is astonished by the sisters' dominance. 'The most amazing thing in sport,' she said. 'Could you imagine Tiger Woods challenging a sibling to go head to head for all the majors? And in an individual sport no less - they don't have team-mates to help them along. 'I feel very fortunate that I'm at the top of the game with them. It's an incredible time. I've played a little bit with Navratilova, a lot with Graf and Seles. It's a different ball game now - much more athletic, much harder balls, much better placement on serves.'

Which makes you wonder why the WTA are struggling to make the most of this unprecedented era. Having apparently cracked the American market, you would think that the tour would want to make its mark in Europe, yet the season-ending championships, which were staged in Munich last year, have been switched to Los Angeles, which can only hinder the hunt for a new global sponsor.

The patriarchal figure responsible for the current pecking order, Richard Williams, has barely disguised his contempt for the WTA and says it has now reached the stage where the letters should stand for Williams Tennis Association. In the absence of any other name coming into the frame, he has a point.

ˇ Iain Carter is BBC Radio's tennis correspondent

Sep 8th, 2002, 04:11 PM

Sep 8th, 2002, 04:38 PM
Venus & Serena just got to the top of the game this year. Why blame them for something that's been going on for the last 5 years.

Sep 8th, 2002, 04:53 PM
This is the biggest piece of crap I have ever read. So now in addition to everything else, its the WS fault that the WTA is completely inept at getting itself on television. The reason is because everyone knowswho is gonna win although they only play in the same tournaments about 5 or 6 times per year. And the fact that the ATP is full of underachievers and one hit wonders, now thats exciting and marketable. Perhaps if the WTA was more interested in marketing itself as a SPORT instead of a collection of catty pinup girls they would get somewhere. Amazing the two best tennis players to come along in years are ruining the sport.

Next they will tell us that the WS kidnapped the Lindberg baby. What stupid stupid crap.

Oh but thank god this has nothing to do with RACISM.

Sep 8th, 2002, 05:51 PM
I have to agree with the other posters 100%.:mad: That story is a bunch of crap.:(

The WTA has been totally inept at promoting womens' tennis over the years. They have always had a hard time keeping sponsors. In my opinion, their promotion of womens' tennis as a "sex show" is a detriment to womens' tennis, not a help.

Plus, Mr. Carter must know that the year-ending championships in Germany were a disaster. They couldn't sell tickets. That's why it was returned to the States.:rolleyes:

What a sad, one-sided story.:sad:

Sep 8th, 2002, 06:16 PM
Well, I was going to post a follow-up comment right after I posted the article but, thanks to the slowness of this website, I wasn't able too. :( But, now that you guys have described my feeling about this article better than I would have, I don't see the point.

But, would like to add one more point - it's not only the fault of the WTA executives that WTA is not marketed right. For some reason, some of the women tennis players seem keen to tell reporters that "it's boring". Do you think WTA should ban such comments because its detrimental to the tour?