UPDATE 1-Tennis-WTA sees more flexibility in new Ericsson deal

Mon Mar 8, 2010 4:17pm GMT

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* Sony Ericsson loses Tour naming rights

* Tour sees it as opportunity for growth

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By Miles Evans

LONDON, March 8 (Reuters) - The WTA said a new, reduced sponsorship agreement with Sony Ericsson in which the mobile handset maker loses its naming rights to the women's tennis Tour would give the governing body greater flexibility to grow.

The Women's Tennis Association and Sony Ericsson gave no financial details of the contract announced on Monday which extends their agreement to the end of 2012.

Their initial six-year, $88 million contract expires at the end of the year. Media reports put the new deal at around $27 million for the completion of this year and the next two years.

"The net profit is not too far off the average of the existing agreement," Stacey Allaster, CEO of the WTA Tour, told Reuters on Monday.

"In this new, restructured three-year agreement we will transition at some point this year where we will separate our two brands and we will become the WTA Tour. They will remain our number one global partner."

Sony Ericsson forgoes naming rights to the Tour and also to the end-of-season championships to be held in Doha in October and in subsequent years when the event is staged in Istanbul.

"To have that leverage, for us to have our own brand back will give us new opportunities to attract revenues. By getting some rights back we can grow further," Allaster said, adding they would seek a new title sponsor for the season ender.

Allaster said the agreement put the women's tour into line with the men's ATP Tour in which Barclays sponsor the end-of-year tournament and Mexican brewer Corona is the Tour's main global sponsor.

Aldo Liguori, Sony Ericsson's head of global communications, dismissed claims the fallout from Serena Williams's foul-mouthed outburst at the U.S. Open last year had played any part in the delay in coming to a fresh agreement with the WTA.

"Not at all," he told Reuters.

"Even though initially we had to get back to the WTA by the end of last year with a new CEO, he needed time to understand the business and then to really engage with various activities including where we take the tennis sponsorship forward."

Liguori said Sony Ericsson would continue with its sponsorship of the co-hosted WTA/ATP Miami Open, but had decided against continued backing of the Doha season ender as it did not fit in with overall strategy.

"From a market point of view Miami is an important hub for us, one foot in the North American market, one in the Latin American market so from our business point of view where we want to strengthen our presence, it's spot on."

(Editing by Alison Wildey; To query or comment on this story emailsportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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