Tennis fans have been starved for live-action. And so have corporate sponsors trying to reach the sport’s affluent audience.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, World TeamTennis (WTT) is poised to announce a blue-chip lineup of corporate sponsors for its 2020 season, which will be played at luxury resort The Greenbrier from July 12-Aug. 2.
WTT Chief Executive Officer Carlos Silva told Front Office Sports that it has secured several category-specific sponsorships for the league’s 45th season. Those include: Wilson (official racket and ball); GEICO (auto insurance); DraftKings (daily fantasy); Zenni (eyewear); Weatherman Umbrellas (umbrellas); Har-Tru Sports Coatings (playing surface) and Shinola (timing).
Additional sponsors include Universal Tennis Rating, Chosen Foods, KT Tape, and Greenbrier Tourism.
Stars scheduled to compete in the WTT this year include 2017 U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens, seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, and reigning Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin.
It wasn’t easy drawing sponsorship support when many companies wanted to sit the year out, said Silva. But the WTT’s decision to play the season in its own NBA-like bubble at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia spurred some sponsors to pull the trigger.
“All these great brands were like, ‘Let us know when you choose a location.’ Frankly, the world was shut down. Nobody knew whether we were even going to do this. Certainly, they weren’t going to commit to anything until they knew we picked a location,” said Silva. “So once we picked the Greenbrier, and we started to solidify the plan and how we were going to do this with all the players, then the next stage of conversations started to happen. So it’s been a bit of a sprint with all these brands as we got to today.”
Overall, Silva expects total sponsorship revenue to increase this year. But ticket sales will inevitably plummet since the WTT will go from nine venues nationwide to a single arena holding, at maximum, 500 fans.
Silva declined to comment on the pandemic’s impact on overall revenue. But he said new sponsors continue to come in every week.
“Things continue to evolve with sponsorship deals. It’s hard to gauge where we will net out on overall ticket sales,” Silva said.
WTT will only allow 500 fans into the 2,500-seat outdoor arena at the Greenbrier to comply with social distancing restrictions. If play moves indoors, there will only be 100 fans allowed and 50 staffers. All attendees must wear masks.
Rather than being played around the country, the WTT’s single location season will feature 66 matches or three a day over 22 days. Every match will either be televised or live-streamed on CBS and CBS Sports Network, Tennis Channel, ESPN+, and Facebook Watch. The CBS broadcast network will televise the WTT Final live for the first time on Aug. 2.
To enhance TV coverage, there will be more microphones and remote cameras placed around the courts. To keep a safe distance, players won’t have to put on headsets, or be near reporters, when they conduct post-match interviews.
“We’re doing things a little bit smarter around what’s going on with the pandemic. For sure,” Silva said.
This year, WTT will boost its prize money to $5 million, including a $500,000 bonus to the winning team.