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TMCNet:  Memphis' pro tennis events getting new name, in 'active discussions' with sponsors

[November 22, 2012]

Memphis' pro tennis events getting new name, in 'active discussions' with sponsors

Nov 22, 2012 (The Commercial Appeal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Memphis' stop on the professional tennis tours is receiving a new name: The U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships.

The company that owns and operates the annual event at the Racquet Club, Sharks Sports and Entertainment, said the new name is part of a long-term branding initiative. SSE Executive Vice President Michael T. Lehr said the company is in "active discussions with over half a dozen" potential naming or presenting sponsors for the event, but that the "Indoor" moniker will remain a constant regardless of who sponsors it.


"We decided that in changing over the tournament and getting ready for the future we wanted to set a path that the tournament was going to stay on and be branded as we go forward," Lehr said Wednesday in an interview with The Commercial Appeal.

The 2013 event runs Feb. 18-24. John Isner, Milos Raonic and Fernando Verdasco are among the top men's players who have committed to play.

The men's event was most recently known as the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships. The investment firm's contract to sponsor the event ran out after February's tournament, which coincided with Morgan Keegan's purchase by Raymond James Financial.

Cellular South (now C Spire Wireless) sponsored the women's event until 2011. The 2012 event was played without a title sponsor and was named the Memphis International. The 2013 event is the last one in Memphis for the women's tour, which has had an event at the Racquet Club every year since 2002. The WTA Tour has awarded that event's spot to South America beginning in 2014.

The men's event has undergone some shifting in recent months, but the net result is that Memphis will maintain a pro tennis tournament that won't look much different to local fans. The 2013 event is the last for Memphis as a 500-level event (based on points awarded to participating players) on the ATP Tour. Beginning in 2014, it will be a 250-level event, the tour's lowest level.

The ATP Tour awarded Memphis's 500-level certification to Rio de Janeiro beginning in 2014. But the new level probably won't mean much when it comes to the event's ability to attract a field.

Lehr said he hopes the event can develop a closer working relationship with the United States Tennis Association to help facilitate a true indoor national title. An idea that's been kicked around is awarding a wild-card entry to a winner of a particular USTA championship.

Beginning in 2014, the men's event will be the only American indoor stop on the ATP Tour.

The name is a return to the event's roots. Newton, Mass., hosted the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships as early as 1898, before it moved to New York City a year later and to Salisbury, Maryland, in 1963. The event moved to Memphis in 1977 and was named the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships until 1989, when it became branded with title sponsors.

In a climate that has seen many North American events fall off the tour's calendar, Lehr says the future of men's pro tennis in Memphis is "strong." According to Tennis.com, the U.S. had 36 men's pro events in 1980 -- and will have 12 in 2014.

"Now, I will say, in order to remain strong, we will need and continue to need the support of the local companies as participating and major sponsors of the event as we've had in the past," Lehr said. "That is a key element to the success of professional tennis in Memphis." The re-branding will coincide with a new marketing campaign touting "Tennis Week in Memphis." ___ (c)2012 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) Visit The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) at www.commercialappeal.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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