Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The women’s tennis tour will lose its biggest sponsor after mobile-phone maker Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB said it won’t extend its agreement when it expires next year.
Sony Ericsson signed a six-year contract worth $88 million in 2005, the largest sponsorship in tennis history and women’s professional sports, to become the WTA Tour’s title sponsor. The company, a joint venture between Sony Corp. and Ericsson AB, dropped the naming rights last year when it signed a two-year extension until Dec. 31, 2012.
“After seven years partnering with the WTA, we have decided not to renew the partnership,” Sony Ericsson spokeswoman Graciela Pineda said in an interview today. “We feel that after seven years our brand has evolved and our business as well.”
In October, Sony Corp. agreed to buy Ericsson AB’s stake in the joint venture for 1.05 billion euros ($1.4 billion). Sony Chairman Howard Stringer said at the time he wanted to change the mobile venture’s brand following the deal. Sony Ericsson has turned to smartphones based on Android to lessen market share losses amid competition from Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
“They have been a great partner and we will miss them,” the WTA Tour said in a statement emailed to Bloomberg News. “We look forward to the next phase of growth with our existing and future partners.”
The Sony Ericsson deal “has over the past seven years taken women’s tennis to new heights of popularity and success, and broadened the audience for the sport across the globe,” the WTA Tour said.
A record 5 million people attended women’s tennis events in 2011, half a million more than in 2005. Prize money will be a Tour record $96 million next year, up from almost $60 million in 2005.
Under the guidance of Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Stacey Allaster, the WTA Tour has secured $160 million in total revenue in the past 18 months.
That includes five new deals with companies including French bank BNP Paribas SA and Swiss watch brand Rolex Group, as well as renewals of existing agreements. Earlier this week, the WTA announced it signed a four-year deal with digital sports media company Perform Group Plc, which it said will double media exposure for women’s tennis.
--With assistance from Jonathan Browning in London and Mariko Yasu in Tokyo. Editors: Bob Bensch, Christopher Elser.
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