Two local companies are putting a whole new spin on the phrase "net worth," drawing considerable exposure and goodwill from high-profile tennis sponsorships.


The Countrywide Classic men's tournament held at UCLA marked its 81st year in 2007, making it the second-oldest tournament in the country. The East West Bank Classic women's tournament is in its 38th year overall, and its fourth year in Carson.


For the non-profit Southern California Tennis Association, which operates the Countrywide Classic, the tournament funds not only the tourney and its $4 million budget, but year-round youth tennis programs, too. Since Calabasas-based Countrywide Financial Corp. joined the event as title sponsor in 2006, the event has seen overall sponsorship revenues surpass ticket revenues as its majority source of income.


"We're fortunate to have Countrywide as a partner," said Bob Kramer, tournament director. "We have a partner that has a vested interest in the success of the event."


At the women's event in Carson, tournament owner AEG nearly proceeded without a title sponsor this year, going so far as printing promotional materials under the heading "2007 Los Angeles Ultimate Tennis Celebration."


The previous sponsor, JPMorgan Chase & Co., did not renew its contract when it ended in 2006. Negotiations had been ongoing with several companies, but less than two months before this year's tournament, no title sponsor had been secured. Finally, Pasadena-based East West Bancorp Inc. signed a one-year deal, its first title sponsorship. East West is relatively new to the sports and sponsorship game, but made a splash by hiring figure skater Michelle Kwan as a spokeswoman two years ago.


The ethnic bank caters mainly to the local Chinese-American population. The women's event could have some special appeal for that audience, with two rising Chinese stars on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Na Li is ranked 18th and Shuai Peng ranked 46th among women pros. The tournament and East West are making the most of the opportunity.


"This is probably the first time that the USTA has had an event advertised on Chinese-American channels," said Emily Wang, senior vice president for East West Bank.


The tournament will add local Chinese television and Chinese newspapers to its traditional media buys for the tourney.


The men's and women's events have become part of the U.S. Tennis Association's U.S. Open Series, which links 10 tournaments six men's and five women's events leading up to the U.S. Open held in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. towards the end of summer.


Cross-promoting the local events could help generate even more interest, according to officials from both tours, who met recently. The proposals discussed ranged from holding the tournaments during the same week to rotating the men's and women's tournaments between the 8,000-seat Home Depot Center tennis venue and the 7,000-seat UCLA location. One proposal even called for playing half of the men's and women's brackets at each location.


"It's because the Southern California tennis market is so strong that we have a unique opportunity to have both a men's and women's tournament in the same city and so close to one another," said AEG spokesman Michael Roth. "We are looking for ways to help cross-promote the events and have an ongoing dialogue on how to grow both events."


Spokes Stoked

The 2008 Amgen Tour of California has announced the host cities for its race next February, with three new cities, including Pasadena, hosting stage starts and finishes. Now in its third year, the race has changed the location of its grand finale from Long Beach to Pasadena.


The California race has quickly become the most successful cycling road race held in the United States. It attracts world-class athletes and drew more than 1.6 million spectators last year, making it the most-watched cycling event ever held on U.S. soil. Tour owner AEG estimates that it added $100 million in economic growth for the state each year.


Drive Time

The crowd-pleasing American Le Mans Series will be back next year as part of the 34th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in April. The event will be part of the lineup of activities held on Saturday before the race, which helped generate interest among many spectators this year.


The series features four power classes racing at once such as Porsche, Corvette, Ferrari, Acura and Mazda. They will race in a 100-minute battle around the roughly 2-mile street circuit. Separate reserved-seat tickets will be sold for the event for the first time. Tickets will cost $57 and will allow spectators to see the ALMS race and the rest of Saturday's events.


Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236, or at dnusbaum@labusinessjournal.com.

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