Torrance-based Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. has signed on as a sponsor for a triathlon series to promote its hybrids.

Toyota is the title sponsor for the US Open Triathlon in Dallas on Oct. 5. The race will be the last of a five-event series of Olympic-length triathlons. Elite athletes competed in Minneapolis and New York, and will race in Chicago and Los Angeles before heading to Dallas for the championship.

The car company has been participating at each race site. Toyota saw a natural link between the endurance events and its hybrid vehicles. The challenge was to generate exposure for its brand at each race site through an interactive display of its hybrid versions of the Camry, Highlander and Prius vehicles.

Toyota turned to Santa Monica-based Campos Creative Works to design its Engines of Change Zone, a promotional campaign to market the vehicles at triathlons nationwide this summer.

Campos sought out three elite athletes who compete in the races and paired each with a hybrid vehicle: Sarah Haskins is the representative for the Camry, Hunter Kemper represents the Highlander and Andy Potts represents the Prius. Haskins and Kemper will race in the triathlon at the Olympics in Beijing next month.

"We wanted athletes who would take on the personality of the vehicle," said Eric Germansky, executive producer for Campos. Each athlete recorded an audio clip that plays inside the display vehicle comparing aspects of Toyota's hybrid synergy drive technology to their own training. For example, Haskins discusses how the Camry hybrid represents efficient use of resources, characteristics similar to her race pacing.

As part of the promotion, the athletes are also helping competitors with tips on training and competing on race day. In Minneapolis, the three athletes held a 40-minute panel discussion at the expo before the event where the fielded questions about improving techniques from racers.

Another component of Toyota's sponsorhips is the Tree of Change program, featuring a traveling manzanita tree.

Athletes write down their reasons for competing and stick them on the tree, and fans and friends can contribute messages of encouragement. For each note submitted, Toyota will plant a tree through the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tennis Time

Lynwood natives Venus and Serena Williams drew the world's attention in their sisterly battle for the Wimbledon championship last month. Now, officials at Anschutz Entertainment Group are hoping to see both of them participate at this week's East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

"It's an important tournament to help athletes transition from grass to hard courts," said AEG spokesman Michael Roth.

The East West Bank Classic is the only professional women's tour stop in Southern California. Last year, East West Bank stepped in late in the game, only weeks before the tournament. The Pasadena-based bank renewed its sponsorship for this year and 2009. Bank executives will re-evaluate the sponsorship after the 2009 event.

"Both parties want to make the tennis tournament the best in Southern California, especially after the San Diego event got canceled," said Emily Wang, senior vice president for East West Bank. The Acura Classic ended its 24-year run in San Diego last year.

The event is in its fifth year at the Home Depot Center. This year's tournament will feature several changes.

In previous years, games were played in the stadium and outside during the first three days of competition. This year all matches will be played on the outside courts so fans can see five matches concurrently. Bleachers, additional seating and concession stands were added on the outer courts, as was a VIP section for ticket holders who purchased special packages.

The event has seen attendance increase annually since moving to the Home Depot Center. The most popular night of the event may come Saturday as AEG will put on a fireworks display after the matches.

Thirsty Work

The ESPN crew at the ESPY awards last week at Nokia Theatre stayed hydrated with the help of eco-friendly water bottles from Burbank-based Beyond Zebra Inc. The business was contacted by the ESPN crew in May and were asked for premium items that could be given to the crew, stars of the show and award winners.

The key item produced was a biodegradable plastic water bottle. ESPN purchased, at nearly $6 each, 500 of the bottles, which are made with an additive allowing them to biodegrade in an aerobic environment within five years.

"The crew clipped the bottles on to their equipment and cameras," said Terri Yamate-Ottengheime, Beyond Zebra co-owner.

Other products created for the event include shirts made from bamboo for presenters and bicycle jerseys for bartenders. The bartender jerseys were not made from eco-friendly fabric, but the bartenders powered blenders in an energy-efficient manner: They pedaled a bicycle hooked up to the drink-mixers.

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

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