The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is at a critical juncture. On the one hand, the successes of Andy Murray and female stars Heather Watson and Laura Robson mean the sport’s profile has never been higher.
However, Roger Draper, British tennis's governing body outgoing chief executive, has been criticised for presiding over a tenure which has coincided with falling tennis participation figures, which has led to £10m of funding being withheld by Sport England.
The LTA is also in the midst of negotiating terms with a headline sponsor, as its £25m, five-year-deal with Aegon ends at the end of this year.
There has been speculation that the LTA is on the hunt for a bigger, more consumer-facing sponsor than Aegon, while some have suggested that Aegon is unwilling to match the increased terms the LTA is demanding.
Lawrence Robertson, commercial director at the LTA, talks to Marketing about some of the key issues facing the governing body.
MKTG - Obviously, there have been some high-profile successes at the top end of the game. But some believe the sport is still elitist. Do you think tennis is an elitist sport?
Robertson - I think there has been plenty of conjecture in media about tennis being elitist, but it is an accessible and affordable sport – you can buy a racket in Sports Direct for a tenner and get a park court for less £5. It is part of our job to help our brand partners understand the accessibility of the sport. An elitist sport for me is polo. Elitist is not a real issue for us.
Are you looking to change the LTA's sponsorship structure?
Our commercial structure is not going to change a lot. We have a lead partner with Aegon, and underneath that, seven or eight brands take ownership of certain aspects. I don't see that changing a lot. The commercial programme won't change – the subtle changes will be who the brands are and how we can better promote the sport in the UK.
Are you hopeful about renewing your sponsorship with Aegon?
It could well be Aegon. We are also talking to brands from other sectors, be that financial services, be that FMCG brands. At the end of the day, we have been delighted with our partnership with Aegon and it is very much part of thinking going forward.
What access do the sponsors get to the tennis stars?
The tennis stars are their own commercial entities. But at various times during the year, these athletes and our activities intersect, like at the Aegon Championships at Queens, so there are plenty of opportunities for brand partners to work with them. We are not out selling those three individuals – Murray, Robson and Watson – but they will play a strong part in the story.
How can the LTA grow the sport and feed off the success of the likes of Andy Murray?
From a commercial standpoint, the ambition is get more people playing and following the sport. A good example of this is work we have down with another of our sponsors, Highland Spring. We have worked with them on a tennis programme that has been promoted through millions of bottles, which is a good case in opportune marketing. We could see a similar relationship with either one or a range of partners to help grow the sport. The Aegon Schools Programme is a great example of how a brand partnership can take a sport into 15,000 primary schools.Follow @johnreynolds10