By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
The Billie Jean King Cup has a new part-owner: Billie Jean King herself.
The International Tennis Federation and TWG Global, a holding company led by Los Angeles Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter, signed a partnership agreement Thursday for a joint venture to market and promote the women’s tennis competition that used to be called the Fed Cup and was re-named to honor King in 2020.
The new entity will be called Billie Jean King Cup Limited, with the ITF holding 51% and TWG Global 49%, and it will seek new sponsorships and broadcast and commercial partnerships.
“We don’t think enough people know what the Billie Jean King Cup is. It is still the largest women’s global team competition,” said Ilana Kloss, a former professional tennis player and King’s wife, who will chair the board of directors for the venture. “We think it’s very important to have a team focused daily on building the Billie Jean King Cup, and investing in the brand.”
This year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals will be held in Seville, Spain, on Nov. 7-12.
For the second year in a row, the champions will receive the same prize money as the winners of the men’s Davis Cup.
“We’ve made a commitment to be bigger, better and bolder. And this is just kind of following on with that,” said David Haggerty, the president of the ITF.
The intention, Haggerty said, is “to really make sure that we make this a sustainable model that we grow, to give women the same opportunities that men have, as well,” including as players, coaches and national federation officials in tennis.
“It really is a true partnership. I mean, obviously, the ITF have incredible expertise in running events, knowing the rules, working with the nations — all of the things that are critical to the competition,” Kloss said. “Our hope is that we can bring some expertise and more focus on a daily basis on the selling of the sponsorship, media rights, getting the word out. I guess no marriage is perfect, but this one is pretty darn good.”
Neither Haggerty nor Kloss, who both spoke to The Associated Press in a video call Thursday, would disclose the amount of money being invested by Walter’s holding company. Kloss called it “significant and substantial.”
King and Walter have been business partners in the past, including in the Dodgers ownership and a new women’s professional hockey league launching in January.
Kloss, who won Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles and mixed doubles in 1976 and is the former chief executive officer of World TeamTennis, said King has “always been about making it better for others.”
“Tennis was an incredible gift for her, right? So for her, it’s more about how can she use her influence and platform to make the competition better for everybody else,” Kloss said. “I don’t think there’s any greater legacy that will be more important to Billie Jean. And I know she gets embarrassed sometimes when we say her name, but you know, there’s no better brand, I believe for us to be affiliated with on a global basis.”
Haggerty, who is running for re-election this year, said the competition format will remain the same for now, but there is the possibility of expanding the number of teams in the finals.
Currently, 12 nations reach the finals in the Billie Jean King Cup; 16 do in the Davis Cup.
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis