August 11, 2010
The long relationship between tennis and tobacco companies has likely come to an end after the ATP forced Swiss officials to terminate Davidoff's title sponsorship of the indoor event later this year in Basel.
The ATP explained its order by blaming laws in various countries which ban cigarette advertisements. Because of those restrictions, television broadcasts of the tournament in those countries had to drop the name of the sponsor. Instead of going through a similar experience this year, the ATP told Swiss officials they could not extend the sponsorship with Davidoff. As of now, the tournament has no title sponsor.
Tennis and tobacco go back to the very beginning of advertising. The 1935 magazine ad at right features three-time Grand Slam champion Ellsworth Vines pitching Camel (view a larger image here):
"Championship tennis is one of the fastest of modern sports. After four or five sets, you sometimes feel that you just can't take another step. That's when a Camel tastes like a million dollars. Not only does the rich, mellow fragrence appeal to my taste, but Camels have a refreshing way of bringing my energy to a higher level. And I can smoke all the Camels I want, for they don't interfere with my nerves." (Emphasis mine.)
Nothing like having a nice, tar-filled smoke after two hours of strenuous activity.
In 1970, Virginia Slims became involved with women's tennis. The female-aimed cigarette brand owned by Philip Morris had its name on numerous tournaments, including the WTA's year-end championship beginning in 1972. The protests began almost immediately, with health and women's group picketing tournaments and hiring airplanes to fly overhead with anti-smoking messages. Most tournaments saw scenes like this (at Madison Square Garden in 1983) outside:
Philip Morris eventually withdrew its sponsorship in 1994, likely owing to the public outcry. (Interesting to note the WTA didn't force the move.) It was a welcome relief to everyone, especially to someone like Billie Jean King, who was invariably asked questions about the dichotomy between her quest for women's rights and playing in tournaments sponsored by a company whose logo was a woman smoking a cigarette.
It's a shame the ATP had to hide behind an excuse in order to force the tobacco ban. It's as if it didn't want to take a stand against advertisements for harmful products. Makes sense, I guess. After all, the ink has barely had time to dry on its new title sponsorship deal. That one's with Corona beer.