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Game, Set and Match, Ralph Lauren

Polo Ralph Lauren today is expected to announce that it has secured a partnership deal with the United States Tennis Association, the national governing body for tennis and the owner and organizer of the Grand Slam U.S. Open tennis tournament.

NEW YORK — Advantage, Polo.

Polo Ralph Lauren today is expected to announce that it has secured a partnership deal with the United States Tennis Association, the national governing body for tennis and the owner and organizer of the Grand Slam U.S. Open tennis tournament.

Polo will be the official apparel sponsor of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for the next four years, taking over from Fila, which recently ended its investment after more than 20 years.

The tennis sponsorship will catapult the Ralph Lauren name to even more people worldwide in markets in which he may not have strong representation. Typically the tournament attracts over 600,000 visitors, and last year’s was watched on television by over 86 million viewers worldwide.

“Sports and Polo Ralph Lauren have always been integral, and the name Polo is symbolic of that,” David Lauren, senior vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications, told WWD. “We always dabbled in tennis through our lines, whether it’s a great tennis sweater or a Polo shirt or different items that have been inspired by tennis.”

Arlen Kantarian, chief executive of professional tennis at the USTA, said: “The worlds of fashion and sports have collided, and this will provide a new worldwide stage for their coming together.”

Lauren and Kantarian declined to disclose the size of Polo’s investment, but industry sources estimate $20 million.

This is Polo’s first tennis sponsorship. In the past, the company has sponsored sports tournaments such as the America’s Cup, and individual athletes in golf and biking and skiing teams.

“Tennis has been something we have been looking at…how to get a better foot in the game,” said Lauren. “The U.S. Open is the ultimate prize because it is such an upscale event. It is the most prestigious tennis event in America, if not the world, and it attracts the highest- caliber audience and the best players in the sport, so we are very proud to be a part of it.”

As part of the deal, Ralph Lauren will open a temporary 3,000-square-foot boutique at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., which will be open for the duration of the tournament, which this year will take place from Aug. 29-Sept. 11. The store is expected to offer classic Polo pieces, as well as co-branded U.S. Open/Polo Ralph Lauren merchandise, which will also be available at select Polo stores. In association with the USTA, Polo will also open a shop on Polo.com, featuring sports tips, videos and information about tennis and the collaborative merchandise.

“A lot of it is performance-based and inspired, with high-tech materials blended with some of the classic Polo merchandise, and perhaps some RLX,” said Lauren. “This is a major initiative for us. We think it will probably be one of the highest-trafficked stores that we have run. Over two weeks, thousands of people will come through that store.”

In addition, Polo will design uniforms to be worn by on-court officials such as line judges and ball people. For the first time at the U.S. Open, line judges will be standing in designated areas that will be outlined with the Polo name. Polo will also create an official T-shirt for the tournament. Details on the uniforms and the special T-shirt are yet to be determined.

To accompany the Open, Polo will launch an ad campaign featuring 18-year-old Scott Oudsema, an up-and-coming tennis player who has won three junior Grand Slam tournaments. Oudsema has a contract with Polo through 2005.

“He is vibrant, talented and someone we think is definitely on the way up,” Lauren said. “We will see what happens. In tennis, everything is about the future. He is definitely a hopeful.”

There may even be some events tied into New York Fashion Week. “Fashion week begins the Thursday of the second week of the tournament [Sept. 8], so we are in discussions for everything from joint ad campaigns to potential live events, some of which may not take place until 2006, though,” Kantarian said.

“I think the brand is very well established and so I think it will certainly allow us to look at the sport of tennis in new ways, and see if it’s something we want to expand,” Lauren said. “Because it is a New York-based event, and we have several stores in the area in New York, New Jersey, Long Island and  Connecticut, it’s just appropriate to have this [sponsorship] at the center of New York culture.”