Roger Draper's transformation of the Lawn Tennis Association continued apace yesterday with the announcement of the biggest sponsorship deal in the organisation's history. AEGON, an international life insurance, pensions and investment company, is to become the LTA's "lead partner" under a five-year deal believed to be worth around £25m, which is quite a coup considering the current financial climate.
The most visible part of the agreement will be the firm's sponsorship of Britain's three principal pre-Wimbledon grass-court tournaments. Queen's Club in London will stage the AEGON Championships, which were previously sponsored by Stella Artois, Devonshire Park in Eastbourne will host the AEGON International, which is to become a combined men's and women's tournament, and the AEGON Classic women's event will take place at the Priory Club in Edgbaston.
Draper, the LTA's chief executive, said that the new sponsorship money would help the LTA to continue to recruit the best possible fields for the event. However, when asked whether there would be any attempt to persuade Roger Federer to switch his pre-Wimbledon preparations from Halle in Germany to Queen's Club, he said the LTA would not be prepared to pay "silly appearance fee money".
AEGON's sponsorship money will also be spent in three other main areas: community tennis, elite performance programmes from talent identification through to support for leading players, and the provision of more competitions, particularly for juniors.
The latter has been a key part of Draper's mission. The number of juniors competing regularly has more than doubled since he took charge two and a half years ago to 18,000, although that figure still falls well short of most comparable countries.
Although the LTA will continue to seek assistance from a number of supporters, AEGON replace a wide range of previous sponsors. When Draper took charge the LTA had 44 different backers. AEGON, which employs 4,900 people in Britain from its base in Edinburgh, has shares listed on the London, New York, Tokyo and Amsterdam stock exchanges.