Sponsors see WTA Tour as good fit despite Serena outburst

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By Miles Evans

LONDON (Reuters) - Sony Ericsson's relationship with the WTA Tour remained positive despite Serena Williams's foul-mouthed outburst at the U.S. Open in September, the tour sponsors have said.

The 28-year-old American was put on probation for two years and handed a record fine after an expletive-laden outburst at a lineswoman in New York culminating in a penalty point that handed victory to Kim Clijsters in their semi-final.

"Any sport is competitive and incidents happen with players in any sport," Calum MacDougall, the company's director of global marketing partnerships, told Reuters.

"I think if you have a relationship like we have with the WTA, over a long time elements like this will happen because of the nature of sport."

Sony Ericsson's six-year, $88 million naming rights agreement runs until the end of the 2010 season.

"Overall the players have been very supportive of our sponsorship and they have been very engaging," he said.

"We haven't taken a view on whether we'll continue or not but it is something we need to be looking at in the coming months.

"It would be pre-emptive of me to say anything. There's a lot of analysis we need to do and understand the value we've got so far from the potential value we can have moving forward."

MacDougall said there was no temptation to switch focus to the men's game after the contrasting fortunes of the two Tours' end-of-season showpieces.

The men's ATP Tour finals played out to capacity crowds at London's O2 Arena while the women's season ender in Doha, for which Sony Ericsson also holds the naming rights, had comparatively sparse crowds.

"Not particularly," MacDougall responded when asked if there was a temptation to buy into the insatiable rivalries building up between Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro in the men's game.

"A lot of the focus is the competitiveness between Federer and Nadal and the other guys coming up. The exciting part about the women's game is that it's very open.

"There's a range of players who can potentially win any given tournament and in sporting terms what's really interesting is the unpredictability and it's actually quite compelling in a way." (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)