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Colgate-Palmolive's recent announcement that it was cutting back on its sponsorship of professional sports was hardly a surprise. Since January, when David Foster was replaced by Keith Crane as the company's chief operating officer, it had been rumored that Colgate would pull out when its various contracts expired. In a move that one LPGA spokesman described as "back to soap," Colgate has decided to discontinue its backing of men's tennis and golf and to reduce its sponsorship of LPGA events from four to one. The company will honor its contract with the Women's Tennis Association, which runs through 1981, but chances for renewal seem slim. In addition, there is talk that Colgate would like to sell two Foster-acquired subsidiaries, Ram golf equipment and Bancroft, which makes tennis rackets.
Under Foster's leadership, Colgate began its sports affiliations with the LPGA by inaugurating the Dinah Shore Winners Circle tournament in 1972. Foster quickly extended financial support to tennis, skiing and track and field. Soon the name Colgate was linked with stylishly run, big-money events in those sports.
In April, LPGA Commissioner Ray Volpe met with Colgate. Realizing that Crane wasn't as interested in women's golf as his predecessor, Volpe recommended that Colgate drop all but its showpiece, the Dinah Shore. Eight years ago, losing $400,000 in prize money would have been a devastating blow for the women's tour, but it is a measure of the lasting effect Colgate's backing has had for the LPGA that the three events Colgate dropped have already been replaced by new tournaments with equivalent purses.
The same, however, may not be true for men's tennis. For the last three years Colgate has sponsored the Grand Prix of Tennis, a worldwide series of rich tournaments that culminates in the Grand Prix Masters. Last winter Bjorn Borg was a top qualifier for the Masters, yet he refused to play, a decision that irritated both Colgate and Bancroft, which pays Borg to use its rackets.
Nonetheless, Arthur Ashe, a member of the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, is not particularly worried about finding a new sponsor. "We're out beating the bushes right now," he says. "We're talking about worldwide sponsorship, a very big commitment, but we will find a replacement.
"I think it's important for people, other potential sponsors, to understand that Colgate's move does not reflect a lack of confidence in pro tennis. Rather, it is just one company reconsidering its involvement with sports.
"It's unfortunate," Ashe added with mock regret. "It means I won't get any more free toothpaste."
Tom Lasorda, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a man to whom food is as serious a subject as baseball, and he recently ranked the National League's ball parks according to their clubhouse cuisine for the Los Angeles Times.