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How Citi Taste of Tennis Grew Into One of the Sport’s Premier Events

Ahead of the U.S. Open, Judi and Penny Lerner discuss how they created one of tennis’ premier lifestyle experiences.





Every year, the top names in tennis gather in New York for the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam of the tennis season. While the tournament in New York certainly has its appeal, one of the most highly anticipated events takes place off the court.

The mother-daughter team of Judi and Penny Lerner are the powerhouse duo behind the Citi Taste of Tennis, which has become one of the highest anticipated non-sporting events to accompany tennis’ biggest tournaments.

Like most success stories, the Lerners’ business came together through a perfectly timed set of circumstances. Penny had been working as a social worker when her organization lost funding and she was laid off. At the same time, Judi, who was in the midst of a successful career in tennis, was ready to venture into her own endeavors.

Judi had noticed a void in the athlete management space, seeing that too much attention was being paid to sports themselves, rather than the athletes who played them. Tempting Penny with the opportunity to raise money for the nonprofit she had previously worked for, she used that event as a trial run for the two of them starting their own company.

“We went right into business after that, creating a woven fabric between athletes and the community in which they live to make them feel more comfortable in the place that they were going,” explained Penny.

Both she and her mom knew that these young athletes traveled all over the U.S., often far from their home countries, and would find themselves in random cities with no one to help them get acclimated.

Their agency, AYS Sports, aimed to change that.

“[These athletes] that come here don’t live here so they don’t know about our regional cuisine. They don’t know about the beauty of our little cities and how tasty or how wonderful the chefs are,” explained Penny Lerner. “We wanted to introduce the international base of tennis – players and media and people that follow the space – with the regional beauty of our American cities.”

When they started this endeavor, neither Lerner had their MBA, but Judy explains the first 15 years was essentially like business school.

“We learned how to find a space for ourselves that made sense and could take our business with us,” she explained.

From the ground up, the two built not only an agency, but a series of premier events, most notably the Citi Taste of Tennis, which occurs in tandem with many of the top tennis tournaments around the country.

Citi Taste of Tennis’ premier event occurs annually in New York City ahead of the U.S. Open, combining sport and cuisine and bringing in top athletes and chefs to interact with attendees. Past events have included cooking competitions, VIP hours where guests can mingle with athletes, and food from world-renowned Iron Chefs.

This year’s event is scheduled for August 23 at Cipriani 42nd Street and will feature several of the world’s best tennis players, most notably the powerful doubles duo Mike and Bob Bryan, last year’s U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, and the fast-rising stars John Isner and Kevin Anderson.

“[The players] look forward to these things now because it’s not an obligation that they have to do, it’s more that they want to come there and they want to have fun and we don’t ask them for a lot,” explained Judi Lerner.  “A piece of it is that we try to really understand the personality of the player and enhance that to make it into something more so that they can let their natural ability and natural flavor show too.”

There aren’t many events where you can walk in and see Nick Kyrigos DJ’ing or Gael Monfils dancing, or Serena Williams walking through, but by focusing on the lifestyle element of tennis, the Lerner’s have made that a reality.

The trust that makes this type of event possible was not built overnight.

“My mom has been in the business for a really long time and she has always delivered and never asked for much. I think that a lot of the top players have always found value in that,” explained Penny Lerner.

That type of thinking has helped both agents and players trust the Lerners to plan events that respect the players’ time, values, and interests and made it a comfortable and desirable environment. The experience itself has moved beyond sport and cuisine, transforming into a lifestyle event with a blue carpet, music, and any other element that fits players’ personalities.

As the 19th annual Citi Taste of Tennis New York occurs this week, the Lerners are already looking ahead to future events, committed to using their balance of skills, temperaments, and mutual value of hard work and persistence to ensure the events are a success for years to come.

Lucy is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A storyteller and brand strategist, she has worked in the sports industry for organizations including the United States Olympic Committee, IMG/WME and the Miami Open, the University of Miami Athletic Department, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Twins. She spent 2016 living in Colombia where she accomplished a life-long goal of becoming fluent in Spanish while working for the Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Lucy is a graduate of the University of Miami. She can be reached at


NHL Keeps Running On Dunkin’ With New Deal

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership.

Ian Thomas



NHL Dunkin' Deal
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dunkin’ has signed a multi-year extension of its deal with the NHL, continuing its position as the official coffee, donut and breakfast sandwich of the league in the U.S.

The deal, expected to be announced tonight prior to game five of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston, marks the twelfth major partner that the NHL has signed or renewed its deal with in recent months.

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership. Over the course of the last two seasons, the partnership has seen Dunkin’ become one of the NHL’s most active corporate sponsors in terms of its presence at major NHL events, partnerships with local teams, marketing campaigns and other fan-facing efforts.

READ MORE: Following NBA’s Lead, NHL Taps Massive Chinese Market for Fans

NHL Group Vice President of Partnership Marketing Evin Dobson said that since becoming a sponsor, Dunkin’ has ranked at the top or in the top three of the league’s internal metrics regarding fan awareness or engagement of its partners.

Dunkin’ has been front and center this Stanley Cup Final as well, as its national advertising campaign starring Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak has been heavily featured during NBC’s television coverage of the playoffs. The campaign was created by BBDO Worldwide, which was named Dunkin’s new agency of record in April 2018.

“When you have an advertising campaign that even the broadcast talent is talking about on-air, you know you’re creating great fan engagement with what you’re doing,” Dobson said.

Tom Manchester, Dunkin’ U.S. senior vice president of integrated marketing, said much of the deal with the league will be similar to how its current deal is structured – it will continue to hold exclusive rights in those U.S. categories, it will activate around the partnership at NHL league events and it will have a presence across broadcast, digital and social media channels throughout the season, which includes a multi-million dollar partnership with NBC Sports for custom in-game features during games. Dunkin’ will also activate alongside the NHL’s esports tournament, the NHL Gaming World Championship, which will hold its final in Las Vegas later this month.

However, the new deal will see Dunkin’ adding two new local team partnerships in the deal, with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Vegas Golden Knights. Dunkin’ now has 15 NHL team-level deals.

READ MORE: NHL Turns to Corner Ice Placements to Grow On-Ice Ad Revenue

Dunkin’ will also launch a new activation around the league deal ahead of next season, Manchester said, declining to comment further as those plans have only just started.

“Over these last two years, the idea that coffee and espresso is a big part of the hockey world and hockey family’s lives has only been reinforced for us,” Manchester said.

Dunkin’s NHL deal also serves as “the centerpiece” of that outreach to hockey families, Manchester said.

In addition to its league-level NHL deal in 2017, Dunkin’ has also made additional investments into hockey, signing a deal with USA Hockey in 2016 as well as the NWHL in 2015, becoming the women’s league first corporate sponsor.

While both of those deals have since lapsed, Manchester said that on the NWHL front, the company is in talks with the league about renewing it. He noted that Dunkin’ views “women’s hockey as just as important as men’s.”

However, Dunkin’ is not planning on more broadly renewing its partnership with the U.S. governing body. Manchester said that while Dunkin’ had activated heavily around the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team and players like Meghan Duggan during the 2018 Winter Olympics, it had nothing in place with USA Hockey at the moment – although he said Dunkin’ could potentially do something around the team or its players heading into the next Olympic cycle in 2022.

Both Dobson and Manchester declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal, other to say the multi-year deal’s investment level is in line with the previous deal. Fenway Sports Management, who is Dunkin’s sports marketing agency of record, negotiated the deal on behalf of the company.

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Concacaf Unveils First-Ever Women’s Soccer Plan

In August, Concacaf appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

Ian Thomas



women's soccer
Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Concacaf has rolled out its first-ever strategic plan to grow and develop the game of women’s soccer.

In August, the confederation appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, who presented the plan in Paris this week to all confederation’s 41 members that includes all of the soccer federations across North and Central America and the Caribbean, said that even with two of the top five ranked women’s soccer teams globally coming from this region in the U.S. and Canadian national teams, there is still an opportunity to do even better.

“The mission we’ve set out on is to improve the lives of women and girls throughout our region through the sport,” LeBlanc said. “We need to change perceptions, grow participation and build a sustainable foundation so that we can do just that.”

Concacaf has designed its strategy to grow the sport of women’s soccer around three main pillars – communicating the importance of women’s soccer and advocating for key issues affecting women, development of the sport and creating pathways to develop and empower players both on and off the field, and through commercial means that will build a self-sustainable growth model for the sport.

LeBlanc said Concacaf’s vision for growing the game somewhat mirrors FIFA’s, who launched its own first-ever global strategy for women’s soccer in October. FIFA is holding a two-day women’s soccer summit in Paris, featuring executives and federation officials from across the globe aiming to “make the most of this new era of women’s football,” which FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in his opening remarks at the summit on Wednesday morning.

Other goals for 2019 set by Concacaf include leveraging the hopeful success of the region’s national teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, creating a women’s coaching mentorship program and develop a commercial strategy around the confederation’s women’s soccer brand, which is called Concacaf W.

“We believe we can hit some of these targets very quickly, but it was important to create something like this plan so that everyone is on the same page,” LeBlanc said. “We all agree it is critical that we create growth and opportunity for women in the sport.”

LeBlanc said some of the long term goals include creating new women’s soccer competitions across the region, assisting in the creation of women’s soccer-specific digital and social channels for all the federations to help inspire fans, and encouraging the launch of more women’s clubs across the region.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

“From our standpoint, we are looking at ways to influence clubs to take a leap of faith and if they already have a men’s team, to also have a women’s team,” LeBlanc said. “Our goal is to change the mindset that women’s football is just a cause.

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MLSPA and REP Worldwide Teaming Up to Promote MLS Players

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

Ian Thomas



MLS players group licensing rights
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, according to industry sources, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

The PA had reclaimed those group licensing rights in the league’s first CBA in 2004, but had since licensed them back directly to the league. In the past, MLS has marketed the rights for both the league and the PA, with proceeds of licensing deals split on a percentage basis that varied by category. Now – the PA will take a more direct management in the marketing and administration of those rights, with REP Worldwide as its exclusive partner and advisor.

REP Worldwide – an acronym for Representing Every Player – was launched in 2017 as a first-of-its-kind group licensing representation business offering licensing and brand management services to athlete-driven sports properties. The NFLPA is the majority shareholder of the company, working in collaboration with its founding partners the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA).

This new partnership will see REP Worldwide structure and manage MLSPA licensing partnerships on behalf of the MLS player pool across categories that include digital, apparel, experiential and hard goods, which typically includes things like toys and sports equipment. those MLS group licensing rights cover instances where four or more players appear on a single product or within a brand or product line. That can include the usage of their names, numbers and likenesses, but not team names or logos – rights held by the league.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

The aim for the MLSPA is that this new arrangement will not only open new revenue for the MLS player pool, but also serve as a brand builder for all of the players, collectively and individually.

All of the other player associations in the major North American professional sports have control over their group licensing rights, with the NBPA being the last to do so in 2017.

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