The prestigious Indian Wells tennis tournament, by attendance and image the fifth largest event of its sport in the world, has changed names. What had been the Pacific Life Open on Wednesday became the BNP Paribas Open.
This year's event, set for March 9-22, has added the financial stability of one of the largest banks in the world, French-based BNP Paribas.
Indian Wells tournament officials also announced that theirs would become the seventh major tennis event worldwide to offer equal purse money for men and women, $4.5 million each. The others are the four Grand Slam events, the Miami event that immediately follows Indian Wells and the Masters Series Madrid tournament.
Ray Moore, who with Charlie Pasarell is a partner in the event's operational company, said parting with Pacific Life was a difficult decision, especially in this economic climate.
"It was a decision of our board, it was made last June and it was with some trepidation," Moore said.
Moore said the tournament really had nothing in its pocket when it declined to accept the first of a two-year option with Pacific Life but said the choice was made to attempt to increase the sponsorship.
"We needed to get the credit, financially, for the international-based audience we brought," Moore said, meaning that Pacific Life's sponsorship fee was more in line with what a title sponsor would pay for a national event, whereas the Indian Wells tournament was marketed and televised all over the world, especially in Europe.
Tournament officials also announced there will be an additional night session, the first Thursday, March 12. That could bring an increase to last year's attendance figure of more than 330,000, which was topped only by the four Grand Slam events.
BNP Paribas does the bulk of its branding through tennis sponsorships. It sponsors the French Open, Davis Cup and Federation Cup, among others, and owns the Bank of the West, which sponsors a women's tournament at Stanford.
Neither tournament officials nor a BNP Paribas spokesperson would reveal the amount of the bank's financial stake in the Indian Wells event.