How the former tennis champion Peggy Michel landed BNP Paribas as title sponsor of the Coachella Valley’s signature sporting event.
It dawned cool and a bit cloudy in Paris that day late in September 2008. But four visitors from the Coachella Valley had a sunny outlook about their meeting at the formidable banking power, BNP Paribas. Charlie Pasarell, Raymond Moore, Steve Simon, and Peggy Michel were top executives of the tournament held each year in March at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Since 2002, it had been the Pacific Life Open, but the California insurance company had concluded its sponsorship. The IWTG suits were seeking a new title sponsor for an event that had grown since 1976 from a pro-tour byway in Rancho Mirage to a sporting spectacle drawing more than 330,000 fans in 2008 despite a history fraught with financial instability and the cannibalistic intentions of other sports impresarios.
The tournament brain trust hoped the meeting would culminate in a boffo deal that Michel, assistant tournament director and VP of sales and sponsorships, had been cultivating for months. BNP Paribas had long supported tennis worldwide, including the French Open, one of four Grand Slam tournaments. Partnership with Indian Wells would strengthen the IWTG’s financial footing and protect the tournament from poachers. It would juice the global prestige Indian Wells had been building long before its owners broke ground on the facility at the turn of the millennium. Michel, long regarded for her decency and sales wizardry, was this close to the biggest get of her life.
Then somebody saw a news flash: The U.S. stock market was in freefall. Trading would close that day, Sept. 29, with the largest one-day drop in history, dumping more than $1.2 trillion of value. Banks around the world were in shock, and those were the lucky ones. Some collapsed. On this day, four desert denizens were knocking on the door of Europe’s largest bank, hands out to support a place where the median household income was more than double the national average.
Margaret “Peggy” Michel was born in Santa Monica in a close-knit family of six kids. She was named for her mother, Margaret Duguid Michel, who, in the 1930s, was UCLA student body president, the first female to hold that office at a Southern California coeducational university. “Dugi” inspired her children to pursue their dreams.
Peggy pursued tennis. A two-time U.S. collegiate doubles champion and twice a finalist in singles, she was the consummate serve-and-volley player who is as rare in today’s game as snow in the desert.
The attitude served her well on tour, and when she retired into a business career that continues today. A career in which she moves among giants, avoiding the limelight many in her position find so nourishing.
In 1976, the American Airlines Tennis Games was a men’s tournament at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. By 1981, its host was the La Quinta Hotel (now La Quinta Resort & Club), where Pasarell was director of tennis and part of a real estate development group whose appetite for growth was whetted by the modest success of what was called the Grand Marnier Classic, with prize money of $175,000 and three commercial sponsors whose names today no one would recognize.
Pro tournaments are operated by their owners, but their dates are sanctioned by the sport’s governing bodies — the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for men and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) for women. They are keen to hold the strongest tournaments with the best dates in the biggest markets. The ATP had been making noise about moving this plucky little event in a perceived California backwater to the tennis Valhalla of Florida.
Hyatt Grand Champions
Peggy Michel was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her parents wanted her back in Southern California. One day, her father, Walter James Michel, was chatting with Pasarell, a fellow member of the board of directors of the Southern California Tennis Association. Pasarell knew Peggy from their days on the tour. He asked Walter what she was up to. On a handshake deal that was her contract for 24 years until PM Sports sold the tournament, Peggy was hired to sell hotel rooms, tennis packages, and a tennis fantasy camp in Indian Wells.
“Once we opened the new facility,” she said, “Charlie said he thought it would be better if I came over to the tennis tournament. ‘You’re very good at sales, so I want you to sell sponsorships and the suites.’”
Over the next couple of decades, Pasarell, Moore, and Simon were the visible movers and shakers, and Michel was a secret weapon, the big-brand escort into one of the Coachella Valley’s signature sporting ventures. Not a lot of people knew her, but they recognized Hugo Boss, Coke, Hertz, Enterprise, Baccarat ...
The tennis world paid increasing attention and respect to the well-run, player-popular tourney, but it suffered from an identity crisis. Between 1985 and 2002, the name changed 10 or 12 times, depending on how deeply into the sponsorship weeds you want to wade. (Are The Matrix Essentials Evert Cup [’92-’93], The Evert Cup [’94, ’99], and State Farm Evert Cup [’95-’98] one or three?) The tournament upgraded venues twice in that period; it faced more financial challenges and one notable player controversy that took 14 years to resolve.
In 1989, women joined the competition when the WTA sanctioned a lower-tier event the week before the ATP’s, and PM Sports strengthened the tournament’s stability by partnering with IMG, the entertainment management powerhouse.
In 1996, attendance reached 140,890 when men and women’s play were combined into one event — one of only six such tournaments in the world. A year later, both were series 1000 events, which rank just below the four “majors,” or Grand Slams. The numerical designation signifies the points winners earn to determine world rankings.
Apart from the majors, most people thought the Grand Champions was the pinnacle of pro play. But PM Sports lusted after a large plot of land just east of the Hyatt. In 1999, the ATP signed a deal with global marketing firm ISL to infuse $1.2 billion into the men’s tour over 10 years. Indian Wells’ share reportedly was $110 million for the term, and PM Sports/IMG purchased the property and developed the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Its Stadium 1 would seat 16,100 people, second largest in the world, with a multitude of outer courts and concessions over 54 acres.
It opened in 2000 with the Tennis Masters Series Indian Wells presented by Newsweek. More than 187,430 people came to watch tennis where Mount San Jacinto loomed in the west and palm trees paid obeisance to the occasional wind. Forty-four suites ringed Stadium 1; Michel had sold 32 of them.
Attendance in 2001 topped 200,000 for the first time. But drama ensued. Claiming a knee injury, Venus Williams defaulted to her sister Serena minutes before their semifinal match. The capacity crowd and much of the media were loudly displeased. Serena was booed as she beat Kim Clijsters for the title, and her father, Richard Williams, called it racist. Neither Williams would return to Indian Wells until 2015.
IWTG was a huge hit, but so was the size of its debt service. The owners were forced to consider selling their sanction again when ISL declared bankruptcy. PM Sports/IMG had $40 million left on the stadium loan, plus all the other tournament and site expenses. Interests in Shanghai were lobbying the ATP for sanctioning rights. A few years later, Doha, Qatar, also with deep-pocketed promoters, was another suitor.
Some relief arrived with Pacific Life’s sponsorship in 2002, and by 2004, attendance was 267,834. Still, operating expenses the next year were $5.7 million when tournament revenue was $3 million. IMG, with 50 percent ownership, was committed only through 2006, and was receptive to the foreign offers.
“We thought we were going to be sold to China,” Michel recalled. “Then Raymond [Moore] got help from other businesses and the USTA. … We just kept fighting to save the event.”
IMG’s equity was assumed by outside investors including tennis stars (Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King), the U.S. Tennis Association, the publishers of Tennis Magazine, and the city of Indian Wells. By 2008, the last year of Pacific Life sponsorship, attendance at the Coachella music festival was 151,666 compared with 331,269 at the tennis garden.
“We thought we were going to be sold to China,” Michel recalled. “Then Raymond [Moore] got help from other businesses and the USTA. … We just kept fighting to save the event.”
In early summer, Michel went to BNP Paribas’ New York office to court the bank as title sponsor. Executive Michele Sicard was receptive to Michel’s proposal and wanted to visit a venue she’d never seen. Michel warned about the extreme summer heat and how dead the IWTG would be.
“She said she loved the desert,” Michel recalled, noting there would be no deal recommendation to Paris without a site inspection.
Michel’s team spent a month sprucing up Stadium 1 and its suites. It hung BNP Paribas signage around the court as if in mid-tournament and tarted up the lighting for a post-sundown command performance.
A couple days before the audition, Sicard canceled.
In her office, Michel cried, thinking, “Oh, they’re not interested.”
Two days later, Sicard called. The visit was back on. Michel’s show got rave reviews, and the tourney team booked their trip to France. In Paris, Peggy Michel seated herself across the conference table from Antoine Sire, then BNP Paribas head of group communications. She fingered the one-page pitch she had crafted on the advice of Sicard.
Sire opened the meeting: “You do know that you’re here looking for a sponsorship knowing what’s happened in the United States in the stock market? But go on, go on.”
If anyone could put lipstick on a pig, it was Sire, whom Michel found to be “the nicest gentleman, very genuine; he had a warmth to him.” After about an hour, Sire said that it would be very difficult, but that they would think about the sponsorship and get back to the Tennis Gardeners.
They walked back to their hotel in a glum mood.
That night, in a final appeal, Michel wrote a letter to Sicard, and stuck it under the door to her hotel room.
On Sept. 30, in a cab heading for the airport, Steve Simon’s phone rang. It was Michele Sicard. We’re in, she said.
More than 13 years later, as head of company engagement at BNP Paribas, Sire recalled that day, and Michel’s role: “Despite the very unfortunate timing of their visit to Paris in 2008, Peggy played an instrumental role in selling the tournament to us. Her experience — having been a player, and with the tournament since the beginning — was an important factor, but it was her optimism, vision, and ‘can-do attitude’ that really convinced us.”
The BNP Paribas Open contract has been renewed twice and expires in 2024. In 2009, assured that the tournament would remain in the desert, PM Sports sold it for a reported $100 million to tech magnate Larry Ellison. He has spent an equal amount on improvements to the IWTG. By 2015, the tourney hosted 456,672 spectators, more than the French Open.
“Yes, we’re the fifth largest [tournament],” Michel says, “but we’re … not in a major market, we’re in Indian Wells, California. It’s one of the most beautiful places to have an event … but [it] will always be very difficult.”
IWTG does not disclose contract terms, but title sponsors typically cover the prize money, and sometimes more, which appears to be the case here. The 2022 total prize money is slightly more than 2021, thanks to a contribution from the ATP: $17,748,393. Michel remains the BNP Paribas point person.
“Peggy is completely committed to the tournament,” said Jean-Yves Fillion, U.S. CEO, BNP Paribas, “but also to the sponsors and clients that she manages. It is this dedication and dynamic that has driven our successful partnership.”
She and Fillion are two of a kind — kind, aware, engaged.
Again, this month, Michel will escort Fillion around the tennis garden. He greets the ball kids, the officials, the player transport drivers. Last year, Michel reported, “He sat there and talked to every [volunteer] who was handling credentials and thanked them for all of their time and effort, told them he knew how hard 2021 was.”
Ya think? Rescheduled for October because of the pandemic, the tournament was COVID-canceled in 2020, the year after Michel sold all 44 suites for the first time. She called every sponsor and suite-holder and offered credit or refunds. Most took credits, and all returned in 2021, even though several of the sport’s biggest stars were absent and attendance dropped by about half. Still, unlike many other tournaments, the prize money remained at 2019 levels, and Michel sold three-quarters of the suites.
As always, this year Michel and Fillion will promote sport and education in the Coachella Valley in ways most people won’t notice. As always, Michel will be hustling for sponsors and suite-holders with the charm and integrity that have described her 37 years on the job.
“Yes, we’re the fifth largest [tournament],” she says, “but we’re … not in a major market, we’re in Indian Wells, California. It’s one of the most beautiful places to have an event … but [it] will always be very difficult.”
Live @ Nationals Returns with Extensive Broadcast Schedule for 2021 Event
ESPN and Broadcast Partners Provide Exclusive Coverage with 100+ Hours of Live Coverage
INDIAN WELLS, Calif., December 2, 2021 – The Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships presented by Pickleball Central to be held December 7– 14, 2021 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, will feature LIVE @ NATIONALS program with expansive coverage on ESPN+, For The Fans, Roku, Selkirk TV and YouTube, and over 100 total hours of live action from 3 courts. The program will provide coverage from December 7– 12 on the respective platforms and accessible from the official event website at usapickleballnationals.com.
The broadcast schedule will start on Tuesday, December 7 with the Senior Pro Women’s Doubles and Men’s Singles and run through Sunday December 12 culminating with “Championship Sunday”, gold medal matches in Pro Women’s Singles, Pro Men’s Singles, Pro Women’s Doubles and Pro Men’s Doubles. The Live at Nationals broadcast will start each day at 10am Pacific time / 1pm Eastern through 5pm Pacific time / 8pm Eastern.
A special 2-hour broadcast of the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships will air nation-wide on ESPN-U on Sunday, December 26 at 1:00pm ET (10:00am PT).
The broadcast talent for the event will be led by professional host and LA Rams game day host Camryn Irwin. The broadcast will also feature a couple of familiar faces, such as industry veterans and players, Dominic Catalano and Dave Fleming, both of whom have been broadcast announcers for the 2021 USA Pickleball National Championship Series. Mark Renneson, a professional player and instructor, will also be returning to the booth from his previous stint as a play-by-play announcer during the 2019 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships.
To watch live action each day from December 7-12, visit: usapickleballnationals.com/live 10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET
|Tue 12/7||10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET||2pm-5pm PT / 5-8pm ET|
|Wed 12/8||10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET||10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET|
|Thu 12/9||10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET||2pm-5pm PT / 5-8pm ET||2-5pm PT / 5-8pm ET|
|Fri 12/10||10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET||2pm-5pm PT / 5-8pm ET||2-5pm PT / 5-8pm ET|
|Sat 12/11||10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET||noon-5pm PT / 3-8pm ET||2-5pm PT / 5-8pm ET|
|Sun 12/12||10am-5pm PT / 1-8pm ET||10:30am-5pm PT / 1:30-8pm ET||10am-4:30pm PT / 1-7:30pm ET|
|Sun 12/26||*** Special telecast on ESPN-U: 10am-12pm PT / 1pm-3pm ET ***|
Tickets are on sale now, secure your seat today!
The prestigious event at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden canceled its March event in both 2020 and 2021 and successfully and controversially negotiated to move to October so it wouldn’t lose two full years. The October dates partially conflicted with the Shanghai Masters and smaller tournaments in Asia and Europe, but the governing bodies of tennis eventually decided to allow Indian Wells to go ahead Oct. 6-17. Shanghai eventually canceled its Masters 1,000-level event, citing pandemic concerns.
There is a coincidental element at play. In early 2000, when the Indian Wells tournament was struggling financially, Shanghai pushed to purchase it and move it and its dates to China. Tournament founders Charlie Pasarell and Raymond Moore found new investors in the eleventh hour, retained the event for the desert and turned it into one considered the fifth major in the sport.
Tournament qualifying will be held Monday and Tuesday, followed by the start of the women’s main draw Wednesday and men’s main draw Thursday.
This 2021 event, while still one of the biggest stops on the pro tours, will have a different feel on several fronts. The men’s star attractions for years — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, each of whom has won 20 major tournaments — will be absent. Federer and Nadal are injured and Djokovic withdrew last week. The women’s star for years, Serena Williams, is also not entered.
But the recent announcement of two wild card entries may have spiced up the field.
Andy Murray, a three-time major champion and once considered a part of the Big Four with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, has recovered from a long spell of injuries and took a wild card into the tournament. Same for crowd favorite Kim Clijsters, who won four Grand Slam events and won twice in the desert.
Men’s defending champion Dominic Thiem of Austria will not return. He is still recovering from a wrist injury. But women’s 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada will play. Andreescu came out of nowhere to win at Indian Wells in 2019, then six months later stunned Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open.
Even bigger attractions may be the success stories from this year’s U.S. Open. Daniil Medvedev of Russia spoiled Djokovic’s quest for a calendar-year Grand Slam, the first since Rod Laver’s in 1969, with a stirring five-set victory in the final in New York. And newcomers Leylah Fernandez and Anna Raducanu played an inspiring U.S. Open final and charmed the packed house in Arthur Ashe Stadium with both their tennis and their post-match warmth. Raducanu became the first qualifier to win the event and Fernandez was equally unheralded coming into the Open. Both are teenagers, Fernandez from Canada and Raducana from England.
As large and prestigious as this event has become, there will be many differences from past years.
Tournament officials say they are shooting for 60% capacity attendance, which would be about 300,000 people over the 12-day event. There will be no paper tickets. Spectators will receive tickets through an app and show them on their phones at the entrances. It will also be a cashless event. All entrants must be vaccinated. No spectators under age 12 will be allowed.
There will be a chair umpire and ball kids for each match, but no line-callers, as was the case at the U.S. Open. The electronic Hawkeye cameras, long ago installed on each court at Indian Wells, will be the final word on line calls.
As a nod to potential hot October weather in the desert, there will also be an emphasis on night matches. Official night matches will be held, as usual, on Center Court and Court 1, but on seven other courts with lights, day sessions will be scheduled with later matches not starting before 6 p.m., pushing many matches on those courts well into the evening and the cooler weather.
Those who purchased tickets for the 2020 event, which was canceled one week before it was to begin, have been given three options: a full refund, the ability to apply their purchase to this October event, or the ability to do the same for the March tournament, which will return the BNP Open to its normal spot on the tennis calendar.
Experience Tennis Paradise at the
Indian Wells Tennis Garden
“It’s not just the beauty that keeps me coming back. Indian Wells, as the tournament is called by players and fans, has the most alluring atmosphere of any tennis event I’ve attended—and I’ve been to a lot.” - Gerald Marzorati, Bloomberg
Once again Sheri Dettman & Associates is proud to be a partner and Tennis Paradise Ambassador of the BNP Paribas Open. As one of the premier sporting events in the world, we are so excited year after year to be involved in this spectacular event. Follow the links below for more information and tickets.
A fantastic two weeks in Tennis Paradise was topped off with a pair of truly incredible finals matches in Stadium 1. Congratulations to our 2019 champions: Canada's Bianca Andreescu and Austria's Dominic Thiem!
From Sheri Dettman
In Lifestyles & Things To Do, Tennis Anyone?