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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Local Firms Merit Praise

Ripping Russia has become a parlor game for some cynical journalists who focus on the problems plaguing the former Soviet Union rather on than its extraordinary progress. Russian noses have been rubbed in their own business calamities so frequently that it is surprising that two of the country's most precious commodities -- self-esteem and self-confidence -- have not collapsed altogether. My three years in the business community here have been progressively heartening and I can offer a few examples. The Kremlin Cup, Russia's only major professional sporting event, commissioned different theme posters from an American ad agency based in Moscow, an Israeli firm and the local Olympic Stadium staff. Guess which finished the work first? Astonishingly, the Russian entity.


Three years ago, similar assignments were muffed repeatedly by Moscow enterprises. Printing deadlines for posters, tickets and badges were either missed or ignored. Attempts to market the event through television and radio commercials, print advertising campaigns, street signs, brochure distribution and electronic displays were met with a combination of disinterest and disbelief. Today all are a regular part of the tournament's publicity campaign and are implemented with flair and energy by Russian enterprises.


There's more. In the first year of operation in 1990, Pan Am was the closest thing to an "official" airline, donating a dozen New York-Moscow tickets for media celebrities like Bud Collins, the ever-colorful TV announcer, and ace sports photographer Mel DiGiacomo.


Aeroflot, on the other hand, couldn't comprehend the concept of barter -- advertising at the Kremlin Cup in exchange for air tickets. After all, Aeroflot is a monopoly. Why would a monopoly need to advertise? To be fair, Aeroflot's officials wanted to help, but couldn't figure out how or why. One Aeroflot official finally agreed to secure a half-dozen tickets for VIPs. Sadly, he had in mind reservations only -- not free tickets.


Meanwhile, British Airways was unofficially one of our staunchest supporters. British Airways had no budget to support a sports sponsorship in a country deemed to be a frontier rather than consumer territory. Despite that fact, it helped whenever possible with air-freighting programs, - electronic line calling devices and other high-tech equipment, plus providing the occasional press ticket.


Pan Am's lack of enthusiasm in 1991 could charitably be chalked up to the confusion of its routes being taken over by Delta. Aeroflot, whose faith in the Kremlin Cup was more blind than enlightened, lurched into the breach and was helpful, more so from its Moscow bureau than the New York office, which hadn't updated the old Russian work ethic.


By 1992, both British Airways and Aeroflot had consolidated their belief in the Kremlin Cup as the country's most significant sporting event. One U. S. carrier, in contrast, had retreated in the opposite direction. As an American entrepreneur who has done deals with more than a dozen airlines over 20 years of promoting tennis events, I have rarely experienced such a negotiating style. First, we had a deal if we could make some concessions. We made the concessions. Then we had a real deal. Or so I thought.


"Oh, now our deal has to be approved by senior management", was the response by the airline's junior varsity representative. The whole experience was reminiscent of early dialogues with Soviet bureaucrats.


Fortunately, neither player's nor sponsor's travel plans depended on such caprice. But the point of the story is that Aeroflot, with little exposure to the subtleties of advertising, and British Airways, with no immediate tactical reason to become involved with us, behaved more sportingly, and with more vision, if the Kremlin Cup expands exponentially, than a venerable American carrier with volumes of experience in the sports marketing field.


And there's still more. In 1990, I confess I was guilty of acute paranoia that the Kremlin Cup could not succeed without Western suppliers and administration.


Thus we imported a Western staff. Western officials including the referee of Wimbledon, Western speakers for the Kremlin Cup business symposium, Western food, wine and chefs for the VIP hospitality village.


Since then, we have tried to rely almost exclusively on Russian suppliers, supplies and employees. It works. We'll never again fall into the jingoistic trap of saying "The West knows best".


Since tennis is the most global of sports, played in over 200 countries, it is not surprising that we do wave international colors. The marketplace can't ignore multi-national corporations utilizing the reach of sports to magnify their ever-expanding business aspirations. Thus, when Italtel, the giant Italian telecommunications company, joined the Kremlin Cup as title sponsor, there was no surprise, but no complacency either.


The proudest example of "Russianization", nonetheless, is the replacement of last year's American presenting sponsor, the ICD Group, with Microdin, an all-Russian firm. Entry by a local Moscow venture as a leading patron amidst many glamorous Western cartels is a more startling triumph than Russian Andrei Cherkasov winning the first two Kremlin Cups. This heady evolution has happened in just three years.


The advice from here is basic tennis tactics. Respect teamwork. In doubles, for instance. Then a neighborhood translation: Respect rubles. and while you're at it, respect Russia too.


Eugene Scott is Director of the Kremlin Cup, a New York lawyer and a former member of the U. S. Davis Cup team.