Tennis promoter Bill Riordan, former Salisbury resident, is dead at 71

January 23, 1991|By Thomas Rogers | Thomas Rogers,New York Times

Bill Riordan, a free-wheeling promoter who managed the early career of Jimmy Connors and promoted a series of lucrative but falsely labeled "winner-take-all" televised tennis matches featuring Connors, died of heart failure at Community Hospital in Naples, Fla., on Sunday. He was 71.

From 1963 to 1976, Riordan promoted the United States National Men's Indoor tennis championships at Salisbury, Md., his home for many years.

After Connors won the men's singles championships at Wimbledon and the United States Open in 1974, Riordan steered his 22-year-old client into a winner-take-all match worth an announced $100,000 on Feb. 1, 1975, against the 36-year-old Rod Laver, a superstar of the 1960s.

The match, televised nationally by CBS Sports from Las Vegas, was won by Connors. Riordan proceeded to promote ensuing winner-take-all challenge matches, each worth an announced $250,000, between Connors and John Newcombe, Manuel Orantes and Ilie Nastase, who was also managed by Riordan. Connors won them all.

But in May 1977, Riordan admitted as he prepared for a breach-of-contract suit against Connors in federal court that the "prize" money had been non-existent and the players had performed for guaranteed money.

In the first match, for example, Connors received $100,000 and Laver $60,000; in the fourth one, Connors received $500,000 and Nastase $150,000.

When asked why television audiences had been informed that the matches were winner-take-all affairs, Riordan said, "I would definitely accept the blame for that.''

Riordan is survived by his wife, Teresa; a son, William O. Riordan of Minneapolis; a daughter, Mary Bejan of Durham, N.C.; his mother, Geraldine D. Riordan of New Rochelle, N.Y., a brother, Richard, of Los Angeles, and three sisters, Joan Nelson of Denver, Mary E. Hearty of Wales, Texas, and Beatrice Craig of Altamonte Springs, Fla.

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