Collapsed endorsement deal pits Fila against Monica Seles Dueling lawsuits: Sportswear firm says tennis star could have returned sooner after attack by fan. She disputes their claim.

November 03, 1995|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Because of an editing error, yesterday's editions of The Sun misspelled the name of the marketing vice president of Fila USA of Hunt Valley. His name is Howe Burch.

The Sun regrets the errors.

A federal magistrate in Tampa has ordered Monica Seles to produce psychiatric records that could explain why she stayed away from tennis so long after being attacked by a knife-wielding fan. The order is part of the tennis superstar's fight with Fila USA of Hunt Valley over a collapsed endorsement deal.

The player and the company sued each other after Ms. Seles took a two-year hiatus from tennis following an assault by Guenter Parche, a German fan who wanted Steffi Graf to be the world's top women's player and set about to debilitate her main rival.


To Fila, Ms. Seles breached her contract to endorse its shoes and clothes because she could have returned within a few months of the April 30, 1993, attack after her physical injuries healed, but chose not to do so. To Ms. Seles, any failure to live up to the contract was excusable because her psychological JTC state following the attack left her temporarily unable to work.

"We said, 'Fine, what was it?' " said Alvin Davis, a Miami attorney representing Fila. "And they said, 'We're not telling.' That's what it boiled down to."

The clerk's office at the U.S. District Court in Tampa said that U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Jenkins signed an Oct. 4 order to compel Ms. Seles' attorneys to produce the documents within 30 days.

The clerk's office said Ms. Seles' attorneys have appealed the order to U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew, but the papers detailing their objections were filed under a court seal and are not open to the public.

Tampa attorney Jonathan C. Koch, representing Ms. Seles, said the player's camp will not discuss the dispute in public.

"The paperwork we filed was filed under seal," Mr. Koch said. "She doesn't really look for publicity on this issue. It's a contract dispute, that's all it is."

But Mr. Davis said the Seles camp had argued that disclosure would harm the player's continuing program of mental health care. The magistrate accommodated that argument by ordering that records, when produced, would be filed under seal.

According to the prospectus for a recent stock offering by Fila's Italian-based parent company, Fila terminated the endorsement deal in July 1994 and asked a federal court in Miami to confirm the termination and award damages in November. Ms. Seles, for months after the suit was filed, insisted the contract was valid and continued to make public appearances wearing Fila gear.

But in July, just before her comeback exhibition match against Martina Navratilova in Atlantic City, N.J., Ms. Seles signed a multi-year endorsement deal with athletic shoe giant Nike Inc.

"We found out she signed with Nike after she signed," Mr. Davis said. "We were negotiating with her at the same time."

Ms. Seles then filed a counterclaim in August, claiming Fila owes her money for past and future payments called for under her Fila contract.

She denied Fila's claim that she had broken promises to the company about when she would return, which kept her away from the game as Fila was preparing a Seles line of products and advertisements.

Fila has never disclosed the value of Ms. Seles' endorsement deal. Its prospectus said it will spend a minimum of $12.2 million on endorsements and event sponsorships in 1995, but many of its endorsers also get royalties on the products they back.

Howie Burch, Fila marketing vice president, said about 75 percent of that money is spent on athlete endorsement fees.

The company's most highly paid endorsers are believed to be basketball stars Grant Hill, Jamal Mashburn and the recently signed Jerry Stackhouse.

The category of expenses that includes the royalties was $18.4 million in the first half of 1995, after converting Fila's reported figures to dollars from Italian lire, though Mr. Burch said less than half of that figure represents endorser royalties.

The first-half figures represented a 62 percent gain over the first half of 1994, a gain the company said was "primarily as a result of sales of endorsed products," which get better profit margins than other shoes.

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