Cause-related sponsorship is a segment of our industry I've never written about and it's a shame, because the business of sports makes significant contributions to worthy causes every year. And I don't mean nickels and dimes. I mean millions of dollars.
In some cases, sports events actually are created as a vehicle for furthering a specific philanthropic cause. Typically, these events are the result of companies looking to support a cause while receiving public recognition and other sponsor benefits.
These companies have the deep pockets necessary to take the risk of starting a new event and are willing to absorb losses until the event becomes profitable. Once the event is profitable, the company will have the best of both worlds: it will own an event that is a good investment while continuing to receive valuable sponsor benefits.
On rare occasions, however, an individual believes so strongly in a cause that he or she will take the financial risk of creating a new event solely for the benefit of a charitable organization with no thought given to future profits.
Ralph Holden is such an individual.
When I first learned that the "MS Tennis Classic" was being planned for the benefit of the Colorado chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, I was told that Holden is providing the financial support to make it possible. While I was impressed with his commitment to MS - a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system - I was equally intrigued by the fact that Holden had lived in Denver for more than 25 years and nobody I knew had ever heard of him.
Dianne Williams, president of the Colorado chapter of the MS Society, wasn't surprised.
"Ralph has been associated with the MS Society for more than 15 years and, other than the fact that he is very committed to our cause, we don't know as much about him as many of our other members," Williams said. "He is a generous but quiet and unassuming man ... a valued member of our board."
Because of Holden's modest nature, he has never granted a media interview - until now. He agreed to speak with me for this column in the hope that it will result in more awareness about MS and drum up support for his charity tennis event.
Originally, Holden hoped to convince the Women's Tennis Association to put a regular tour stop in Denver to benefit MS. The tour stop dream was shot down for a variety of reasons, but he hasn't given up. (This is a man who doesn't give up easily. At age 61, he finally earned the college degree he'd abandoned as a youth in order to help support the family his father had deserted.)
For now, Holden has agreed to start with an exhibition tournament featuring Lindsey Davenport and Monica Seles in singles and celebrity pro-am doubles matches. Not bad for starters, eh?
But to Holden it's just that, a start. His vision is to bring big-time women's tennis to Denver and raise a million dollars a year for MS in the process. When I reached Holden by telephone, I asked him, "Why tennis?"
"Denver is one of the top sports cities in the country," he said. "It should have a major tennis event. If I can help make that happen and help MS along the way, that would be wonderful."
The Bonham Line: The MS Tennis Classic will be at DU's Magness arena on Nov. 28. In addition to the celebrity exhibition matches, it also will feature a seniors pro event. If you like world-class tennis and want to support a worthy cause, I urge you to attend. If you do make it there, you might want to look up Ralph Holden and thank him for what he's doing for MS and for Denver. He'll be the one in the corner, out of the spotlight, enjoying the tennis.
Dean Bonham is chief executive officer of the Bonham Group, a Denver-based
sports and entertainment marketing firm. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
August 6, 2000