For the last several years, officials at the Indian Wells tennis tournament, now the BNP Paribas Open, played the role of gracious hosts to software billionaire Larry Ellison, co-founder and chief executive of Oracle.
This March, when the high-profile event takes place, Ellison will be doing the hosting. That's because he has purchased the event.
The tournament, as close as you can get to Grand Slam status without the actual designation, has been principally owned and operated for its 35 years in the desert by Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore, former tennis pros whose company is PM Sports Management.
Ellison's purchase, reported to be in the $100-million range, includes all assets and a four-year management contract that keeps in place the operational team of Pasarell and Moore, as well as tournament director Steve Simon and assistant Dee Dee Felich.
Ellison made the purchase as an individual, not as part of Oracle.
In a conference call Tuesday to make the announcement, Moore said, "I think this is a great day for tennis, to have someone of Larry Ellison's stature . . . to invest in the sport."
Pasarell said the management group's priority has always been to keep the event in the desert, and he said Ellison's purchase ensures that.
Pasarell and Moore said that, as a privately held group of 32 shareholders -- which included the likes of Pete Sampras, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, publishing executive George Mackin and the United States Tennis Assn. -- each bid proposal, especially those from foreign bidders, forced discussion and increased the group's desire to secure the event for Indian Wells.
When the tournament was moved 10 years ago from its site at the Hyatt Grand Champions in Indian Wells to an expensive, state-of-the-art stadium with 16,000 seats, the debt load threatened to close it down at one stage. Pasarell and Moore headed that off by redoing the loan and bringing in additional investors, thereby averting the threat of moving the tournament to a distant locale such as Shanghai.
The 2009 tournament not only drew 332,498 spectators in its two weeks -- fifth-best in the world after the four majors -- but acquired major sponsorship in European bank BNP Paribas.
"This tournament has been our baby," Pasarell said, ". . . and we have put our baby in the best hands we can think of."
Next year's event is scheduled for March 8-21.