By Chris Kirkham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Less than a month after a final appearance at the U.S. Open, tennis superstar Andre Agassi is joining America Online co-founder Steve Case in developing a worldwide string of multimillion-dollar resort homes.
Agassi and tennis-star wife Steffi Graf will partner with Case's Exclusive Resorts to develop luxury tennis courts and additional resort sites that will add to the company's 38 worldwide locations.
The venture marks the second pairing recently of star power and local entrepreneurs, following Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder's deal last month with actor Tom Cruise.
The tennis couple and their two children have been Exclusive Resorts members for more than a year and on previous trips thought fitness and tennis training programs would add to the experience.
Case invested in Exclusive Resorts in 2003. The company operates luxury vacation homes available for up to 45 days annually to members who pay a one-time fee of as much as $425,000 and additional annual dues of up to $27,500.
Agassi, now consulting with his wife on the tennis and fitness programs and operating as Agassi Graf Development LLC, had already switched from sports to public-relations terms in discussing the venture.
"I spent a lot of my time working to affect people for a few hours on the tennis court," Agassi said as he was waiting in Newark Liberty International Airport to board a flight back to his home in Las Vegas. "It's the real lifestyle impact that's up my alley now."
The first tennis courts will be built at a resort in Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica, later this year. The company has not announced the next locations.
Case, like anyone else who follows tennis, had heard about Agassi's impending retirement. He got word from Brent Handler, one of his partners at Exclusive Resorts, that Agassi and his business partner Perry Rogers were toying with the idea of doing more luxury resort real estate work.
So Case invited Agassi to Washington in June, they went to dinner at Equinox, and the two hit it off. They spent the next few months working out the details of the plan, which will involve a partnership on both new resort locations and development of the tennis courts.
Since then, Case attended one of Agassi's matches at the U.S. Open this year.
"I think he has the opportunity to emerge as a lifestyle brand, much as Greg Norman was a great golfer who's now established himself in a lot of business ventures," said Case, the chairman of Exclusive Resorts, based in the District and Denver. "I'm not diminishing what he's done in tennis, but I think he's got a long and illustrious future ahead of him."
Agassi will officially be a senior adviser to Exclusive Resorts, meaning he won't be required to attend board meetings, Case said. The company did not disclose any financial terms, including any money Agassi is bringing to the table or how much he is being paid.
Case said he has been impressed by Agassi's business acumen. He founded the Pure nightclub, part of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and recently announced another luxury hotel partnership called the Fairmont Tamarack in Idaho.
For the rest of the year, Agassi plans to see more of the Exclusive chain for himself, with trips planned to Los Cabos in Baja California and Whistler in the Canadian Rockies.
"Since my career ended, I've just been able to experience this more now," Agassi said. "I've got a lot of stops to make."