John Newcombe, who reportedly received $280,000 as his share of the net receipts for the "Heavyweight Championship of Tennis" challenge match he post to Jimmy Connors, said yesterday that he was disturbed about the 1975 match being billed falsely as having a $250,000 winner-take-all purse, but said nothing publicly about it.
"But when something is announced and suddenly the P.R. departments are geared up and going, it's hard to say 'That's not right,' added the 32-year-old Australian. He is winner of three Wimbledon and two Forest Hills singles titles, but is now virtually retired as a player.
Connors was guaranteed 47 per cent of the net receipts and Newcombe 33 per cent when they met in a nationally televised match at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on April 26, 1975, according to Bill Riordan of Salisbury. Md, who conceived and promoted the prize fight-style "Heavyweight Championship" series. Riordan was then Connors' manager.
Riordan said yesterday that Connors received $450,000 and Newcombe $280,000. He said that Caesars Palace put up $300,000 to host the match and CBS-TV paid $550,000 for the U.S. television rights. Additional monies from the sale of foreign TV and film rights increased the gross receipts to more than $1 million, Riordan said.
The public and media were led to believe at the time that the winner received a $250,000 purse from Caesars Palace, and that the players split additional ancillary revenues.
In fact, the players were guaranteed their agreed-upon percentages, win or lose. There was no prize for the winner, as such, as the "winner-take-all" publicity was purely a public-relations hype.
While it was widely reported at the time that both participants received considerable ancillary revenues from the match, it was generally presumed that these were on top of a $250,000 purse for the winner. It was not revealed that the players would have received the same financial split even if the result had been reversed, Newcombe winning.
Newcombe says he raised the question of the deceptive advertising and promotion to the organizers of the match (Riordan, Caesars Palace and CBS).
"The question I asked, after it was announced that it was 'winner-take-all' and the thing got going, was 'What am I supposed to say if somebody asks me about this'" Newcombe said. "They didn't say anything.
"I just backed off the question whenever I was asked if the match was really 'winner-take-all.'" Newcombe continued. "I never answered the question. I wasn't going to lie. I just didn't say anything."
Newcombe said that he was a participant in the promotion to the exent that he sold the television rights in Australia and Japan for approximately $100,000.
Connors was guaranteed $500,000 or 50 per cent of the net receipts, win or lose, for subsequent "Heavyweight Championship" challenge matches in which he defeated Manuel Orantes at Caesars Palace on Feb. 28, 1976, and Ilie Nastase at the Cerromar Beach Hotel in Dorado Beach, P. R. last March 6.
Connors, reached by phone in Dallas yesterday, declined comment on the "Heavyweight Championship" matches and referred all questions to his attorney, Rexford Carruthers of St. Louis.
Carruthers confirmed that Connors signed the letter agreement with Riordan, dated Aug. 15, 1975, that called for him to receive "$500,000 or 50 per cent of the net proceeds of the 1976 event, whichever is greater, win or lose." A copy of this agreement was obtained by The Washington Post last week.
The agreement also called for Connors to defend his title in a subsequent event on the same financial terms if he won the 1976 match (against Orantes), and to challenge in a subsequent event for 30 per cent of the net receipts if he lost. The agreement cited the commitment of Caesars Palace to put up $300,000 and of CBS to put up $650,000 for the 1976 match.
Asked if he had misgivings about his client participating in matches that were promoted as "winner-take-all" when they were nothing of the sort, Carruthers said:
"Jimmy didn't participate in the publicity and promotion and had no control over them. The promoters, sponsors and CBS handled that. The arrangements for advertising and promotion were not part of Jimmy's agreement with Riordan and were not discussed."
Connors did, however, participate in press conferences in which the matches were said to have a "winner-take-all" purse and appeared in promotional spots for the matches on CBS-TV.
Riordan said yesterday that he had "come to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with the financial set-up of the matches, but it should have been presented to the public that way . . . it was misleading to call them 'winner-take-all.'
"My concept was to run it like boxing, where the heavyweight champ makes a lot of money, and can keep making it as long as he defends the title, and the challenger gets a smaller purse," Riordan said.
"I had a meeting with the people from Caesars Palace and CBS, and they thought the public would be turned off if we went above $250,000. They were afraid the public would think it was immoral for a tennis player to make ore than that for one match.
"I was the one who had to come up with a rationale. I said that Caesars Palace should give a $250,000 to the winner, and the guarantees of the players should be made up from the other receipts. If anybody asked us what the split was, we'd tell them it was none of their business."
Riordan also criticized the World Championship Tennis (WCT) Challenge Cup, a series of head-to-head, winner-take-all matches among eight top players held in 1975 and 1976.
Matches in this series were "winner-take-all," according to informed sources, but the players who reached the $100,000 final at Caesars Palace on April 15, Connors and Nastase, are two of three players under contract to WCT (the other is Adriano Panatta). The prize money they win in WCT events is applied against their annual guarantees.
Nastase won the Challenge Cup (five matches, $180,000) and exceeded his guarantee, said to be $225,000 by winning the final; he therefore collected his total winnings. Connors' one-year contract is thought to guarantee him approximately $750,000; WCT pays him the difference between what he wins in tournaments and his guarantee.
"The two people in the final (of the WCT Challenge Cup) were both playing against guarantees, so what's the difference," Riordan said. "That's almost more of a subterfuge than mine."