Fri, Mar 25, 2005 - Page 23 News List

Navratilova to endorse travel company for lesbians

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Martina Navratilova, who has struggled to attract corporate endorsements because she is gay, is becoming a spokeswoman for Olivia, a travel company that creates vacations for gay women.

The announcement was to be made yesterday at the NASDAQ-100 Open in Miami, where Navratilova will be playing doubles.

Navratilova's one-year contract, which is valued in six figures, follows Olivia's signing 12 months ago of the golfer Rosie Jones, who, in coordination with the endorsement, announced that she was gay in an article in the New York Times.

"This is the first deal I've gotten because I am gay," Navratilova said by telephone on Tuesday. "Hallelujah."

In the past, Navratilova has represented Subaru, and she currently endorses Under Armour clothing and Juiceman products. The Juiceman deal places her in the Salton corporate family with George Foreman grills.

"We're a perfect match," she said about Olivia. "We just feel free about who we are. They've done it for many years, and I've been doing it for many years."

Amy Errett, the chief executive of Olivia, said that Jones' association with the company led to its best three months of sales. She said that customers have been lured to the company by seeing Jones playing on TV, wearing the corporate logo, or by reading about her Olivia deal.

Judy Dlugacz, Olivia's founder and president, said Jones' signing created "an emotional connection and a business connection, with people finding Olivia, and connecting to us, and she spoke to the community we market to with a particularly strong impact."

Adding Navratilova means bringing in a higher-profile athlete, still active at 48, whose homosexuality has long been known and who has become a gay activist.

"Coming out didn't cost Rosie an endorsement; it got her one," Navratilova said. "And there she was, getting a standing ovation at the Kraft Nabisco. It was nice to see that she had nothing to hide and didn't pretend.

"I've been fighting this negative connotation of an alternative lifestyle. It's not a choice, it's who you are, about not having to deny anything, but to celebrate who you are," she said..

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