Hello Olivia, Goodbye Rainbow

Is The L Word really why Martina Navratilova parted ways with the Rainbow Card and signed on with Olivia Cruises?

BY Etelka Lehoczky

May 23 2005 12:00 AM ET

You know
it’s messy when no one will talk. “I
don’t want to get into that,” says
Martina Navratilova of her lawsuit against Do Tell, the
company she formed in 1995 with Pam Derderian and Nancy
Becker. The prominent entrepreneurial couple are
similarly tight-lipped.
But the court papers say plenty. In a federal
complaint filed March 9, Navratilova charges the firm,
which markets the Rainbow Card credit card, with
“willfully and maliciously” causing her
“irreparable harm…damag[ing]
Navratilova’s business reputation and good
will” and “receiv[ing] a financial
benefit at [her] expense.”
Derderian and Becker fire back that Navratilova
“acted with an evil motive or a reckless
indifference to the rights of Do Tell,” threatened
to “shut down the Rainbow Card,” and even
pressured Subaru, her high-profile corporate sponsor,
to abandon the company. Stranger yet, they claim that
Toni Layton-Lambert, whom court papers identify as
Navratilova’s companion, “referred to
Derderian as a ‘f---ing a--’ and
threatened to tear apart Do Tell.” Strangest of all,
Derderian and Becker claim the breach was caused by a
disagreement about Showtime’s The L Word.
Still more astonishing is the timing of the
conflict. On March 23, Navratilova launched an
endorsement deal with travel company Olivia. One of
Olivia’s cruises served as the locale for the April
24 episode of none other than The L Word.
Taken together, these events mark the most
unusual twist yet in an already storied endorsement
career. In a field whose top female athletes are among
the highest-paid endorsers in the world, according to Paul
Fein, author of Tennis Confidential: Today’s
Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies
,
Navratilova has famously suffered for her frankness
about her sexuality. “She had no corporate
endorsements in 1992 other than for tennis rackets, shoes,
and clothing, and that’s because she was
gay,” Fein says.
Though the tide has turned somewhat in recent
years, Navratilova is clearly elated by the Olivia
contract precisely because it runs counter to the
usual pattern. “It’s an amazing thing to
actually get an endorsement because I’m a
lesbian, rather than not get one because I’m a
lesbian,” she says.
This sentiment helps to explain what will
doubtless come as an unprecedented windfall for
Olivia. With annual revenues of just $14 million in
2004, according to CEO Amy Errett, the decades-old stalwart
of the lesbian world is a far cry from Subaru. Olivia
declined to reveal the financial details, but Errett
notes that the company’s social mission made
the arrangement possible.
“The financial contribution that
we’ve made [to Navratilova] has been important,
and we’re proud to be a gay company that is
profitable and can do these things, but it
isn’t just about the money,” she says.
“It’s been delightful to work together
because we share the same mission and values.
[Navratilova] has been out there about who she is,
she’s been very comfortable with that and has
taken the risks that come with that, and we’ve
been a company that’s been serving this community for
32 years and has never wavered from our mission for
the lesbian community.”
Last year Olivia’s mission also helped
attract another prominent athlete: Rosie Jones,
who’s won 13 tournaments as a Ladies Professional
Golf Association member. Jones, who came out in a
New York Times guest column when she signed
with Olivia in March 2004, says she’s watched the
environment improve dramatically for gay athletes in recent years.
“Ten years ago they were still telling
us, ‘If they ask about homosexuality, just shy
away from that. Start talking about golf again.
Don’t let them talk to you about [your] personal
life,’ ” says Jones, who renewed
her Olivia contract in March. “We were really good at
brushing it under the rug.”
Although Jones led the way, it still represents
a historic step for an athlete of Navratilova’s
stature to commit to a lesbian-owned and -operated
company. Both athletes attribute their decisions to
Olivia’s stellar reputation and the persuasive
powers of Errett and Olivia founder Judy Dlugacz.

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