Tennis Racket Maker Prince Sports Files for Bankruptcy

Prince Sports Inc. sought bankruptcy protection citing as much as $100 million each in assets and debts, and the maker of the first oversize tennis racket plans to change its business model to become more competitive.

Among the largest unsecured creditors listed in the Bordentown, New Jersey-based company’s Chapter 11 documents filed today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware, were Da Sheng International Holding Ltd. of Taiwan and Pais International Ltd. and Marshal Industrial Corp., both of Hong Kong, each owed more than $1.9 million in trade debt.

Declining demand “combined with increased competition over the past five years” and a drop in “consumer discretionary spending” led to the bankruptcy, said Gordon Boggis, chief executive officer, in court papers. The company plans to cancel secured debt in exchange for new equity as part of its reorganization plan.

Prince, whose rackets were used by major champions including Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, was founded in 1970 when Bob McClure invented the “Little Prince,” the first ball machine for home court use, in his garage in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1976, the company changed the sport by inventing the first oversize racket. The “Prince Classic” measured 110 square inches, had a much bigger “sweet spot” than traditional wooden rackets and became one of the best-selling rackets of all time.

In 1977, Prince produced the first graphite racket, which is still being used by professionals including doubles major champions Mike and Bob Bryan of the U.S. and former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia.

Sharapova Switch

Prince, the exclusive licensee of the All England Club for Wimbledon-branded rackets, racket bags and accessories, was bought in 2007 by Providence, Rhode Island-based buyout fund Nautic Partners LLC.

In December 2010, former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova ended her 10-year sponsorship agreement with Prince. The Russian, who won all her three major titles with the company’s rackets, moved to Head NV a year later.

Prince today said its subsidiaries outside the U.S., including those based in Europe, Taiwan and China, are not subject to the proceedings and “are expected to operate in ordinary course.”

The case is In re Prince Sports Inc., 12-BK-11439, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

To contact the reporters on this story: Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware, at pmilford@bloomberg.net; Danielle Rossingh in London at drossingh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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