Players want place at the table as tennis ponders landscape shift

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Players want place at the table as tennis ponders landscape shift
The ATP and WTA have been in talks about a restructure in recent months
The ATP and WTA have been in talks about a restructure in recent months
Reuters
Changes to the landscape of professional tennis look certain over the next couple of years and, as blueprints are laid out and new tournaments proposed, the players are determined that their voices be heard.

A proposal for a radical revamp of the elite game was put on the table by the organisers of the Grand Slams in Indian Wells this month while Saudi Arabia, having got its foot in the door through the men's tour, is looking to expand its investment.

Everyone, it appears, believes tennis can generate greater revenue but how the sport is structured, and how the new cash is distributed, looks likely to be thrashed out over the next 18 months.

The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) thinks that the players should, at the very least, have a place at the table.

"Regardless of the specifics surrounding any proposals, we're certain that improvements are possible," PTPA executive director Ahmad Nassar told Reuters.

"We're confident that there's a tremendous amount of additional value to be unlocked, which would directly benefit the players, fans and the industry as a whole.

"This untapped potential underscores our belief in the need for continuous player input and engagement."

The PTPA, founded in 2020 by Novak Djokovic (36) and Vasek Pospisil (33), is a relatively new voice in a tennis world which has long been governed by a variety of sometimes cooperative, sometimes conflicting organisations.

The Grand Slams - the Australian Open, the French Open Wimbledon and the US Open - are the biggest tournaments on the calendar and run their own shows, while the ATP looks after the elite men's tour and the WTA the women's.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) oversees the whole game, looking after its junior tours, the Olympic competition as well as the Davis and the Billie Jean King Cups.

The COVID pandemic, which caused major disruption at the top end of the game and cost stakeholders hundreds of millions of dollars, was a catalyst for talks about streamlining the governance structure.

Another agent of change is Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which manages more than $700 billion in assets and has already altered the landscape in sports like golf and soccer.

The PIF already has its name on the ATP world rankings and is partnering some high-profile tournaments from this season.

United States Tennis Association chief Lew Sherr, who runs the U.S. Open, last week made public the blueprint for the future drawn up by the organisers of the four majors.

"Tennis is an attractive sport, but... it under-performs commercially," Sherr said in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

"There are just too many tournaments that aren't viable... Ten events drive 80% of all of the economics. Four of them are the Grand Slams plus six others.

"If we can lean in and try to address the structural issues the sport is facing, maybe there's a new opportunity."

Premier Tour

The Grand Slams are proposing a streamlined "Premier Tour" comprising the four majors and 10 other elite combined men's and women's events, as well as one team competition and season-ending finals.

Sherr said the new model, which would relegate some 125 current ATP and WTA events to a lower tier, could generate an additional $1 billion in annual revenue for the game.

Recent media reports suggest that Saudi Arabia's PIF has offered that same sum for each of the ATP and WTA tours.

The ATP and PIF declined to comment on the reports.

The timing of the Premier Tour proposal is viewed by some as a response to the PIF's ambition of owning and running an elite Masters tournament, potentially before the year's opening Grand Slam in Melbourne.

Any move to shoehorn a tournament into an already crowded calendar would worsen player and fan fatigue, American great John McEnroe told Reuters recently.

The ATP and WTA, meanwhile, are pushing ahead with efforts to merge their commercial and media rights as they look to make the tours more attractive to broadcasters and sponsors.

The WTA, which is widely expected to take its season finale to Saudi Arabia, said via its spokesperson that it was exploring greater alignment across the sport.

"These conversations have been ongoing for some time and, while they remain positive and constructive, currently there is no consensus across the sport over any preferred outcome," the WTA spokesperson said.

"The WTA will continue to focus on delivering another exciting season and executing our growth plans, while reviewing the proposals that are being put forth by Saudi Arabia and the Grand Slams."

The ITF said it would remain part of talks and was committed to ensuring the sport's long-term growth and sustainability.

"It's early days, rumours abound and there's speculation in the media," an ITF spokesperson said.

"We can assure you that the betterment of our sport will always be our focus and at the heart of any discussions that we are part of."

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