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The ATP Tour Board of Directors approved changes to the format and structure of the Tour beginning in 2000. The moves, approved at the ATP World Championships in Germany, look to simplify the ranking system by implementing a calendar year point system based on 18 events and include a reduction of Top Tier tournaments from nine to seven; player requirements to participate in the seven Top Tier events and four Grand Slam tournaments; a rotation of the ATP World Championships -- currently held in Hannover, Germany -- and a bonus pool based on participation in Tour events. The new plan will enable the ATP Tour to package domestic and international TV and marketing rights for all Top Tier events, as the Tour's domestic and international TV partnerships all expire after the '99 season. ESPN holds the domestic rights to the Tour (THE DAILY). MORE DETAILS: The ATP Tour Championships will remain in Hannover through '99. The event will then move to a new venue each year. ATP VP/Communications Peter Alfano told THE DAILY that the Tour can "take the event to where it will help us to market the game. Asia is a great example." Alfano added that the Tour would like to work with the Grand Slam Cup Committee to potentially merge the Tour Championships with the Grand Slam Cup, that is played in September in Munich. He also added that a decision has yet to be made as to which two Top Tier events will be relegated to second tier status. Alfano stressed that the Tour's new structure would aid sponsors looking to acquire domestic and international sponsor rights and be affiliated with all Top Tier and Grand Slam events and the Tour would like to secure several umbrella sponsors for the entire series. WORKING IN TANDEM: The ATP Tour is in talks with the WTA Tour to unify the seven Top Tier events, with a combined season finale. ATP Tour Chair Mark Miles said that the Tour is "flexible" and will work with the WTA Tour in hopes of reaching an agreement. On Sunday, WTA Tour CEO Anne Person Worcester said that "we're certainly open to proposals from the ATP and will look at them, provided that they are consistent with our own goal of strengthening women's tennis as its own product. ... It's only logical that the men and women would share equally in prize money increased from day one of combining events" (THE DAILY). MORE TENNIS: In Washington, Bud Collins wrote a special contribution on the state of the game in which he listed his solutions to challenges facing the game. Among them: Merge the ATP and WTA into the Association of Professional Tennis and appoint a commissioner or commission to manage and market the sport; change the long schedule to make 20 "top" events; and better PR with an open door policy to the locker rooms (WASHINGTON POST, 11/23)....New WTA Tour title sponsors include Toyota (Tokyo), Samsung (Korea), adidas (Sydney), Czech-based auto manufacturer SKODA (Prague) and Latin American health care provider Colsanitas (Bogota) (WTA Tour)....Officials at the Phoenix/ATP Tour World Doubles Championships said that 25,265 tickets were sold for the five-day event, "about 4,500 more than last year." In Hartford, Greg Garber writes that "attendance was probably closer to 15,000. About 10,000 of those were there for the semifinals and finals" (HARTFORD COURANT, 11/25)....Billie Jean King announced that a 25th anniversary celebration of her "Battle of the Sexes" vs. Bobby Riggs will be held next year at Hartford's Phoenix World Doubles event. But Phoenix Home Life Mutual Chair Bob Fiondella said the event's format had not been decided (HARTFORD COURANT, 11/23).
DISNEY SET TO ACQUIRE WPVA? Walt Disney "is in serious talks to acquire" the WPVA, according to a report in AD AGE. AD AGE: "At least one sports marketing executive familiar with the situation said the deal has been completed, but ABC executives said talks are still ongoing" (AD AGE, 11/24). NOTES: Indianapolis Motor Speedway has become part of the Int'l Race of Champions series, joining tracks at Daytona, FL; Fontana, CA and Brooklyn, MI. The IROC will race at IMS July 31, the day before the Brickyard 400 (STAR- NEWS, 11/25)...The AFL's Anaheim Piranhas have ceased operation. The league is reviewing options with respect to new ownership (AFL)....The CISL Portland Pride withdrew from the league but will work with the league to pursue an alternative to keep the team in operation (Mult., 11/20).
The NBA's early-season attendance was examined by Rob Parker of NEWSDAY, who wrote, "All you have to do is look around the NBA these days. Not even the great NBA spin doctors can hide this fact: NBA attendance is down in several cities and hope for a rebound looks bleak." Parker: "Fans seem to be deciding that the game they have been brainwashed to believe is fantastic, simply isn't, anymore. For sure, the reality of commissioner David Stern's watered-down league has finally sunk in. ... The reason? It's simple. There are too many bad teams in this league. Too much expansion has eroded the talent level, making many games both uncompetitive and boring to watch." Parker added that attendance is also affected in some markets because "the prices at NBA games are outrageous, the average ticket now is up to $36.32. It's a miracle there are any kids in the stands" (NEWSDAY, 11/24).
At a New York Bar Association legal forum last week, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NBA Commissioner David Stern were asked about the leadership void at MLB, and according to NEWSDAY's Joe Gergen both Bettman and Tagliabue "downplayed the lack of an independent commissioner." Bettman: "I think it's too easy to dump on baseball." Tagliabue: "I think (the role of commissioner) can be given too much importance. The challenges we face go far beyond one person or one group of persons. ... I think the commissioner issue is overplayed by a lot of people." But Stern countered, "[W]e're being too kind. ... We're in a time when the CEO increasingly is expected to set the direction, to look at the big picture. You need someone to worry on a full-time basis, to deal with consumers, shareholders and every aspect of the sport. It's a good ideal to have somebody in charge" (NEWSDAY, 11/23).