SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/This Weeks Issue

Tourneys still wait for prize money cuts

By the time the ATP board of directors meets in Moscow this weekend, nearly four weeks will have passed since the conclusion of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. On the meeting agenda: prize money reductions.

For some in men's tennis, that is an outrageous fact, because the men's tennis group had pledged to its tournaments that the issue of prize money reductions would be resolved during the Open.

"That promise was just not kept," said Mark Webster, managing director of Tennis Properties Ltd., the commercial arm of the Masters Series, the top 10 ATP events that this year will pay out $31 million to players. "In stark terms, we need prompt action from the governing body. There were various representations that we would have a resolution at the U.S. Open."

The ATP's chief executive, Mark Miles, wouldn't comment.

The Masters Series events were financially hard hit when ATP marketing partner ISL Worldwide went bankrupt last year, depriving the tourneys of significant revenue. Seven of them will lose money this year, sources say, and in 2003 many still face an unsettled fate.

The events all raised prize money when ISL came on board, so they argued it stood to reason that prize money would come down with the agency's demise, particularly in the wake of 9/11 and a global recession.

So far it hasn't worked out that way, in part because of the ATP's curious structure. Unlike team sports, in which players have their union and management its league, when the ATP was formed in 1988 it included both player and tournament interests on its board. So, three of the six board members are player representatives, whose interests are clearly not in reducing prize money. (Miles settles a tie vote.)

"It's the [ATP's] structure that is at fault," said Ray Moore, co-founder of PM Sports, which owns half of the Pacific Life Open, a Masters Series stop. "It would be like me meeting with my employees and saying, 'I want you guys to vote on whether there is going to be a salary reduction.' "

Player representative Harold Solomon said negotiations were continuing. While he said he understood that outside economic forces had an effect on the tennis world, at the same time he did not want the efforts of the players to be discounted.

"They have provided value for the tournaments that has enhanced the value of their assets," Solomon said. "I am sure we will come to some resolution by 2003."

Solomon is stepping down from the board in December.

Efforts to contact the other two player representatives, Gary Muller and Tomas Carbonell, were unsuccessful.

If the ATP, which hired PricewaterhouseCoopers at the end of last year to examine the prize money issue, does rule in favor of reductions, issues to watch will be how much comes out of the hide of doubles players versus singles competitors, and whether non-Masters Series events will also be allowed to lower their purses.

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