SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/This Weeks Issue

Tennis execs’ top concerns: Exposure, economy, competition

The year's final Grand Slam tennis tournament, the 2003 U.S. Open, is under way at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Against that backdrop, SportsBusiness Journal's Langdon Brockinton e-mailed a few top tennis industry executives a series of questions touching on the status of the sport. Below is an edited version of their responses.

Scott
Larry Scott, president and CEO, WTA Tour

Q: What do you see as the major business concern surrounding the game these days?
A: Obviously, our sport and, frankly, all entertainment entities are challenged by the difficult global economy we have been experiencing over the past two years. However, I truly believe that our single greatest issue is also our single greatest opportunity. When you look at our sport holistically, we are differentiated by several key assets: We are a global sport; we feature male and female athletes in individual and combined formats; we have four of the most recognized sport and entertainment events in the Grand Slams; we have dynamic and appealing athletes; we are a healthy sport for all ages and incomes. So, what's the problem? We have yet to figure out the most clear and consistent way to present the totality of our sport to the consumer. Consequently, our marketing proposition for potential investors is not nearly as strong as it can or should be. We need to continue to work to find ways to make our sport more compelling to consumers, and I think it begins and ends with making it easier to watch and follow.

Q: What needs to be done to grow the game in the U.S. from grassroots, television and sponsorship standpoints?
A: At the WTA, we believe we need to do more to take our players and the game directly to key decision makers who influence the investment of marketing dollars. This includes senior marketing executives with major brands, but it also includes the advertising and marketing agencies that are integral to many of these decisions. We have some exciting plans for the near future that I believe will begin to address this. ... Lastly, with specific regard to television, it's hard to argue with the power that the pooling of rights would provide in terms of a consistent, compelling and economic packaging of the sport for the viewing public and broadcasters. This is a priority, and the U.S. Open should be a major player in that package. I think marketers hunger for this as well.

Q: Other hot issues in the sport that you have your eyes on — men's rival players group, prize money at the majors, player boycott possibilities over prize money?
A: I guess if I were to add anything, it would be the need for leaders in our sport to fully understand the business we are in. Sure it's tennis, but more importantly, modern sport is also about entertainment. Tennis happens on the court. Entertainment happens on and off the court. If we are to fully realize the fantastic potential our sport still has, we need to view it this way.

Miles
Mark Miles, ATP chief executive officer

Q: What do you see as the major business concern surrounding the game these days?
A: Like almost every sport, tennis faces exposure issues in the crowded mainstream sports and entertainment marketplace. From continued competition for television time in the U.S. and Europe to consistent coverage in the traditional sports media, we must continually seek creative solutions for making sure our strong fan base gets to enjoy and follow the sport. Tennis remains extremely popular in nearly every corner of the world, as evidenced by our solid tournament attendance figures, so I'm confident that as our rising stars such as Andy Roddick and Roger Federer establish themselves among sports fans, TV and media will follow.

Q: What needs to be done to grow the game in the U.S. from grassroots, television and sponsorship standpoints?
A: Obviously, we need to get tennis on television more. We're working with the USTA to build a "summer of tennis" concept, which would enhance our visibility for our North American hard court season leading up to the U.S. Open. On the sponsorship angle, Chris Clouser, our new president and CEO of ATP Properties, will be focused on growing our awareness in the marketplace and helping us secure appropriate partners such as our long-standing partner Mercedes-Benz.

Q: Other hot issues in the sport that you have your eyes on — men's rival players group, prize money at the majors, player boycott possibilities over prize money?
A: More than anything else, I want to seek the best avenues to take advantage of the tremendous excitement created on-court by our stars. ... This generation of players is the future of men's professional tennis, and since they're the first to have grown up in the information age, they realize what it takes to make it off the tennis court, too.

Worcester
Anne Person Worcester, tournament director, Pilot Pen Tennis,a WTA Tour event

Q: What do you see as the major business concern surrounding the game these days?
A: Professional tennis must focus on staying competitive with not only other sports but all other forms of entertainment.

Q: What needs to be done to address it?
A: The factions in the game — WTA, ATP, Grand Slams and ITF, must come together to plan the business for the future. The sport needs leaders who have a vision and are willing to do what needs to be done to make the game not only viable but also "cutting-edge."

One specific area for review is that Fed Cup/Davis Cup need to be "fixed." Both events have great potential and great challenges at the same time. A competition that the public can understand must be developed. We are dealing with a worldwide sport, not just American. Fed Cup and Davis Cup should be a proud tribute to the international game.

Q: Other hot issues in the sport that you have your eyes on — men's rival players group, prize money at the majors, player boycott possibilities over prize money?
A: Given the economy and state of the game, the men have picked a difficult time to ask the Grand Slams for a $50 million prize money increase. A boycott would set the game back 10 years.

Separately, the tournaments are the entities that produce all the revenues that support pro tennis. Thus, they need to have commensurate decision-making abilities in the sport.

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Related Topics:

ATP, Tennis, This Week's Issue, USTA, WTA

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