SBJ/September 5-11, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Outgoing ATP chief Helfant breaks deadlock over control of scoring data

A split ATP board of directors last week voted to take control of tournament scoring data away from the events and ultimately sell the bundled data to a third party, with outgoing executive chairman Adam Helfant breaking a deadlock between tournament and player representatives in favor of the latter, sources said.

It is believed to be the first time since the ATP formed in 1990 that the leader cast a tie-breaking vote on a commercial matter, the sources said. The development also underscores apparent growing tension between tournaments and players.

The two leading internal candidates to succeed Helfant — Mark Young and Brad Drewett — were not interviewed in New York last week, despite the board having met. The sources, who did not wish to be identified because of the confidential nature of the board discussions, said player representatives were opposed to ATP management assuming the top spot, and the search will now expand into the rest of tennis.

“The Board is pleased with the level of interest so far,” ATP spokeswoman Kate Gordon wrote in an email, about the search. “They’re going through the process of developing a short list of candidates and an interview process that will likely take another couple of months. … I can tell you that there aren’t any formal interviews happening during the U.S. Open. The schedule is too chaotic and the difficulty to maintain confidentiality too great.”

Helfant departs at the end of the year. Absent consensus on a successor, the ATP could turn instead to identifying an interim leader.

The ATP board has six members: three officials representing tournaments and three player representatives. The ATP leader is the seventh vote, but is almost never called on to break a tie. The role traditionally has been one to form consensus.

Player interests favor Helfant, in part for raising prize money. Tournaments, however, opposed his bid for a lucrative new contract, part of the reason he declined to re-sign with the ATP, sources said.

The issue with the scoring data, the sources said, is that the players wanted, and got, a rule that required the data to be pooled and sold; the tourneys wanted limitations on the sale.

The move behind selling scoring data is tied to concerns that gambling sites have been sending people to matches to transmit the information. Earlier this year, the ATP and WTA jointly hired London law firm Couchmans to represent them and advise on how best to sell the data.

In the United States, Stats LLC is the go-to licensee for live scoring. Many leagues sign some type of omnibus licensing deal with Stats — the company essentially owns the market, but there are others — and Stats deals with individual media entities, fantasy hubs, legal gambling outfits, and so forth, to resell the data. Stats and the leagues share the revenue.

Overseas, the business is a country-by-country affair, with the answer varying as to the legal question of whether live scores are proprietary content. Currently, the tournaments handle the issue independently.

“The ATP Board approved rule changes intended to prevent the unauthorized distribution of live scoring data,” Gordon wrote, while declining to confirm the split on the board. “Currently, such data is being collected and sold by numerous unauthorized sources and the practice presents an integrity risk at tournaments. We will work through a third party vendor to package and distribute ATP/WTA official data, as many sports do.”

The WTA was expected to review the issue at its board meeting last week, but a spokesman did not respond for comment.

Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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