SBJ/April 14-20, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Kermode shares his take on ATP

Chris Kermode in January became the fifth leader of the ATP since its current incarnation in 1990. He took over for the late Brad Drewett, a popular ex-player who won steep prize money increases from the Grand Slam events before his 15-month tenure tragically ended as he lost his battle with ALS.

Kermode was also a player, though only in the low minor leagues of the sport. (He placed his highest ranking in the 700s, which he said, laughing, made him a top-five British player at the time). He is best known for running the Queen’s Club Wimbledon tune-up event and the successful season-ending championships in London. Respected by players and event executives alike, his ascension is viewed in the sport as a compromise between the players and the tournament representatives who together run the tour.


Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Daniel Kaplan sat down with Kermode during the recent Sony Open in Miami.

What is the status of the prize-money talks between tourneys and players for the top eight tour events?

KERMODE: We have just started the process; really are in the early stages. We are taking a look at their finances.

What is that process?

KERMODE: We brought in Deloitte to have a look. … Having someone independent was somewhat important. … Everything we do is about setting criteria to be fair, transparent, that is sustainable, which is the biggest one for me. It is incredibly important players are getting compensated properly, but equally as a business moving forward we want to encourage people to invest in facilities.

Moving down the tournament food chain, the bottom 40 tournaments, the 250s, have been struggling. What can be done there?

KERMODE:
We have formed a 250 working committee, a mixture of tournament directors, internal staff and some players from the players’ council, formed a couple weeks ago. The small tournaments have a huge place on the tour.

Inside takeouts

Hired Deloitte to inspect top tournaments’ books as part of prize-money discussions between players and events.

Created a new committee of players, tournaments directors and staff to review the 250s, the bottom 40 tournaments in the ATP, many of which struggle financially.

Plans to appoint an outside advisory board to help consult on media strategy and other business.

Says four cities are looking at bidding for the season-ending championships, though he stresses gains have been made since it’s been in London, which has two more years on its contract.
What is your view on the International Premier Tennis League, the proposed winter team exhibition series?

KERMODE:
At the moment we are watching from a distance, [while] everyone in the sport can have quite an emotional view of it.

Why has it been such an emotional reaction?

KERMODE:
Down to “Change fundamentally,” “This is an implosion of the sport,” “This could lead to bigger things,” and “This is the seed of it.” … I might regret this in years to come and kick me in the backside: I don’t really see what the issue is. There have been endless examples of exhibitions. … Going to an exhibition match even in a team format has no real connection [for fans]. I have no issue if it carries on.

Are you comfortable with the ATP structure of players and tournaments owning the tour?

 KERMODE:
I am a very strong believer in the system and I would never have taken the job if I hadn’t believed in the system.

What is the status of the season-ending championships, which has two more years left under contract in London?

KERMODE:
We have four cities very interested. They have been expressing their interest somewhat the last four years, so now they have the request for proposal documents. … [When the championships were in New York City, at MSG, in the 1980s], that was magic; it was an event. And then, over the years, it moved around and lost a bit of something, and now we have regained it. … 260,000 people attending a one-court tennis event [over a week] is incredible.

How is the ATP doing with sponsorships?

KERMODE:
At the moment, we are pretty much maxed out. Our commercial revenues went up 200 percent since 2009, and a large reason for this is having the finals in London.

Are you looking at how the ATP sells media? (Currently, international rights for the top 20 tournaments are sold by ATP Media, with streaming combined with WTA on TennisTV.com.)

KERMODE:
This whole year is going to be process, how we [assess] every single form of media exposure: digital, TV, live streams, whatever. Can we aggregate those rights? How can we monetize to get maximum effect? We are trying to get outside people to have a look, to review the business.

How soon would those outside advisers meet?

KERMODE:
Depends on how quickly I can get this together. We are pretty much tied in for the next couple of years [on media rights]; nothing dramatic is going to happen then. I don’t want to ever make knee-jerk reactions or choices just because I have to do something straight away. I want to [do] something that is long-term that does make sense and is sustainable.


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