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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

ATP tournaments are battling the tour’s executive chairman, Adam Helfant, over his proposed next contract, multiple tennis sources said, and his future with the sport is possibly at risk.

Helfant signed a three-year, incentive-laden deal in 2009, and this year he will cash in with compensation topping $3 million, the sources said. That is a record amount for the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour, though not in tennis, where Arlen Kantarian in 2008, his last year at the U.S. Tennis Association, earned $9 million. Still, at the ATP before Helfant, the top executive historically made less than $1 million.

At the WTA, former CEO Larry Scott earned $1.6 million in 2007 and more than $1 million again in 2008, his last full year at the tour before resigning to accept his current job as Pac-10 Conference commissioner. But Scott’s pay is more of an outlier; WTA chief executive pay typically has been less than $1 million.

Under Helfant, the ATP has added sponsors Corona and FedEx and renewed a lucrative deal with Ricoh. Given the nature of his contract, with its incentives, Helfant is being handsomely rewarded. Now, the tournaments would like a more conservatively structured contract, and Helfant is balking at that idea, the sources said.

“Would you want to make less money next year?” one source asked, rhetorically.

An ATP spokesperson, speaking for Helfant, said, “The ATP doesn’t comment on contract negotiations.”

Helfant assumed his ATP position after the stormy reign of Etienne de Villiers, who effectively was pushed out by players who were dissatisfied with his calendar changes and outsized profile. Now, it’s the tournaments’ time apparently to voice disapproval. Many events have been squeezed in the last few years by rising prize money mandates at the same time the economy worsened.

“The tournaments want a deal that is fair to Adam and the members,” said Adam Barrett, the Sony Ericsson Open tournament director. “[Helfant] has done a terrific job.”

Under Helfant, the ATP has grown overseas, but it has not grown as much in the United States. Unlike his predecessor, Helfant has kept a low profile and rarely speaks to the media.

One of the sources wondered whether Helfant might only be suggesting he might not re-sign so as to get a better deal. But then, this source added, Helfant left his previous job at Nike in 2007 over similar issues.

The only public compensation figure for Helfant is from his first year at the tour. According to the ATP’s tax return filed last November, for 2009, Helfant earned $1.4 million that year.

Sports compensation consultant Cathy Griffin said she had heard about tensions surrounding Helfant’s next contract months ago.

“Most contracts have incentives; that’s pretty normal at that level,” she said. She added that backlash against his pay “sort of comes with the territory.”

The NFL is changing the way it assesses risk in developing contingency plans for future Super Bowls in the wake of the ice and snow that wreaked havoc on the game in North Texas in February, said Frank Supovitz, the league’s senior vice president of events.

The NFL previously prepared for the “most likely worst-case scenario,” Supovitz said. In other words, ice and snow typically melt within hours in North Texas, so the NFL’s contingency planning took that trend into account. It did not take into account the possibility of a once-every-40-years storm that left ice and snow on the ground all week, he said.

Ice that slid off Cowboys Stadium crushed four of the facility’s 10 gates, the NFL said.
That now will be changing.

“When you plan a contingency, you plan for the most likely worst-case scenario, not any kind of cataclysmic event that might really stop everything,” he said. “Now, we have to go a little bit further than just what you expect.”

The change comes at a time when two of the next three Super Bowls will be played in colder-weather markets: Indianapolis next year and New York in 2014.

“We have already taken those steps in Indianapolis; we are looking at those [steps] in New York/New Jersey — [two sites] that are in winter locations or locations that can have freezing weather,” Supovitz said. “Obviously we want to make sure if there is something we do not expect for [the] Super Bowl in New Orleans in 2013 that we are prepared for that as well.”

Supovitz declined to say whether the new criteria would increase the cost of hosting future Super Bowls, responding in writing, “I think the best way to answer your question is to say that our definition of what the most likely worst case scenario is will likely become more encompassing in the future.”

Jim Steeg, who ran event planning at the NFL before Supovitz, voiced skepticism at whether the league really could increase its level of risk planning.

“In the [1989] Miami Super Bowl, we had the riots break out before the game,” he recalled. “How do you prepare, how do you anticipate being three miles away from a town that is burning?”

Instead, Steeg said, the most important job of the NFL is to get to know the key decision-makers in each Super Bowl town so they can effect quick change in the event of a crisis.

Supovitz also shared details of the crisis in North Texas, saying that the ice and snow that cascaded off the roof of Cowboys Stadium crushed four of the 10 gates to the stadium as well as surrounding equipment, like concession stands. The league tried to open the crushed gates, he said, but the wreckage, ice and snow stood six feet deep. The league even thought, Supovitz said, of ripping glass panels off the stadium to create a bridge over the wreckage. In the end, the fire marshals ordered the four gates closed, causing significant bottlenecks at the other gates.

Explaining how unprepared Dallas was for a snow and ice storm of this degree, Supovitz pointed out that of the more than half a dozen private airports spread across the 800 square miles considered part of the Super Bowl footprint, the facilities combined owned and shared one snow plow.