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Volume 22 No. 49
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ATP tourneys push back over tour chief's proposed contract

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.”