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Volume 23 No. 9
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USTA exec pay rises 13 percent in 2011

Four U.S. Tennis Association executives earned more than $1 million for their work in 2011, according to the most recently filed tax returns for the group and two related entities, and executive pay rose 13 percent overall.

The USTA and the National Tennis Center reported combined revenue of $272 million for the year, according to the returns, most of which is attributable to the U.S. Open, which the USTA and its related entity, the NTC, own and stage.

The compensation figures emerge as the nonprofit group is in a pitched battle with players over how much prize money the Open should pay.

“Well you see it is good to be running the USTA,” said ATP Player Council member Sergiy Stakhovsky, in a direct message sent in response to questions about the compensation. “I think it’s quite hard to get rid [of] all the profit [the] U.S. Open generates … so they flush it to the execs.”

The USTA, which makes its tax return available as required by law, said in a statement: “Over the past several years the USTA has significantly reduced executive compensation. However that being said we also recognize you need to invest in professional staff to ensure that they can continue setting a record pace for revenue at the U.S. Open and throughout the entire organization.”

The topic of USTA executive pay is hardly a new subject. Four years ago, outgoing head of professional tennis Arlen Kantarian earned $9 million, putting him ahead of the NFL commissioner that year. And 2011 does not even signal the high point for the number of million-dollar compensation packages at the USTA. There were five the year before.

Nevertheless, the numbers come in the context of the battle that erupted early last year over how much prize money the Grand Slam events pay. The Slams, including the Open, have been paying a low double-digit percentage of revenue combined to the men and women competitors, about half the level of the ATP and WTA Tour events, and far below the more than 40 percent levels of American team sports.

The Australian Open has agreed to the ATP’s demands for a dramatic increase in prize money, and its executives won a standing ovation at the tournament’s players meeting before this year’s event. The U.S. Open has been less willing to meet the ATP’s demands, continuing with similar, lower levels of prize money increase (on a percentage basis) from previous years.

The USTA has argued that its primary mission is to spur grassroots tennis in the United States and that paying more to players would detract from that mission.

How the compensation levels at the USTA will be widely received among players is unclear. Stakhovsky, the world’s No. 106-ranked player last week, is just one voice.

The USTA reported total compensation, including items like payroll taxes and benefits, of $39 million for 2011. The NTC reported $7.9 million, and USTA Player Development Inc., which is the USTA arm that is designed to groom the next generation of professional players, reported $8.2 million. That unit, like the USTA and NTC, files its own tax return.

It’s unclear if there is any overlap in the compensation figures for the three groups.