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Volume 20 No. 42

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Imagine the NFL, NBA or any major sports organization going a full year without a commissioner, a leader.

That scenario is now effectively unfolding in men’s tennis. With the ATP board of directors declining last week to choose either of two front-runners for the executive chairman/president position that has essentially been vacant since January, a replacement is now unlikely before the end of the year.

“The situation is quite absurd,” said a senior tournament executive on the ATP Tour, in an email. “This process should have started right from the beginning, and not give false expectation to these two guys. We lost a lot of time. There is a [management] vacuum now for weeks, and this will go on.”

The ATP last week would not place a timetable on making a choice.

“The ATP has a very experienced management team that is operating efficiently and successfully during the process to appoint a new Executive Chairman and President,” said tour spokesman Simon Higson, via email. “The Board is committed to a thorough process in its bid to find the best possible candidate and has not set itself a deadline in terms of making an appointment.”

When former president Brad Drewett disclosed in early January that he was suffering from ALS, Drewett said he would stay on until the board appointed a replacement. With Drewett hampered by his illness, the board quickly tabbed two internal candidates to be his successor: American Mark Young, the tour’s CEO of the Americas and general counsel, and European Laurent Delanney, head of ATP Europe.

Drewett died in May, and the board signaled it would chose either Young or Delanney at its pre-Wimbledon board meetings. One board member, speaking in the week before those meetings, reiterated that plan for one of the two to be chosen at the London gathering. But that did not happen, with Delanney seen as not ready for the job, and Young considered not close enough to the center of power of the sport in Europe.

The ATP’s president position is particularly crucial in men’s tennis because the board is made up of three player representatives and three tournament representatives, effectively giving the leadership position a critical, tie-breaking vote. While that vote is not typically used, the executive can use the potential of the vote to cajole change from the board.

Now, player demands for more prize money from top tournaments, player commitments to smaller events, and other issues will likely reside on the back burner until the board makes its decision.

Harvey Schiller, who ran the U.S. Olympic Committee, Turner Sports and YankeeNets, said the ATP should appoint an interim leader, as happened after he departed the Olympic group in 1994.

“The board has to provide someone at the top,” Schiller said. “[Having an interim leader] happens in corporate America.”

Schiller also disagrees with the intent of the ATP board of directors to choose someone only within tennis.

“Look at Larry Scott,” he said. “He left tennis [as head of the WTA Tour] and runs the Pac-12.
“I was a pilot,” Schiller added, “and we used to say you don’t have to know how to change the tires to fly an airplane.”

However, Drewett’s two predecessors, Adam Helfant and Etienne de Villiers, both came from outside the tennis world, and both left on poor terms.

Since the London meetings, reports have begun to emerge of other possible candidates for the ATP position, including Craig Tiley, who runs the Australian Open and is a favorite of ATP players for his early receptiveness to dramatically increasing prize money at the four Grand Slams. ATP sources were consistent in saying that the process is now only beginning, and Tiley is just one name at this point.

Insiders say it is largely unrealistic to expect a selection at the board meetings before the U.S. Open, which begins in late August.

The ATP tournament executive wrote, “First of all, candidates have to be put forward, interviewed, until there are left just a few who will be interviewed again, etc. My prediction is minimum 6 months.”

Longtime NASCAR sponsor Whelen, which makes safety lights for police cars, fire trucks and other safety vehicles, has signed a seven-year agreement to title sponsor the Euro-Racecar Touring Series.

It is the largest sponsorship that NASCAR has brought to Euro-Racecar since it struck a licensing deal last year to lend its name and logo to the stock car series.

Whelen’s deal is with both NASCAR, which sold the deal, and Team FJ, which owns and operates the European series. Financial terms weren’t available.

The Connecticut-based company plans to use the series to boost its business in Europe. Phil Kurze, Whelen vice president, said its sales representatives will attend events and take government officials to races in Spain, Germany, France and England. It took a similar approach with its sponsorships of NASCAR’s Mexican and Canadian series and saw it boost sales in those markets, Kurze said.

Kurze said Whelen opted to sponsor Europe’s stock car series rather than a road racing series, which is more popular in Europe, because it wanted to highlight the fact that it’s an American company.

“Being an American manufacturer and associating with American-style racing is more appealing for us than being with F1 or another series,” Kurze said.

The deal highlights NASCAR’s increasing involvement with the Euro-Racecar Touring Series. When it cut its licensing agreement with the series last year, NASCAR did little promotion of the deal and press coverage was muted. But since then it has raised the possibility of holding an exhibition race in Europe to promote the Euro-Racecar series and American stock car racing overseas.

NASCAR also has begun using its relationship with the series as another asset to pitch to its existing sponsors. Sherwin-Williams and K&N Filters have both signed on to sponsor the series, and NASCAR plans to bring five more partners to a race in France this week.

“There are three or four main reasons [NASCAR is involved],” said George Silbermann, NASCAR’s vice president of regional and touring series. “No. 1 is to increase awareness of the NASCAR brand. No. 2 is to create new opportunities for existing and new partners.”

The moving truck sitting in Kevin Ring’s Cleveland driveway last week won’t be going to Florida after all.

The PGA of America’s chief marketer will be going to New York instead.

Ring, who was named the PGA’s CMO in February, is spearheading the effort to open the PGA’s first sales and marketing office in New York, giving it a presence there that it’s never had before.

The PGA originally planned for Ring to move to its Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., headquarters, but reconsidered during the transition. Ring said he and PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua agreed earlier this spring for Ring to go to New York, and they began looking for sites.

After exploring Manhattan, they settled on space in Elmsford, N.Y., just north of Manhattan, in what’s called “Golf Central.” It’s a site near White Plains that also includes headquarters for the Metropolitan PGA Section and the Metropolitan Golf Association. The office will give PGA of America executives coming from Florida a place to work and meet, as well as providing a home base for Ring.

“It’s just a natural place for us to be,” said Ring, a former IMG consulting executive. “As we looked at our long-term planning, this just seemed to make sense to us.”

Bevacqua, who travels to New York two or three times a month, said he looked forward to “establishing a foothold in the New York metropolitan area.”

Other golf entities already have a presence in the New York market. The U.S. Golf Association is based in Far Hills, N.J., while the PGA Tour has a four-person office in Manhattan. Julie Tyson, vice president of business development, oversees the tour’s office there.

The LPGA previously had a sales office in New York, until the July 2012 death of Christine Howard. The women’s tour is now looking into establishing an office in Asia. Although details have not been finalized, the LPGA hopes to have that office open by the end of the year.