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Volume 21 No. 13
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Allaster kept WTA on an upswing

When Stacey Allaster took over the WTA Tour in 2009, she arguably was the only one of the tour’s nine chief executives in its 42-year history not to face serious financial pressures the day she stepped into the role.

Women’s tennis by that time had marketed itself effectively, and Allaster enjoyed the success of her predecessor, now-Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott, who stabilized the red-ink-stained organization he took over in 2004.

And over her six-year reign, which Allaster surprisingly ended last week by announcing her resignation, the financial fortunes continued to improve. Allaster signed a half-a-billion-dollar media deal with Perform, a nearly $100 million pact to place the tour’s season-ending championships in Singapore, and accelerated Scott’s expansion of the tour into Asia.

Stacey Allaster announced her resignation last week.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
That’s not to say there weren’t struggles, and Allaster, a down-to-earth Canadian who prefers to be called Stace, faced great pressure from her board of directors to keep the revenue flowing. Whether these pressures contributed to her decision to step aside two years before her contract expired is guesswork, as she cited only family and personal issues in announcing her decision last week, notably the need to refocus her priorities following the death of her brother-in-law earlier this year and the death of ATP head Brad Drewett in 2013.

One source said the WTA board wanted another $30 million a year, on top of the current haul of about $60 million annually. The new lead sponsor that Allaster has struggled to find for the tour would at best get her halfway to that ambition.

“I know they are always struggling to reach their budgets, but she has done a good job on balance,” said Donald Dell, group president, media, tennis and events at Lagardère Sports & Entertainment, which represents WTA players and owns a WTA stop in Washington, D.C. “There was pressure from the board, but on balance, most of the board thought she was doing a good job. They would never fire her for that.”

What people are saying

“From her first job in the sport as a teenager to her successful tenure as CEO, Stacey has served as a tremendous leader and made significant contributions to growing the sport across the globe.”

— Pac-12 Conference
Commissioner Larry Scott

“I can tell you that I completely appreciate her desire to focus on family. I mean, this job is all-consuming. It’s the sport that never sleeps.”

— Former WTA CEO Anne Worcester,
to The New York Times

“Stacey has been an outstanding leader for the WTA and she will be missed throughout the industry. We will turn our attention now to the future and we are confident her successor will deliver for fans, tournaments, and partners in the outstanding manner that they have come to expect. Our process to hire a new CEO is underway.”

— WTA board member Lisa Grattan,
in a statement

So proud of Stacey Allaster and the foundation for growth and greatness she has built at the #WTA. Thank you for leading and inspiring us

— @BillieJeanKing

Congratulations to Stacey Allaster for a job well done at the #WTA - and now you can relax:). Thanks for your hard work and passion:)

— @Martina (Martina Navratilova)

A very brave decision. Stacey worked relentlessly to bring the game to another level. Respect her family priorities!

— @ChrissieEvert

Thank you for everything you achieved for us Stacey. Wishing you all the best and enjoy the time with your family #tennisfamily

— @Petra_Kvitova

What a great leader and role model she was to us! Stacey , congrats on everything you have done for our tour and thank you!

— @Clijsterskim

While not big in the United States, tennis is a global sport, with results from events all over the world counting toward the same rankings and prize-money pool. And it’s no secret that for tennis players and executives alike, the constant travel over a nearly 11-month season is a major drain.

Allaster, who lives in Florida, has two school-age children, and she noted last week how during a 17-day vacation in July in Maui her shift in priorities solidified.

Allaster’s tenure was not perfect. Executive turnover at the WTA has been high, and she often talked in well-worn clichés, describing the Perform deal as a “game changer” and talking about taking the sport to the “next level.” Almost any conversation with her about a new deal included these catchphrases.

In 2012, under a media avalanche of criticism of the shrill grunting that’s commonplace on the tour, Allaster promised a review and action. Three years later, that action has not occurred, though she recently said steps would be taken next year.

How her departure affects that is unclear.

But Allaster’s job, like that of her counterpart at the ATP, is one of the toughest roles in sports business. She must balance labor and management, overseeing both under one roof. Sure, she would like to get rid of grunting, but the tour’s success stems in large part from stars such as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, two of the biggest shriekers on the tour and who openly scoff at the criticism. What would Allaster do: suspend the tour’s two biggest draws?

Allaster said last week she hoped a woman would replace her as CEO, and some within tennis last week were agitated that the tour had not already named its No. 2, Micky Lawler, WTA president, as the next CEO. But Allaster was made to wait for months before taking over for Scott, something that roiled tennis insiders at that time, too.

Through its history, only two of the nine CEOs of the WTA have been female: Allaster and Anne Worcester, who ran the circuit from 1994 to 1997. Scott, Allaster’s predecessor, certainly proved it doesn’t matter the gender of the person making the case for women’s sports. Under Scott, the WTA signed major new sponsorships, and maybe most importantly, the WTA finally got Wimbledon to pay equal prize money to men and women, a historic achievement that still resonates.

But the roster of talented women in sports continues to get deeper, and it’s especially deeper than it was in the tour’s early days — so the WTA, founded by women’s rights trailblazer Billie Jean King, will likely be under significant pressure to replace Allaster with a woman.