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.
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.
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.”
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.