Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 12
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

ATP outstrips WTA in revenue growth

Seven years ago, the men’s and women’s professional tennis tours arguably had parity in their sights. After years of resisting, Wimbledon had agreed to equal prize money, and revenue flowing through the ATP World Tour was a slim 4 percent, or $2.6 million, higher than the money coursing through the WTA Tour.

While the tours’ numbers don’t paint the whole picture — revenue from individual tournaments is not included — what was seen in 2008 signaled that for the first time men and women might realize commercial equity within a sport.

That story has since unraveled.

In 2014, the ATP’s revenue (which draws from sources such as media and sponsorships) was 54 percent, or $37.4 million, higher than the WTA’s revenue, according to the tax returns the groups filed with the Internal Revenue Service earlier this month (see chart).

“Men’s tennis globally has generally been more attractive — more events, more TV — than women’s tennis,” said longtime tennis insider Donald Dell, who pointed to the decade-long run of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray atop the ATP as giving that circuit more consistency. “It’s the biggest reason that the WTA nominated Steve Simon quickly, because they looked at someone who is a business builder and getter.”

The WTA last month named Simon, the longtime chief operating officer of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., as that tour’s new CEO, replacing Stacey Allaster, who in October surprisingly resigned. Allaster ascribed her decision to wanting to spend more time with family. Others in the sport pointed to growing pressure to increase revenue.

Allaster began as CEO in July 2009. From the start of that year through the end of 2014, WTA revenue grew 19 percent. In that same period, ATP revenue increased 75 percent, according to the groups’ tax returns.

“The last five years, women’s tennis has really searched for that top tour title sponsor,” said Dell, a top executive with Lagardère Sports & Entertainment. “That has really hurt them in general.”

The WTA in years past has had title sponsors, including Sony Ericsson, which held that role from 2004 to 2010. The company downsized its role to the status of lead sponsor between 2010 and 2012, though, and the tour has had no title or lead sponsor since.

Another factor, according to those in the industry: Women’s sports are often at a disadvantage in the marketplace, because men’s sports have long been the standard bearers, and marketing decision-makers frequently hesitate to spend with women’s athletics.

“For the most part, there are not enough women CEOs to make these decision,” said Ilana Kloss, CEO of Mylan World TeamTennis. “Sports does mirror society.”

Kloss cautioned not to overreact to the tours’ numbers, emphasizing the WTA’s trendsetting role and spot as the top professional sport for women.

“Women’s tennis is unbelievable in how far [it has come],” Kloss said, referencing the WTA’s inception four decades ago.

Notwithstanding the revenue disparity between the tours, the ATP and WTA paid their top executives roughly the same amount in 2014. ATP President Chris Kermode earned $1.16 million in 2014, according to that group’s return, while Allaster earned $1.24 million. Overall, the WTA paid out $12.6 million in compensation, or 18 percent of revenue, compared to $12.01 million paid out by the ATP, or 11 percent of revenue, according to the returns.

The No. 2 earner at the WTA in 2014 was Ryan Sandilands, at $555,616. Sandilands at the time was CEO of Asia for the tour but is no longer with the WTA. No. 2 at the ATP was Laurent Delanney, CEO of Europe, at $696,580. He is no longer with the ATP.

The ATP for 2014 reported a surplus of $15.4 million on its tax return. The WTA on its return reported a surplus of $4.7 million.