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Money, money, money: “Tennis Ventures”, the rabbit out of ATP and WTA’s hat to gain strength against golf and the Saudis

ATP y WTA
Andrea Gaudenzi, máximo jefe de la ATP / Andrew Eichenholz/ATP Tour
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It’s very simple: it’s about money, more money. If possible, a lot more money. Tennis is convinced that it needs more millions in its coffers and more financial muscle to survive in the increasingly competitive global sports scene. Its rabbit in the hat is called “Tennis Ventures”, the tool with which it aspires to close the economic gap with golf and stand a little stronger in the face of the Saudi onslaught.

How can it do this? By joining forces. Andrea Gaudenzi, the former Italian tennis player who heads the ATP, has been pushing hard for an agreement with his WTA counterpart, Steve Simon, to offer and negotiate TV and streaming rights together. That is, in essence, “Tennis Ventures”, although there is much more to it than that. The “Premier Tour”, for example.

But today there are other urgencies.

“Why isn’t tennis like golf?”.

The question arose in the first days of June in Paris. It was asked by a man who has seen in tennis practically everything to do with tournaments, structure, politics and, of course, players.

“Tennis earns 800 million dollars a year in TV and streaming royalties,” the man who is in the thick of the tennis powers explained to CLAY .

“Six hundred million is brought in by the four Grand Slam tournaments, and of that 600 million, 400 million is from the domestic television networks. The ATP brings in 130 million and the WTA the remaining 70 million.

“It’s a small amount for such an important sport, isn’t it? This year, at a meeting in Indian Wells, everyone was talking about Discovery’s deal with the PGA/Liv, about the $3 billion they will get from TV rights.”

“The path is clear: if we get ATP and WTA together and sell a joint product we’re going to raise more.”

That’s “Tennis Ventures”, which already has a precedent driven by the terror the pandemic sparked in the sport in 2020: spurred by the looming debacle, the WTA and ATP announced in January 2021 an “unprecedented collaboration” to integrate their marketing operations.

But now they want to go further.

“We’re now starting to discuss Tennis Ventures, which is the merging of Tennis Data Innovations, ATP Media, the commercial assets of the ATP Tour, and WTA Ventures. That is what we’re working on, and we’re fully committed to that with the WTA and our three commercial entities,” said Andrea Gaudenzi recently in an interview with Sportcal.

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“Starting from the commercial entity makes a lot of sense and will deliver the most value to the fans,” he added.

The tennis “deep throat” is enthusiastic about the project: “If this works we are going to show the Grand Slams and the ITF that it makes sense for them to join us.”

There is an informal group in the tennis leadership, but which meets virtually and in person from time to time, called T7, the tennis seven: ATP, WTA, ITF and the four Grand Slams.

Gaudenzi wants this T7 to go further, to put together a common front to sell the “whole package” of tennis, as happens in many sports.

“Whether we then follow up with the governance of the sporting co, the ATP Tour, and WTA Tour, to manage the product, it could be a natural follow-up step. My wish is that we do that jointly with the slams. If we do have a governance and product, the idea is also to bring the slams on board because it’s a natural one.”

What role does Saudi Arabia, which a few months ago seemed to be able to buy tennis as a whole, play in all this?

“No, it’s not going to do it,” says “deep throat”.

“Saudi Arabia is not going to try to buy tennis because they have reasonable expectations of getting a Masters 1000 early in the season and a few other things.”

This is the context for the “Premier Tour”, an attempt by the ATP to rationalise its calendar and tournament schedule.

If you ask those who know the thinking of the men’s tennis governing body, the answer is clear: we don’t want more tournaments, we want fewer.

The “Premier Tour” is somewhat reminiscent of what Ion Tiriac always said: tennis should be like Formula 1, no more than 20 events a year and all at the highest level. This, in simple words, means goodbye to the ATP 500 and ATP 250, which would remain in a second tier, a sort of challengers. With more money, but challengers.

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“In Formula 1 there is professionalism. Tennis is one of the few sports in which the athlete is not an employee with a contract, but a free professional, who plays or not. Either you play the circuit and the tournament and you qualify. The tennis player does not have a monthly payment,” Tiriac explained to CLAY during an interview in 2022.

The Romanian, organiser of tournaments at the highest level, a true innovator of his sport, does not trust Gaudenzi.

“Gaudenzi gave the players too much freedom. You can’t sell everything, double the prize money in two years. Double the prize money in 2024. How? The world is sinking, the economy is sinking and he wants to double the prizes. He’s crazy.

“And another thing: after a tournament is over Price Waterhouse comes to check my documents, to see what profit I have made because we have to split the winnings 50/50 with the players. After we have paid them the prizes.”

But whatever Tiriac says, Gaudenzi is convinced that the solution is more money for tournaments and players and fewer tournaments. Although tennis will not be like Formula 1.

“The ‘Premier Tour’ would include the four Grand Slams and the Masters 1000, but also part of the 500, And there opens up a whole discussion,” a man with high responsibilities on the men’s tour told CLAY.

“Can you leave all the 500s out of the tour and if you add some of them, which ones?”

ATP and WTA

“The thing is, this is not simple. People outside tennis think you merge both tours and that’s it. And it’s not. It’s more complicated. There are contracts, and besides, the ATP and WTA don’t own anything. It’s the tournaments that are the owners. The ATP and the WTA represent the tournaments and the players, but the ATP alone cannot move everything. It is the governing body of men’s tennis, it owns the ATP Finals, the Next-Gen. The Grand Slams own the Grand Slams, and the ITF owns the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup. But nobody owns everything and nobody owns a lot.”

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