A two-day summit will be held in London at the end of September where a historic tennis decision can be made: the leaders of the men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) tours will discuss the possibility of merging the associations. . This idea is not new and has been proposed more than once by players and managers, but to date nothing has changed. “I talked about this in the early 1970s, when I founded the WTA. I wanted us to do a joint tour, but the men did not agree,” laments the winner of 39 Grand Slam tournaments in all categories, Billie Jean King.
There are several reasons why both associations are “ripe” for unification, but the main one is standard and natural in all sports: the desire to win more. According to a study by Sport Business Consulting published in December 2022, the total value of broadcast rights for all sports competitions has reached $55 billion and is expected to reach $60 billion in 2024. However , this is 10 billion dollars more than just five years ago. The share of tennis in this enormous circulation of money is only 1.5%!
The figures for the fourth most popular sport on the planet (after football, hockey and cricket), with one billion fans, are absolutely pathetic. The leaders of the ATP and WTA believe that it is time to work together to change the situation. But it seems it’s already too late.
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The total income of the ATP for the year is 250 million dollars, the WTA is 100 million dollars.
The list of sports with the highest value in media rights in the world is surely headed by football: according to estimates for 2022, 22 billion dollars, second place is occupied by American football (8.5 billion dollars), Third place is occupied by golf, with 1.3 billion dollars. sale of media rights. In tennis, total income today is 250 million dollars a year for the ATP and about 100 million dollars for the WTA; It is clear that the potential has not been exploited.
“Am I the only one who thinks it’s time to finally unite men’s and women’s tennis and make them one? – said Roger Federer during the pandemic in 2020. – This question was relevant some time ago, but now is the time to act. In addition to Covid, fans are suffering from confusion regarding the qualification system, logos, websites and tournament categories. “We have the opportunity to come out of the situation with two weakened organizations or one stronger.” The call of the 20-time Slam winner was supported by Rafael Nadal, Simona Halep, Nick Kyrgios, Garbiñe Muguruza, Stan Wawrinka and many other stars.
Billie Jean King and Roger Federer dream of unifying ATP and WTA
Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
When we talk about money as the main incentive for the development of tennis associations, we must understand that money is also a key obstacle to this. It’s not just about the complexities of bringing together different business partners and media rights deals. The most resonant topic will be the redistribution of finances, because on average each year men (even despite the same prize money at the Slams) earn 75% more than women. “All fears will be dispelled when unified tennis begins to act more cohesively and then the commercial value of the game increases. Together we will win much more,” ATP director Andrea Gaudenzi is convinced.
WTA boss Steve Simon echoes this: “Basically, we are now competing with ourselves as well as other sporting and entertainment events. We compete for fans, partners, sponsorships and also broadcasts, so unification will alleviate unnecessary stress and allow us to progress. That is why I do not fear a total merger: we need a coherent and complete business with strategic principles. Obviously, the road in this direction is long and winding, but I think it makes sense.”
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The Saudis have taken over golf and are moving towards tennis
Every time the controversy over the unification of men’s and women’s tennis intensifies, there is a specific trigger for this phenomenon. If three years ago Federer was worried about the negative impact of Covid, now tennis faces an equally powerful substance. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been very aggressive in all markets, and this is especially true in sports. In addition to the massive “pilgrimage” of soccer stars to the Arabian Peninsula in search of space contracts, the Arabs are slowly monopolizing other sports.
In 2022, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) launched LIV Golf as an alternative series to challenge the PGA World Tour. The Saudis have attracted the best golfers in the world: Brooks Kupka, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed. The proposed contract amounts are comparable to those of Ronaldo and Benzema in soccer: Johnson signed a four-year contract worth $150 million to play tournaments under the auspices of LIV Golf. The Saudis offered golf legend Tiger Woods a crazy $800 million for the sport, but he refused.
Tiger Woods did not sell himself to the Arabs
Photo: Keyur Khamar/Getty Images
“I think that those who agreed to participate in this tournament have turned their backs on us. Some of them may not have the opportunity to play in major tournaments again. What do these players do if they have guaranteed money? What is the incentive to make money on earth? They just pay them money up front and play in some tournaments,” Tiger said in an interview with CNN. However, the money still won. In the summer of 2023, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, as well as professional golf’s other major league, the DP World Tour, merged into a for-profit entity under PIF.
Outside of golf, the fund became the second-largest shareholder in the Aston Martin Formula 1 team with a 16.7% stake. The kingdom has also recently invested $100 million in the American Professional Fighters League (PFL), the “number two” in MMA after the UFC, and organizes tournaments in which the most famous fighters in the world participate. The sphere of influence also includes e-sports: an e-sports festival was held in Riyadh in the summer. It included 15 elite tournaments in a purpose-built venue with a prize pool of $45 million.
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WTA sold 20% of the shares, Saudi Arabia received the rights to the final junior tournament
The Saudis have also already found a focus on tennis. Since 2021, Saudi Arabia has hosted the Diriyah Cup exhibition tournament and now has its first world victory: the Arabs convinced the ATP to move the Next Gen junior final tournament from Milan to Jeddah. The prize fund will be $2 million, which is just pennies compared to what the Saudis spend on soccer. The WTA also considered hosting the finals in Riyadh, but was criticized for Saudi Arabia’s stance on women’s rights in the country. The tournament is expected to be held in the Czech Republic or Mexico.
In the spring of 2023, WTA director Steve Simon stated that women’s tennis suffered the consequences of covid the hardest. In addition, the financial viability of the organization was severely affected by the cancellation of tournaments in China following a scandal of sexual abuse accusations against tennis player Peng Shuai. In response, the WTA sold 20% of its shares in March to investment firm CVC Capital Partners, which committed to investing $150 million in women’s tennis. According to Simon, the investment will help close the gap in prize money between the women’s and men’s tournaments. as well as help invest more in marketing and content production. The sale of shares could complicate a potential ATP-WTA merger due to the involvement of third parties in the process.
Carlos Alcaraz is the winner of Next Gen 2021 in Milan
Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
However, it seems that the reformers can no longer be stopped. ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi believes that it is not enough to unite the associations: “The most powerful financial engine of tennis should be the unification of the Grand Slam tournaments, which remain the center of the sport and the most powerful financial engine.” powerful”. On paper everything seems correct, but each of the four specialties is unique, self-sufficient and each year the prize money increases. It is highly doubtful that the Helmets want to share income and influence.
So far, everything indicates that there are too many difficulties with unification and the associations have already passed the point of no return. The funds that want to take over tennis, backed by all-powerful billionaires, are aware of the weakness of the ATP and the WTA. Therefore, it is most likely that everything will end like in golf: an acquisition. And in such situations, it does not matter whether men and women will be separated or together, because tennis will forever lose its originality.