Indian Wells finally has its windfall.
On Wednesday, the ATP Tour cleared the way for the BNP Paribas Open to award an across-the-board prize money increase that had been hanging in the balance since late last year.
The ATP announced the decision on its website: "Prize money at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open will increase to $5,030,402 following the ATP Board of Directors' approval of Indian Wells' proposed prize money distribution for 2013, the ATP announced on Wednesday. The approval of the prize money distribution leads to more than $860,000 of additional prize money on offer across the men's singles and doubles events for 2013. By virtue of the approval, every player in the men's singles and doubles events will earn above the minimum prize money levels per round established for the tournament."
The decision settles an issue that has been simmering since last fall, when Larry Ellison, the billionaire co-founder of Oracle Corp. and owner of the Indian Wells, Calif., event, offered to boost the purse by $800,000 for this year's tournament, which begins March 4.
But in November the ATP board — made up of three player representatives and three tournament representatives — reached a 3-3 deadlock. ATP executive chairman and president Brad Drewett could have cast the deciding vote but abstained.
According to the ATP, the increase would have violated its prize money distribution formula.
The move infuriated past and present players. It also exposed the convoluted management structure and conflicts of interest that have long vexed the sport.
"To me, this underlines what is completely wrong with the system," former pro and ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert said Wednesday.
"I'm not going to call it broken," American Ryan Harrison said last week of the ATP. "There is room for improvement."
The prize money issue has reignited debate about the deep divisions within the sport.
The ATP, co-controlled by the players and the tournaments, does not want to set prize money precedents that veer from its model — and could irk other tournaments that would feel diminished in Indian Wells' wake.
At the same time, turning down Ellison, who has poured money into Indian Wells since acquiring it in 2010, fueled player discontent and rapidly became a PR
At the SAP Open in San Jose, Calif., last week, several players expressed dismay.
"I think people from other sports reading it are like, 'Wow, that's kinda weird,' " said No. 16 John Isner, the top-ranked American man.
Earlier this month, BNP Paribas Open CEO Raymond Moore told The Desert Sun that he was frustrated by politics blocking the vote. If not passed, he said the tournament would revert to 2011 prize money allocations of about $4.5 million, a sizable cut for players.
The total purse would have been about $5.3 million this year if the board had failed to approve the increase.
"I hope they'll approve it, but I'm not optimistic," Moore said. "There's an inherent conflict of interest with the tournament directors. It's the tournament directors who are blocking it. Why would they want to block it? They want to put the muzzle or the bridle on Indian Wells or the BNP Paribas Open, so we don't outdistance the tournaments around the world. I can't think of another reason to block it."
The BNP Paribas Open also increased prize money last year, then described as a one-time situation. The money, however, was distributed only from the quarterfinals on.
In the months since, the distribution of prize money, mostly for the lower rounds, has been a rallying point for male players. In response, big tournaments such as the U.S. Open and Australian Open have directed a larger percentage of money at earlier rounds in announcing their purses.
Gilbert said Wednesday the Indian Wells situation was a "joke" and "travesty."
He called for tennis to hire a commissioner to oversee the sport and its various governing bodies, which includes International Tennis Federation. The ITF governs the four majors and the Davis Cup and Fed Cup.
He also said players should form a union.
"The system needs to be blown up and changed," Gilbert added. "Maybe then we can rewrite the bylaws because they are antiquated."