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GogoGirl
Feb 15th, 2003, 12:30 AM
http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/5185087.htm


Posted on Fri, Feb. 14, 2003

Women's pro tennis tour in midst of change
BETH HARRIS
Associated Press

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - With Serena and Venus Williams leading the way, women's professional tennis is enjoying some of its greatest attention and popularity. Off court, the WTA Tour is going through major change.

The tour is looking for a new leader for the second time in less than two years, and it's coming off a sparsely attended and poorly marketed season-ending WTA Championships in Los Angeles last year.

Attracting sponsors in a soft economy has proven challenging at a time when TV ratings for women's tennis are high, prize money has increased every year, and 13 tournaments set attendance records last year.

"We've never had superior execution," tour chief executive officer Kevin Wulff said in an interview Thursday. "It's almost irresponsible when you think of the popularity of women's tennis."

The ups and downs dismay Billie Jean King, who founded the tour in 1970 as a way for women to earn equal prize money. Today, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based tour has grown to more than 1,000 players from 76 countries competing for $52 million at 60 tournaments.

"We have the best product in women's sports, with Venus and Serena and Lindsay (Davenport) and Monica (Seles)," King said. "It really is distressful and disturbing not to have that going in a really great way."

Wulff is leaving in March after only a year on the job. Josh Ripple's contract as tour president ended in December, although he's staying on for six months as a consultant.

During Wulff's tenure, marketing and commercial staffs were created to sell the nonprofit tour, which has existed in the past solely to govern and serve its players.

"The tour has never sold sponsorships alone. We first need to build our brand," he said. "We've sold over $20 million in sponsorships for the next four years. We're way ahead of schedule with where we've been before."

The tour lost Sanex as worldwide sponsor at the end of last year, something that's happened every three years since Virginia Slims departed more than a decade ago. Wulff said the tour doesn't plan to seek a new one.

Instead, the focus is on signing regional sponsors, such as Porsche in North America, where 16 tournaments are played, and category sponsors, such as Sanex in Europe.

Next month, Wulff said the tour will announce the creation of WTA Commercial, a sales arm that will work with Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group to sign sponsors.

AEG and management company Octagon own the rights to the WTA Championships, which failed to attract big-time sponsors and decent crowds to the 20,000-seat Staples Center in November.

"There's a lot of things that need to be fixed and we'll get there," Wulff said.

King believes the best way for the tour to generate income is to go with the men's ATP Tour and ask for more money from the four Grand Slam tournaments.

She acknowledged it's "a very difficult proposition" in teaming with the men to seek equal opportunity, remembering how the men's tour refused her offer of support when they boycotted Wimbledon in 1973.

"We should work with the men where it makes sense," said Ilana Kloss, a former WTA board member, top doubles player and CEO of the coed World TeamTennis. "There's no question all the money is with the four Grand Slam tournaments. The men should contribute to a marketing fund for the sport."

Last month, the two tours and the International Tennis Federation met for the first time with a committee representing the Australian, French and U.S. championships and Wimbledon to discuss creating a marketing fund that would support tennis worldwide.

"We hope to be able to move forward as a unified group in terms of building marketing and television, which would eventually increase sponsorship and revenue," Wulff said. "Our resources are much more limited than Grand Slam resources."

The two tours announced Thursday they plan to work together to share ranking and scoring systems, combine awards ceremonies, and produce and buy advertising while still maintaining separate identities. Personnel from each tour may work together at jointly held tournaments in Indian Wells, Calif., and Key Biscayne, Fla.

"That's never happened before, and it's very important," Wulff said.

King believes the tour's biggest problem is finding a way for the players, tournament directors and management companies IMG and Octagon, which own a majority of the tournaments, to work together.

Agents and tournament directors are frequently in conflict about which players will appear in what events.

"I can't go to a company and promise them the top 10 players are going to do X, Y or Z because then I have to go to 10 agents," said King, who previously owned tour events. "You know how long that will take to get something done? It won't work. Maybe you could persuade the tournament directors to give something up."

Wulff noted the players are proponents of rapid change because most have relatively short careers, while tournament directors think longterm.

"The similarity is they all care about tennis and are all very passionate," he said. "Neither one is right, neither one is wrong. We do need to change to get better. We're going to have to work with both groups."

Besides owning events, IMG and Octagon also represent most of the players. Davenport, Serena Williams and Seles are IMG clients.

"I would love to find someone outside of tennis that won't be swayed by the opinions, whether it's IMG or Octagon," Davenport said of the new CEO. "You need someone in there who has no ties to anybody and can make really clear business decisions on what's honestly right for the players and the tournaments."

The sport's varied constituencies and the pull between its North American and European bases make it difficult to force change.

"We have to ensure the best ideas win, not the management companies. I think they agree that change is needed," Wulff said. "You're always walking a tightrope and you're always going to make certain groups unhappy. It requires a lot of strategic planning, courage and compromise, hopefully not at the expense of making the right decision."

King, 59, denied she has applied for the CEO job, although she wouldn't necessarily turn down the chance.

"I think they should try to use me in some capacity," she said. "I would love to help in any way I can because I love tennis so much."

Wulff said if King is interested, the search committee would talk to her.

"She's always had great ideas," he said. "She started it and she could definitely continue to grow it."

WTA Tour spokesman Darrell Fry said the board wants to hire someone with tennis experience or at least a sports background. Board member Lisa Gratten said they'd like the new CEO to be in place by March 31, when Wulff leaves.


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Venus Forever
Feb 15th, 2003, 12:33 AM
"We have the best product in women's sports, with Venus and Serena and Lindsay (Davenport) and Monica (Seles)," King said. "It really is distressful and disturbing not to have that going in a really great way."

Hmmm... no mention of Capriati.:rolleyes:

Still holding a grudge it seems.

VSFan1 aka Joshua L.
Feb 15th, 2003, 12:38 AM
Interesting part about sharing points system and stuff......I hope the WTA keeps it's points, as it's much more logical and user-friendly than the ATP.

I would love for the tour to join together at a few events, but they still need to be separated, as the tours are more popular in different arenas.

For example, right now in Belgium, WTA could sell out instantly, but ATP would do badly. Vice versa in Brazil.

Also, another thing the WTA needs to do is to keep abreast of where the fan base is and place tournaments proportional to that. It will be difficult to do, but (and I go back to Belgium again) Belgium deserves a Tier I event now - a warm up to RG - as there is where the money is.

Also, the USA. The $$ is there for the women in USA, and the far east as well.

Overall, I really don't know what the perfect answer is, but I think my ideas could definitely help.

mboyle
Feb 15th, 2003, 12:38 AM
BJK should be the new tour director. WHY ISN'T SHE? ALL THESE MEN HAVE THEIR HEADS SO FAR UP THEIR ASSES, THEY CAN'T SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY- LET ALONE HOW TO RUN THE HOTTEST WOMEN'S SPORT EVER!!!!!!

VSFan1 aka Joshua L.
Feb 15th, 2003, 12:39 AM
LOL, Capriati did BJK dirty and talked to her dirty too, so I see the bitterness there still.

*JR*
Feb 15th, 2003, 01:17 AM
IMG and Octagon (in tennis AND golf) are in the unique position of being both employer (as event owners) and employee rep (85% or so of the players with agents are with one or the other, I think). Not only is it a potential conflict of interest, but they in effect run the WTA anyway. But a female CEO does seem long overdue, though not a "magic bullet". I nominate Janie! :) BTW, this stuff about grudges and bitterness mystifies me; just never felt any of that stuff! :eek: :D ;)

SerenaSlam
Feb 15th, 2003, 04:15 AM
I think King's comments were toward advertising there products or what not, i mean in polls over and over again, she really doesn't get the results. she isn't that popular in "advertisements" if you know what i mean, it was all about the cinderella story, but the true story was, everyone knew it was only a little chapter that would soon fade, you didn't see or hear about people wanting her, to come here, go there, do this, and do that. when venus won wimbledon and usopen 2000 and did the same in 2001, she ended up signing the highest endoursement for a female athelete ever, cappy did no such thing, everyone must not have thought of her as good or "best products" now serena is on the verge of most likely passing venus up w/ the endoursement!

but all in all, i think she still holds a grudge against jennifer, and she right now has jennifer in check, its really the BJK Fed Cup, not the Jennifer Capriati Fed Cup, and the rules are the rules, and BJK let her know she was not joking around, this is a team thing, nothing individual at all! thus i give her props for putting jennifer out, maybe jennifer now realizes that you can run your mouth all you want, but when someone comes to your face and confronts you about it, don't freeze up and swallow your words. that time is too late!

Zummi
Feb 15th, 2003, 04:29 AM
Uh, the WTA Tour did have a female CEO - Anne Person Worcester. And prior to her, Jane Brown served as managing director in the late-80s and early-90s.

spokenword73
Feb 15th, 2003, 04:55 AM
one of the WTA's problems is it's still seen as a country club sport...they need to market it more to the urban community...get tied in to the hip hop generation more...have Sean Jean or Phat Farm sponsor events :wavey:

Sam L
Feb 15th, 2003, 07:41 AM
robrich, I highly doubt tennis is still seen as a country club sport, not from the participation rates anyway, at least from an Australian viewpoint.

Get tied in to the hip hop generation? How?

It's a sport, like it or leave it.

Although I agree about "working together with the men". I think a lot of problems stems from this. There's always WTA vs. ATP, which shouldn't exist. It's one sport and they should be marketing it as one product, tennis.

JenCpLvr
Feb 15th, 2003, 02:17 PM
Originally posted by VeNuS FoReVeR
Hmmm... no mention of Capriati.:rolleyes:

Still holding a grudge it seems.


You're probably right considering Jennifer is ranked still about Lindsay!


BJK sucks!

*JR*
Feb 15th, 2003, 02:35 PM
Originally posted by Sam L


Although I agree about "working together with the men". I think a lot of problems stems from this. There's always WTA vs. ATP, which shouldn't exist. It's one sport and they should be marketing it as one product, tennis. Since Annika Sorenstam will soon become the first female golfer to play in an official PGA event, it seems that golf wants to "market itself" that way. (Unless it's just a stunt designed to overshadow Augusta National's "problem" as the Masters approaches, if one wants 2B skeptical). Since IMG and Octagon kind of run both sports, perhaps if "joint marketing" works in golf... BTW, "ZumZum", thx for the info on the female ex-chiefs of the WTA. ;) Ideal "compromise candidate"? Renee Richards! :o

spokenword73
Feb 15th, 2003, 03:14 PM
Originally posted by Sam L
robrich, I highly doubt tennis is still seen as a country club sport, not from the participation rates anyway, at least from an Australian viewpoint.

Get tied in to the hip hop generation? How?

It's a sport, like it or leave it.

Although I agree about "working together with the men". I think a lot of problems stems from this. There's always WTA vs. ATP, which shouldn't exist. It's one sport and they should be marketing it as one product, tennis.

in the USA tennis is still seen as an elitist, country club sport, (like ice skating)IMO. Ticket prices are too high, and tourneys are played in places like Palm Springs and Carlsbad and not in urban areas. Perhaps the WTA can get clothing designers like Phat Farm and Sean Jean to sponsor charity events, youth clinics, etc. The WTA is not marketing to young people at all.

fammmmedspin
Feb 15th, 2003, 03:21 PM
One obvious problem is management who think that the tour is American and can only think of 4 American players (2 of whom are ranked lower than Jennifer) when describing "the best product."

doloresc
Feb 15th, 2003, 05:25 PM
good article with valid points and arguments. i have to ask all the posters though: prior to and during a tournament (the tier level is insignificant) are the players visible in your area? are they appearing on television and radio programs promoting the tournaments? i really don't think the wta invests enough time and money in promotion. they also lack publicity savvy. plastering up a few hundred posters and banners for the tournament isn't enough.

Sam L
Feb 15th, 2003, 09:45 PM
doloresc,

During the Adidas International every year, there's always a lot advertising on TV and in newspapers for the event, there's always instore appearances by Adidas people like Anna K. But this is more for sponsor related promotions than for the tennis. Still it helps and it is generally a widely known event. I wish that this happens more often for all tournaments and promotion for tennis itself not just sponsors. But I guess it's hard.