Setting Stage for Next Season and Beyond
by Christopher Clarey
Stacey Allaster, the chairman and chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association who is also the mother of two children, likes to limit herself to 150 days on the road per year.
“I’ve been gone more this year, no question,” she said, sounding wistful.
It has been a frenetic phase as the W.T.A. continues its thus-far unsuccessful search for a lead global partner to replace Sony Digital, expands its tournament lineup in Asia and South America and launches a formal bid process to choose the next site of the W.T.A. Championships. Istanbul’s three-year run as host city is set to end next year.
Istanbul does not plan to renew and Allaster expects the final pool of candidates for the 2014 season and beyond to come from Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
She hopes to announce the winner early next year, wants a five-year deal and plans to expand the year-end tournament into a seven-day event with three to four more days of prologue, including a legends tournament and a junior event. Excerpts from an interview with Allaster last week:
Q. How important is the W.T.A. Championships to your tour?
A. This represents 40 percent of our net operating revenues. It is more important to our operating budget than the sponsorship. So it’s mission critical and obviously it’s also our largest marketing platform and that’s key in the sponsorship equation as well.
Q. With your longer offseason for recovery, you have more freedom than the men seem to have in terms of the location of your tour championships. What’s your preference?
A. There’s no doubt if the finances are there and the facilities are there and the operator and government support — and it’s got to be government backed — but if all of those factors are ticked, it sure would be nice to go to a market where you don’t have W.T.A. tennis. It’s one of the nice things about the championships. It is that one strategic asset where you can go into a market like Istanbul and build the brand.
Why is it vital to get public-sector support if you could get Larry Ellison-like involvement from someone?
Look, that’s what it would take. When you are looking at a minimum of 15 million in rights fees and prize money, plus you could have an operating budget anywhere from six or seven to 10 million depending on your infrastructure, you are looking at upwards of 20 to 25 million dollars a year.
Q. What about your sponsorship situation?
A. I remain optimistic that we will announce a minimum of one, maybe two, regional partnerships for 2013. Those conversations have come out of the lead global partner discussions so there’s the positive and these are great premium brands. It will be good business momentum for us.
There are still a couple active conversations on 2013 for the lead global partner, but I think as we are getting closer to really companies making their marketing decisions it’s a high hurdle for 2013. So we prepared for this day. We knew the day would come. We knew it’s a long sales cycle. Usually it’s 18 to 24 months for a partnership of this level.
Q. You’ve been involved in this arena for a long time now. How frustrating is this on a personal level? And does it reflect wider market difficulties or some of the challenges women’s sports are facing in general in sports like soccer?
A. Well, we will replace Sony. There’s no question about it. It’s just a matter of when. I have been doing this a long time. I’m not surprised where we are right now. This is a long sales cycle. This is a big investment, a strategic investment. I do think that combined with the world economy, the Olympic Games and euro definitely sort of sidelined conversations we might have otherwise had with some brands because they are preoccupied. I think once the Games were over, we’ve gotten more activity.
Q. Will you have to make cuts in prize money at your tour events because of this?
A. Prize money at all W.T.A. events is going up next year.
Q. Meanwhile, the men’s tour is putting big pressure on the Grand Slam events and just got a big raise for the 2013 Australian Open, which means $2 million more for the women. Is that manna from heaven?
A. We absolutely support it, and there’s no doubt that the guys have played a leadership role on this issue.
There are times when we take a leadership role, but they’ve done a great job and I have a lot of respect for the top players in particular who have really committed themselves to it, particularly under Roger Federer’s leadership.
Q. Are you concerned about the drip, drip of complaints from men like Gilles Simon and Janko Tisparevic about equal prize money?
A. There’s no question about the principle, the Grand Slams are aligned with a progressive society and equal prize money is here to stay.
Q. There has been some speculation in social media from the men that the top women have been told not to support the pressure on the Slams.
A. Just nonsense. Crazy talk. I think Serena said it best. We support this and we feel the same way, that the Grand Slams need to provide fair compensation.
The guys are just louder about it, and I can tell you when I was interviewing for the C.E.O. position, both Serena and Venus raised this issue with me. They said we needed to get after it. I said, ‘I know others have tried.’ And it takes really the top player leadership to really work.
I understand representatives of the Slams are now going to meet with the top women’s players in Istanbul.
I’ve respected the process by which Brad Drewett and the A.T.P. wanted to manage this but now it has obviously gathered a lot of steam and momentum. I had been talking to the Slams directly and privately since Indian Wells, and I said, ‘It’s time that you also speak to the women.’ And they all said, ’Absolutely.’ I’ve said to the Slams, ‘It is important to share your vision. It is important to share your business models, how you do spend the money, how much you do invest in women’s pro tennis outside of the Slams. And let’s have a constructive conversation about it and continue to build on the great works the guys have been doing.
Q. How concerned are you about the issue of Spanish doctor Luis Garcia del Moral, who has been banned by Usada after the Lance Armstrong investigation and has had contact with Sara Errani in Valencia?
A. I think there has been no indication that there’s any issues with Errani, and that’s probably all I can say at this point and time. She hasn’t tested positively, and there’s no connection. She was going to see him for other reasons. And we’ve looked into it.
Q. Do you feel tennis needs to devote more resources to this considering that, looking at the Armstrong case, athletes can apparently pass all the tests in the world and it doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot?
A. There’s no question that tennis is vigorously tested so I have a lot of confidence from the programs, with the top players supporting 365 days in and out of competition, that we’re doing a good job with tennis anti-doping. But there’s no question when you see what has happened that I know everyone is always looking to see how we can make improvements, and we stand united that we’ve got a zero tolerance for cheating in our sport.