Here is an interview with WTA CEO Stacy Allaster. I picked out the most interesting answers, but you can read the full interview at macleans.ca.
Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of running the WTA?
A: Probably that it’s a very political sport, and we’re fragmented. You have the WTA, the men’s governing body, the four Grand Slams that are each independent, the International Tennis Federation—seven independent organizations trying to govern the sport and playing, at times, on the same stage.
Q: So each one is jockeying for position?
A: Sure. We have different agendas, different interests, so for me, it’s balancing all of the political interests while trying to advance women’s tennis. For example, in 2011, we have 52 events, and 25 of them will be combined with the men or back-to-back. But the men’s organization, the ATP, is completely separate. We sell our television rights to a separate group of broadcasters, they sell theirs to a different group. One of my strategic goals is to try to find a way to combine our television rights. Right now, for the fans, it’s disjointed. You could be watching a women’s match, and it’s, “Coming up next, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer”—then the screen goes dark. I don’t think we’re making it easy for fans to follow us, as a sport, and we’re cannibalizing each other in the marketplace.
Q: Combining TV rights sounds like a no-brainer. Why do you have difficulty convincing the ATP?
A: I think there’s a willingness to sit at the table and look at this, but in some ways, we still have the same locker-room mentality we had 37 years ago when Billie Jean founded the WTA. I think we need to do what’s right for our fans and sponsors, and find a way to co-operate. And we are doing some things together, but we’ve just got some heritage, some guys-versus-girls dynamic.
Q: Sponsors have been pulling out of pro sports because of the recession. One of your big accomplishments was convincing Sony Ericsson to re-sign in March as the lead WTA sponsor for the next two years. What’s your secret?
A: It comes down to making sure you truly understand how a marketing investment in women’s tennis is going to meet a sponsor’s business objectives. And I’m lucky, because our athletes understand the importance of this. When I needed to go renew Sony Ericsson, Venus got on a red-eye and joined me for the meeting. I did not pay her to do that, she did it because it was the right thing to do to help us renew and extend sponsorship.
Q: At least one Williams sister has played in the Wimbledon final for 10 of the past 11 years. Can you tell us something about them that we don’t already know?
A: They’re incredibly bright young women, and they’re very giving of their time. Venus has given 10 years of her time to the Players’ Council to provide leadership. We meet with the council, always, right before Grand Slams, when she’s under tremendous pressure to go to her sponsors, to do media. But she’s there, she’s read her materials, and is insightful and thoughtful. And Serena, she’s a very good businesswoman. She can be sitting in a meeting, tweeting away, but then she pops right up and says something—she’s been listening the whole time.
Her vision of working as closely as possible to the ATP is very interesting. On one hand it would strengthen the brand of tennis as a whole and joint tournaments are certainly far more popular for players and fans than separate ones. The ATP tour is generally better at bringing tennis fans to their events, but the WTA tour creates far more media interest and publicity.
However, could it ever realistically work? At the end of the day they are two separate sports and although there are many who enjoy both equally, there are also people who despise one or the other. ATP-only fans tend to think that Women hit too many errors, and WTA-only fans think the Men are boring as the ATP is far more serve-dominated. Personally I would love it if more and more tournaments did combine.
I also thought her comments on the Williams Sisters were very interesting. Not only are they two of the most celebrated figures for the sport, but they (and especially Venus of course) seem to have a huge impact behind the scenes too. Which is why last week’s comments from the Rogers Cup Twitter Page were so ridonk.