Steve Simon was feeling optimistic.
Despite a 2023 season that ended with an avalanche of grumbling following the WTA Finals in Cancún, Mexico, which featured dangerous climate, a doubtlessly harmful middle court docket and unrelenting complaints from the gamers, Simon, the chairman and chief govt of the ladies’s tour, was doing every thing he may to maneuver ahead into 2024.
“The WTA is very fine,” Simon stated by video name in mid-December, simply after it was introduced that the WTA will quickly separate the roles of chairman and chief govt, with Simon changing into govt chairman. He now not shall be in command of day-to-day operations and as a substitute shall be tasked with, as he stated, “working on strategic geopolitical issues, which are now very prevalent and affecting our business in many different ways.”
There are formative adjustments coming to the WTA and ATP this yr. The ATP has put into place its OneImaginative and prescient strategic plan designed to align the pursuits of gamers and tournaments with an eye fixed towards enhancing the fan expertise whereas additionally creating extra profitable media contracts.
Part of the plan entails growing the period and draw dimension at a number of ATP tournaments. Madrid, Rome and Shanghai all went from one-week, 56-player-draw occasions to 12-day, 96-draw tournaments in 2023. Canada and Cincinnati will do the identical in 2025. Indian Wells and Miami are already staged that method.
All are Masters 1000 tournaments, the very best stage when it comes to prize cash and rating factors apart from the 4 majors — the Australian, French, and United States Opens and Wimbledon. Several of the tournaments are mixed males’s and girls’s occasions. Other tournaments, like ones in Dallas, Munich and Doha, Qatar, are growing in worth whereas nonetheless others, together with Atlanta and Newport, R.I., are falling off the calendar after this yr.
In 2023, the ATP launched a 50-50 profit-sharing plan that distributed $12.2 million in further bonus pool cash to the highest gamers, elevating the general bonus pool to a file $33.5 million.
The WTA just isn’t in a monetary place to supply revenue sharing, however Simon stated he was decided to offer equal prize cash to ladies and men at mixed tournaments by 2027.
Simon can also be making placing adjustments for 2024. Despite objections from prime gamers who felt they have been being pressured to compete an excessive amount of, the WTA would require gamers to decide to 16 tour occasions, the key tournaments and probably the year-end WTA Finals. Ten of these occasions are on the newly fashioned WTA 1000 stage — a time period designed to align extra intently with the ATP — and 6 extra on the WTA 500 stage. A complete of 18 tournaments will now rely towards a participant’s rating.
For this yr there may be an added occasion, the Paris Olympics. Simon is conscious that can place an added burden on already overworked athletes.
“I’m not sure there is ever a great time or a bad time to introduce change,” he stated. “Obviously the players play a ton, and it’s very demanding and they are tired. But we also know that the players need to play in order for us to drive the value of the product and the value of the marketplace. Fans want to see them play all the time, and they want to see them playing against each other all the time.”
Simon stated that 12-day occasions profit gamers as a result of they typically get a break day between matches, which helps their our bodies recuperate. Martina Navratilova doesn’t agree.
“Two-week events are great for the fans because it gives them more chances to see the top players,” stated Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon singles champion and former No. 1. “But the players are still in suspended animation. A day off isn’t really a day off because they still have to practice and be emotionally invested. It’s just exhausting and much more stress.”
To shore up funds following the money-depleting Covid season in 2020, the WTA offered 20 % of its stake to CVC, a enterprise capital agency that when was an proprietor of Formula 1, which is infusing $150 million. Talks proceed about merging the ATP and WTA, however nothing is anticipated to occur within the close to future.
Simon likened the WTA to different skilled sports activities just like the 82-game N.B.A. season and 162-game Major League Baseball season. But that doesn’t take into consideration the multimonth low season of workforce sports activities, whereas tennis breaks for barely a month. Team sports activities additionally don’t require worldwide journey each week and permit for relaxation substitutions throughout competitors. Tennis doesn’t.
Some folks really feel tennis is combating an uphill battle.
“I think we’re at a crisis point in our sport,” stated Mary Carillo, a former touring professional and longtime tv commentator. “There are all these stupid turf wars over scheduling. And with everyone having to go from time zone to time zone every week it’s very hard for anyone to connect to what’s happening unless you’re really in the weeds. It always seems like we’re trying to turn around a leaky cruise ship.”
One of the largest controversies surrounding each excursions is the willingness to play in Saudi Arabia, a nation with deep pockets for large payouts with a troubling human rights file.
Last yr the ATP performed its year-end 21-and-under occasion, the Next Gen Finals, in Jeddah and Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz held an exhibition in Riyadh proper after Christmas.
Phil de Picciotto, the founder and president of Octagon, a sports activities administration company, has labored in tennis for greater than 4 many years. He sees the great and the dangerous.
“This is the most tenuous time for tennis,” stated de Picciotto, who has represented many prime gamers, together with Steffi Graf. “Everyone is jockeying for position amid a new landscape that offers enormous opportunities.”
“But it’s important to realize that the sport can’t sustain a series of short-term visions,” he added. “Everyone has to think about the product in the long term, whether it’s governance or marketability. If Billie Jean King hadn’t thought long term in the 1970s, then we would be nowhere today.”