L. Jon Wertheim is reporting that Adam Helfant, a 44 year old Nike executive, will replace Etienne de Villiers as head of the ATP.
Q: I gather you have some news from the tennis world.
A: I'm told by multiple sources that the search is over and the ATP has finally settled on a new chief executive: Adam Helfant, 44, a Harvard-educated former Nike executive with both a legal and marketing background. The contract is being finalized and an official announcement is forthcoming.
Q: Is this a surprise?
A: In several ways, it is. For one, as tennis' nerve center has gone "off shore", there was a sense that the job was going to go to a non-American. (One suspects that, in part to appease the European contingent, Helfant will relocate from the U.S. to London.) Also, the slate of candidates bandied around was comprised of classic tennis insiders, figures familiar with the sport who had either worked for the ATP or a management agency or had run a tournament. Helfant is none of the above.
This is a classic case of an outsider surprising the field. This can be both a plus and minus. He's likely to bring a broad range of experience to bear. On the other hand, outsiders tend to get frustrated by the snarled politics and inherent conflicts and competing fiefdoms that so often prevent the sport from moving forward. Too often, they eventually throw up their hands and say, "Who needs this?"
Q: What sealed it for Helfant?
A: I was told that the top players (which often means their agents and advisors) strongly supported his candidacy and thought highly of the global nature of his work at Nike. His predecessor, Etienne DeVilliers, was brought on with the mandate for change, which is polarizing in and of itself. But his real undoing came when he lost the backing of the top players.
Q: What is Helfant's mandate?
A: It's not quite Obama territory, but he has his work cut out for him from Day 1. One of the big jobs entails replacing Mercedes and shoring up the ATP's sponsorships, no small challenge in these times. He'll also need to address the never-ending calendar issues and assure that the new ranking system and tournament commitment system is in working order. Then there are broader marketing and broadcast issues, the ongoing quest for players to receive more revenue from the Grand Slams, the residue of the match-fixing scandal. No question he'll have his work cut out for him. At the same time, the process spanned months so one strongly suspects he is going into this position with eyes wide open.