Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who Is Really Running Tennis?

by Savannah


A right nasty little war has broken out between the very rich Indian Wells Tournament Director Larry Ellison and the rest of his TD peers over prize money.

You may recall that Ellison proposed, and the Players Council accepted, Ellison's offer of an additional $800,000 in prize money to be distributed in a way that would see lower ranked players receive more money. It's that simple. A guy who fights his way through qualifying rounds only to lose in the first round would receive enough money to justify his competing in the tournament.

Unfortunately nothing is simple in tennis. Want to create a surface that is virtually untested for one of tennis major tournaments? No problem. Want to pay lower ranked players more money to ease their financial hardships (and maybe make it less likely for them to be tempted by wicked people to do illegal things) you may as well be proposing to outlaw off shore accounts.

As you know the ATP WTF's (I simply refuse to spare them and use the words those letters symbolize) are taking place so I guess the ATP Board - not the Player's Council - thought they'd be able to slip their action against their members by without the tennis public - read fans - finding out about it.

But like so many powerful they forgot about a social media thingy called Twitter. The Board split 3-3, with head honcho Brad Drewett doing the administrative version of "sudden fatigue" abstaining from casting the deciding vote thus shelving the proposal. There will be no $800,000 increase in prize money at Indian Wells this year.

There was such a hue and cry on Twitter that the ATP released the following statement justifying their vote.

"We welcome tournaments increasing prize money. However, in this case, a tournament is proposing a distribution that is not in line with the ATP rules that players and tournaments themselves have agreed to, and which every other tournament on tour follows. The ATP distribution model is designed in part to protect the middle-ranked players' share of prize money, and more evenly distribute prize money throughout every round in a tournament. We would be happy to approve a prize money increase if it complies with ATP rules on distribution."

Dissect the statement and what are they saying? Nothing. Well that's not quite true. They are saying we would make less money if we do this so we ain't doin' it. Who was against the proposal? Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim is reporting that IMG, the outfit that just happens to run the next event on the tour calendar that takes place in Miami, has a seat on the board.

I've written about the influence of IMG on tennis before and have always felt that it had too much power over what takes place on court.

I should also mention that while all of this drama about prize money is taking place with the ATP not a peep has been heard from the WTA. I know people get bent out of shape when it's pointed out that the women's tour is freeloading off the men's tour when it comes to prize money but I don't blame the men for being pissed off about equal pay. The top players of the men's tour talked boycott. The top players of the men's tour held out for better conditions at the majors. The top players of the men's tour took a stance against that blue stuff in Madrid. What they fight for the women get without doing a damn thing.

But that issue hasn't been raised yet so I'll move on.

Wertheim has separated himself from the herd when it comes to tennis reporting of late. I expect that somehow he'll be reined in too, especially after penning a paragraph like this:

This, after all, is tennis, the sport that can't get out of its own way. If Ellison boosted the Indian Wells prize money, how would that make other events -- most obviously the IMG-owned Miami event the following week -- look? And ... well, actually, there are no other logical reasons why an organization tasked with growing and improving the sport would turn down a volunteer increase in money. Yet, that's what happened. With IMG's representative allegedly leading the charge, the three tournament representatives on the board rejected the prize money increase. The ATP's CEO, Brad Drewett, invertebrately declined to take action. And the measure died.

So who is on the ATP Board? A quick Google search provides the answers.

Brad Drewett - Chairman
Gavin Forbes - Senior Vice President of IMG Tennis for Cleveland
Mark Webster - Chief Executive Officer of ATP Media and also serves as Vice President of Business Development of MediaPro
Charles Smith - New to the ATP Board in 2011, Charles Smith is the Managing Director/International of Juss Event, China's largest sports/events management company

To read Wertheim's entire post please go HERE

This story isn't over. It may die down but the issue isn't dead.
I'm not in the habit of siding with billionaires but in this situation the man is trying to do the right thing for the sport he loves by making the life of it's journeymen easier. That's not a selfish act.


Randy Burgess said...

"The ATP's CEO, Brad Drewett, invertebrately declined to take action."

Love the adverb here.

I was following this issue over on Beyond the Baseline as CN re-posted JW's tweets. I seem to recall (but am not certain) JW writing recently that tennis could use a commissioner of some sort. I'm not a big fan of the commissioner model in sports, but he may have a point.

Savannah said...

That adverb made that paragraph the best ever written by a tennis journo.

I never thought I'd go for a Commissioner but this situation is the perfect example of why one is needed. Someone has to be the vertebrate in the room no?

Karen said...

I shall be the voice of doom here. Larry Ellison is a bit like Ion Tiriac. They are both of the view that because they have oodles of cash, they can get their way. Last year Ellison offered an additional $1M to the winner of his event. He got some backlash on that so this year he adds another 800T to the pot & says this should go to lower end players. Ellison, like Tiriac are of the view that their MS events should be known as the 5th Slam. Funnily enough the only people who seem to like IW are the ones who live in California. Most players don't like it. They actually prefer Miami. I just think there is more to this story than meets the eye and while it is good that the news is being reported, I just think there is more to the story.

Yolita said...

"The ATP's CEO, Brad Drewett, invertebrately declined to take action."
Do you remember last year's political struggles within the ATP? Many players wanted Krajicek to be the ATP CEO, instead of Drewett, but Drewett had the support of a crucial player: Roger Federer.

The fight was lost by Rafa, and eventually led to hus resignation from the players council.

Savannah said...

Hi Yolita! Welcome.

I remember that fight very well. I went into it a great deal here. Rafa voted with his feet leaving the player council. Many other players were also quite upset with Federer which is why I'm convinced that the Sportsman of the Year award is fixed. His position siding with the TD's led directly to this situation.

I'm wondering if Sergiy Stakhovsky and Gilles Simon speaking out the way they have is part of the fallout from Federer's actions.