Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The WTA in 2016: Welcome to China

by Savannah

This is the closest you get to an off week during the European swing so the WTA chose this time period to announce its proposed schedule for next year.

The "screaming headline" from the announcement revolves around the new tournaments to be played in China.

2016 Calendar – Nine WTA Events in Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan
Premier Mandatory: Beijing
Premier 5: Wuhan
WTA Elite Trophy: Zhuhai
International: Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Nanchang, Shenzhen, Tianjin

The announcement goes on to say the following:

The WTA's long-term strategy of growing women's tennis in Asia Pacific region is built around an expansive footprint in China and the region, featuring Singapore hosting the prestigious year-end WTA Finals for a record five years from 2014 to 2018, and a newly added WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai for another record five years from 2015 to 2019.

The season-long build up will culminate once again in Singapore for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global from October 23-Nov 1.

Other Highlights for 2016 Calendar:
· In 2016, the Louisville, Kentucky, USA becomes host to an International level WTA event for the first time in Week 34 staged the same week as New Haven, a Premier level event. The United States will host a total of nine events in 2016, including the US Open.
· With the Olympic Games Tennis event set to take place in Rio de Janeiro from August 6-14, Stanford will move to Week 29 (week of July 18), one week after Wimbledon and will be followed by Montreal.
· After the Olympics, the US hardcourt series will resume in Cincinnati (Week 33, week of August 15).
· With an expanded and enhanced grass court season, an International event in Mallorca will debut in Week 24 (week of June 13), opposite Birmingham.
· Doha will host a Premier 5 event in Week 8 of 2016 (week of February 22). Doha and Dubai rotate years hosting the Premier 5 event.

Other calendar changes approved:
· Effective in 2015, the International event in Osaka will be relocated to Tokyo and will continue to be held the week immediately after the US Open.

I'm sure part of the reason for announcing the schedule this early is to show how tournaments will fit in around the Olympics in August 2016.

Tennis nut that I am if I woke up early enough to catch a match in China I'd put it on just to see if all the PR and supposed increasing popularity of tennis in China is paying off with fans occupying more than ten to twenty seats in cavernous stadiums. I've yet to see that. The biggest crowd I've seen in Asia was in Seoul when Chung Hyeon was playing a Challenger. Fans there actually cheered at the right times and also seemed to be following the game. That is not the case in any tournament I've checked out in China, ATP or WTA.

One would also assume that tennis is part of sports broadcasting in China but you would be wrong. Apparently the Chinese were interested in broadcasting tennis before Li Na retired. Now that she has there is little to no tennis shown in the vast country. There are reports that the recently concluded French Open wasn't shown there at all. Table tennis and Badminton are big in China if I recall correctly. It isn't a logical leap that the Chinese would turn to tennis in droves, especially women's tennis.

I've said it before and I'll say it again the biggest potential market for the WTA is Europe. The stars are European, and you get good fan support for International level events there. With moderately sized indoor and outdoor arena's the women are playing before fans who appreciate their play and support them. It's hard to say that the reason for so many International tournaments in China has to do with allowing Chinese women to build up points so that they can qualify for the big tournaments. After the firestorm about the $125k events I guess this is what Stacey Allaster thinks will make relocating tournaments to China more palatable. I'm not sure that is going to happen.

It's also disconcerting to see women's professional tennis referred to as "sport entertainment". The World Wrestling Federation was forced to relabel itself World Wrestling Entertainment because all of the violence and mayhem was choreographed down to the smallest detail. It pains me to think that Allaster, in her pursuit of Asian profits, has begun using that phrase to describe the sport she presides over. Are the accomplishments of Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams fantasy? I don't look forward to empty stadiums with 10 - 20 people watching women play their hearts out while the head of their Federation diminishes what they do.

End Notes

Katrina Adams, newly elected head of the USTA, sat down with Tony Harris of Al Jazeera America to ttalk about her goals for her two year term as head of the United States Tennis Association. She has an interesting perspective on what she wants to see happen with tennis in the US.

What do you see as your core mission? What would you like for folks to say about your tenure when you're done in two years? And the challenge of getting your particular goals accomplished?

The main message that I'm giving to our members and our volunteers — it's about getting back to the ABCs so that we can accomplish the XYZs. That starts with accountability, behavior and communication.

Being accountable for what we're putting out there and for what our goals are and trying to accomplish our mission. Making sure that our behavior is engaging and that it's inclusive and that we're inviting. And communicating who we are and what we do. And not just with potential members but with our volunteers, with our business partners, with our viewers. And with our fans, especially when it comes to the U.S. Open. And in order to do that, we have to start at the top to make sure that we're laying out proper goals for ourselves, to make sure that we can accomplish them. And then, part of my goals is making sure that we grow our Hispanic base here, in the U.S., the fastest-growing population in America. And we've barely tapped into these communities to get the kids involved, get the parents involved, get the grandparents involved. It's about really being inclusive of the entire family and embracing them. But going out and making sure we're sending the right messengers out delivering the right message so that they want to be involved in the sport and understand the value of what tennis can do for them.


What is it that you want folks to say about your time in this position, when you're done?

People say, "What do you want your legacy to be?" And I'm just about making a difference. I want to change sportsmanship in America. I think the sportsmanship and the behavior of our kids and our parents, in particular, has just gone AWOL from what our sport is about. And if any of those three can be accomplished, then I've done my job and set out and accomplished the goals that I've set forth. But it's really about changing the face of tennis. And making people realize that they too are welcome.

I'm struck by her emphasis on sportsmanship in the US. I also wish her well with that.

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