Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stacey Allaster Is Gone

by Savannah

In a prime example of corporate speak the WTA released the following statement with not a bit of fanfare.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL, USA - The WTA has announced the transition of its long-term chair and CEO, Stacey Allaster, effective October 2, 2015.

Allaster joined the WTA in January 2006 as its president and in July 2009 was promoted to chair and CEO. Named by Forbes Magazine as one of the "Most Powerful Women in Sports", she has led the WTA through significant growth, marked by fan-friendly improvements to the game, innovative use of data and technology, a focus on global growth with Asia Pacific being the strategic priority, enhancing the health and well-being of the athletes, while also championing gender equality.

Under her leadership, the WTA secured one billion dollars in diversified contracted revenues, including a landmark international media agreement that will maximize fan exposure to women's tennis as the game is broadcast around the world. She also oversaw a record-setting WTA Finals in Istanbul and secured a strategic partnership with Singapore to stage the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global from 2014 to 2018. The WTA Finals Singapore is the largest financial partnership ever negotiated in the history of the WTA's season finale.

"It's been a privilege to lead the organization that Billie Jean King founded and to have worked with the world's best female athletes, dedicated tournament promoters and passionate and professional WTA team members. For 25 years I have dedicated my professional life to the sport and I'm proud of the work I leave behind," Allaster said. "But the recent loss of my brother-in-law and the ATP's CEO, Brad Drewett, has provided a personal wake-up call about life, family and priorities and it is time for me to shift some time and energy that way. When I joined the WTA my goal was to leave the organization on a stronger footing and I feel a humble sense of pride in what we have all accomplished here. I have focused on what it means to be a champion and I have tried to be a strong role model for women to encourage success in the sports industry," said Allaster.

"Stacey has been a visionary leader for tennis this past decade. She brought positive fundamental change while serving as an exemplary role model, and she executed our biggest and best financial strategies during a very difficult economy," said WTA founder Billie Jean King. "Stacey performed her job with tenacity and heart which is what is required for transformational change."

Allaster has been an advocate for women and was instrumental in securing equal prize money for women tennis players at six WTA events and all four Grand Slams. She also played an integral role in the development of the Roadmap, the WTA's long-term plan that streamlined the calendar to enhance the overall health of the players while delivering top players on a more consistent basis to fans and tournaments. Since the introduction of the Roadmap, prize money has increased 100%.

"Stacey has been an outstanding leader for the WTA and she will be missed throughout the industry," said WTA Board Member Lisa Grattan. "We will turn our attention now to the future and we are confident her successor will deliver for fans, tournaments, and partners in the outstanding manner that they have come to expect. Our process to hire a new CEO is underway."

Corporate speak. A lot of words that say absolutely nothing. I could've just said Stacey was gone and referenced the post but I thought it important to post the whole thing. Why? It's no secret I've not been a fan of Allaster. I've criticized her on everything from promoting the tour (badly) and her blindness to the fact that there are a lot of good players who aren't blonde.

That said the wording is interesting. In US politics when a politician says he/she is leaving the stage to spend more time with his/her family you know they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar or some other such shenanigans. I don't know if this is true of other cultures but to these jaded ears it sounds a bit suspect.

The other thing that is odd is that there is no interim head, or new head, being announced especially since Allaster is out as of October 2. If this was a "jump or we'll push" situation there is usually someone waiting in the wings rehearsing their speech saying that they are humbled and honored to be ascending to the position and that they will work hard to make sure the high standards set by his/her predecessor will be maintained.

Seriously though the biggest question is the WTA's expansion into Asia. China's economy is in turmoil and since the tournaments there all have government support instead of the support of sponsors I think it's fair to ask openly how the problems affected the WTA. Some were whispering about it but not much had been said openly. Will the $125K tournaments disappear? Will the European indoor season be revitalized? Will the new events in China go away? Will we see more of an effort to promote the tour as opposed to individuals going forward?

As I write this I haven't read any speculation as to who will take Stacey's place. If I do I will update the blog.

US Open Fallout

I didn't watch the US Open Finals this year and I apologize for that disservice to my readers. Am I glad that Flavia Pennetta, a fixture on the WTA tour for many years, won? Yes. After all she's been through if someone had to win I'm glad it was her and that she has some happiness in her life both personally and professionally. From what I've read the tennis wasn't of the highest quality but those who had spent money, lots of money, to attend the women's final showed up and I'm glad for that. We'll never know how many of the attendees bought severely discounted tickets but at least there were butts in the seats.

As far as the ATP is concerned I wish my apology could be more sincere. From the minute the men's draw was released it was obvious who would be playing in the Final. It also goes without saying that the two men who contested the Final are two of the players I least like to watch, one because of his cult following, the other because of his constant bull shit.
So imagine my surprise when I read reports of the match saying that the fans were so pro one player and against the other that it was no longer possible for the professional tennis press to ignore that the current number one's popularity is non existent and to try and find reasons for that.

What did they come up with? There's the "we don't understand why fans don't see he's matured" school of thought that is pretty laughable on the face of it. He has done what his handlers are telling him to do - hug babies, kiss fans on the cheek and do charity work. Oh and smile alot. I guess they feel that if he does these things fans will forget the injury faking, disrespectful player who told fans to "suck his dick" in his native language. Even when that comment was exposed, no pun intended, the professionals ignored it focusing on the cute wife, new baby and the whole kinder, gentler public persona. They also think fans will forget about the hyperbaric chamber that's not a hyperbaric chamber used by the player. It's not working and it seems they don't know what to do. As has been said here before tennis fans have long memories and while the push is on to clean up Nick Kyrgios act five, ten years from now fans will not have forgotten and will judge him by his antics now. The expression "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" still holds.

As for the other player in the men's final his fans have long been obnoxious. Speak ill of the player they worship and they swarm you insulting your brains, heritage and anything else they can think of. That they were so out of control at the final was something that once again the professionals couldn't ignore. What's even more ironic is that the same professionals are also worshippers at the shrine and have never had to face the reality of their obsession head on.

I have to say that while there have been tons of articles about what Novak Djokovic needs to do to improve his image with fans I haven't seen one that addressed the boorishness of Roger Federer's fans. There may be one or two around but I haven't seen any. Then again if some of Federer's followers would go so far as to post a link on an ATP fan site taking a reporter to task for not being adoring enough maybe there is a reluctance to take these folks on.

End Notes

I did make it out to the US Open. I was there once during Qualies and twice, Tuesday and Wednesday of week one, during regular play.

As has become usual I avoided Ashe like the plague, moving between Courts 5 and 6 near where the new Grandstand Court will be, and Courts 11, 15 and 17.

So who did I get to see, especially on the more intimate outer courts?

Standing out for me was Chung Hyeon of Korea. As I said the young man is working his way up the ladder and his game up close is fun to watch. He's not hitting a thunderous groundie on every return and is trying to add a bit of finesse to his play.

The next day I say Dominic Thiem on the same court. His tennis is dull as dishwater and sitting in the blazing sun didn't do much to encourage me to stay awake.

Frances Tiafoe got a full house. Vicky Duval and Alicia Black were sitting one row in front of us. I do hope neither took offense at the lack of people asking for autographs. New Yorkers are too cool for that sort of thing.

As I said before Tiafoe's game has not matured much if at all. He's got to add more to his game. Right now he's at the risk of becoming another US trained Johnny One Note.

Most disappointing was Garbiñe Muguruza. I saw her twice. If her first round opponent had a brain she would've been out that round. Since I saw her she's said to have hired Sam Sumyk who last coached or should I say tried to coach Eugenie Bouchard. Maybe he can get her to play a full match and not stop and wait for her supposedly awed opponent to make a mistake or two.

The Asian Swing

Moving forward I watched Jarmila Gajdosova get taken out by Xu Yi-Fan in Tokyo
early the other morning and was anxious to see how she did in her first round match vs Belinda Bencic. I think Xu is still preparing for that match since she lost love and love and it wasn't even that close. Bencic is bigger and stronger than Xu although I've seen her name mentioned a bit as an up and comer. Xu couldn't come close to catching up to Bencic's shots and movement.

This weeks Tokyo event is the only one I'm watching this week. I'm trying to watch the first match of the day paying particular attention to the crowds, or lack thereof. Center Court at this stadium is huge. It hasn't been anywhere near close to being full. Sadly when the later matches are on I'm asleep so I can only talk about the first matches which are notoriously under attended. It'll be interesting to see how attendance improves or doesn't in the tournaments played on the Chinese mainland.

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