Tennis: the very financial reform of the ATP world circuit



He was indeed there, this Monday, June 20, for his first training balls on the English lawn. Rafael Nadal intends to play the Wimbledon tournament from June 27, which he has not won since 2010, and his painful left foot is asked to be silent. The Mallorcan is far from done with tennis. On the courts as well as outside, as he has just proved by playing the VRP of the “One Vision” plan of the ATP, the association which organizes the world circuit.

The reform presented last week by the boss of the instance, Andrea Gaudenzi, did not really make the headlines. Yet she wants to be ” revolutionary “. It must be said that the Italian has been fine-tuning it almost since his arrival at the helm of the ATP at the start of 2020. Two years of discussions turned upside down by the pandemic, but which finally lead to a strategy shaping the future of the circuit. And obviously, the priority is financial.

More profits for more players

Because the observation is bitter. According to the ATP, tennis can boast of one billion fans on the planet and thus claim fourth place in terms of popularity (after football, basketball and cricket). Except that the little yellow ball points far away in terms of the income generated by its show. Globally, it crunches only 1.3% of the 52 billion dollars in revenue from the media, when football devours 40.6%, and basketball 8.6%. In other words: the product is poorly displayed and poorly sold.

The ATP’s solution is therefore to ensure that the tournaments it organises, mainly the Masters 1000, are upgraded. To do this, they will be longer (12 days rather than 8) and will welcome more players. (96 rather than 56). The American tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami are already in this format. They will be joined by Madrid, Rome and Shanghai in 2023, by the Canadian Masters and Cincinnati in 2025. Only the Bercy and Monte Carlo tournaments remain concentrated over 8 days, their infrastructures not allowing an extension for the moment.

In addition to this growing system, there is a desire for transparency in tournament costs, allowing real revenue sharing with players. At the same time, the ATP promises a 35% increase in bonuses by 2025, and a 37% increase in bonuses distributed at the end of the year to 30 and no longer 12 players. All the measures must ultimately benefit more than 140 players, while less than a hundred really share the cake today. “As a result, they welcome the reform rather well, because more of them will be able to afford solid coaching allowing them to recover better, to better manage their season, underlines Lionel Maltese, lecturer at Aix-Marseille University and consultant for the Open 13 Provence, ATP 250 tournament. On the other hand, smaller tournaments will no doubt find it even more difficult than before to land big headliners. »

The utopia of unitary governance

The ATP certainly evokes a solidarity redistribution for the smallest tournaments through its subsidiary ATP Médias which must collect the new exploitation and broadcasting rights, but for the ATP 500 competitions (11 tournaments) and ATP 250 (40 tournaments), guaranteeing a solid board will be a headache, with players who are truly untouchable. “The black hole of the reform is that it does not offer flexibility on points in the ATP ranking either, continues Lionel Maltese. If we credited certain tournaments like Marseille or Metz with 300 points for example, instead of 250, the leeway to seduce players with something other than the financial aspect would be interesting. There should be more proportionality in the points rather than these rigid levels, 1,000, 500, 250.

The reform is not more talkative on other less striking and stumbling points. What about the physical and mental health of the players, yet more and more undermined? The debate on the duration of the matches, however still pregnant between the proponents of the end of the matches in five sets and the defenders of the tradition, is dodged. The ATP first formulates what to inflate its business, before a second phase of its plan which pursues the chimera of a unitary governance. Shared today between the ATP, the WTA in charge of the women’s circuit, the International Federation, and the four organizers of the Grand Slam, it is hue and dia, as shown by the debate on the participation of the Russian champions (read opposite). The collective strategy is still in limbo. “There is still a lot of work to do,” recognizes the ATP plan. Indeed.

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Wimbledon, without Russians and without points

The English tournament remained firm on the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians from its garden. The ATP and the WTA have therefore decided that no points will be awarded during the fortnight. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has made the same arrangement for the junior and wheelchair events. Many players are annoyed by the measure, regretting coming to almost play “an exhibition”. The debate is decided differently by the US Open: the American Federation (USTA) organizer accepts Russians and Belarusians, who will line up under a neutral flag from August 29th.

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