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Djokovic-led PTPA open to talks with rival tennis tour investors

Executive director Ahmad Nassar insists fledgling players association would not operate its own tour but would negotiate with interested parties.

11 November 2022 Josh Sim

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  • PTPA was founded by tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil in 2020
  • Tennis “has some decisions to make” to mitigate player discontent, says Nassar
  • Organisation will “absolutely” consider partnering with others to form separate tour

Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) executive director Ahmad Nassar has denied that the fledgling player advocacy group is looking to set up a breakaway tour but admits it would be willing to negotiate with any party interested in creating one.

Nassar, a former president of National Football League (NFL) Players Inc. and founding chief executive of OneTeam Partners, was hired in August to lead the PTPA, a players union founded in 2020 by tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil.

While born out of discontent with the leadership at the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the PTPA is not looking to create a rival circuit, according to Nassar. He said the body is instead focused on improving off-court earning opportunities and working conditions for the top male and female players.

He told the SportsPro Podcast: “When the PTPA was created a few years ago, there was a presumption that ‘oh, this is a rival tour; this is the only logical conclusion: that the PTPA is a rival tour’. A big part of what I’ve been trying to do over the last few months is to dispel that notion and say, ‘that’s by far not the only logical conclusion’.

“I’m not sure it would ever make sense for a players association to operate its own tour.”

Nevertheless, Nassar revealed the PTPA would entertain proposals from anyone who wants to create a new tour to rival the ATP and WTA, adding that the representative body would always act in the best interests of players collectively.

“It’s part of our job to represent these players, but also to ask: ‘what is the optimum structure for the sport over the long term to the benefit of the players?’ But going all the way down to the fans, sponsors, tours and tournament owners,” he said.

“Would we partner with other people, would we negotiate with others? Absolutely. That is our job. We’ll negotiate with anybody who wants to employ tennis players, we’ll negotiate with anybody who wants to do things on their behalf, whether they’re sponsors, licensees, events, or any other types of opportunities for the players.

“Because that’s why we exist and that’s why the players created the organisation.”

Nassar, who doubles as chief executive of the Winners Alliance, the PTPA’s for-profit commercial arm, explained that the body’s primary aim is to develop group licensing opportunities for players similar to those seen in other sports, such as football and basketball. Trading cards is but one area of interest.

However, he also added that governance matters are key priorities for the PTPA. He believes tennis has much to learn from the ongoing power struggle taking place in golf, where player discontent has helped propel the emergence of LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded breakaway tour now challenging the sport’s status quo by luring leading players away from the established men’s tours.

Though keen to make a clear distinction between the PTPA’s intentions and those of LIV Golf, Nassar urged tennis governing bodies to take note of the situation in golf and consider ways of improving player welfare and remuneration to head off any breakaway threat before it is too late.

“I think golf is the perfect contrast right now to what our approach is in tennis,” said Nassar. “In tennis, what we’re trying to do is to push for improvements within the existing structure.

“Tennis has some decisions to make. I think we’re very fortunate to have the example of golf right now to say, ‘well, that’s certainly one way to address these issues, is that what we want for our sport?’

“I’m not sure LIV achieves that takeoff velocity, which they certainly achieved, I would say in large part because the PGA waited too long [to act]. There’s a real lesson that engaging with the athletes, treating them better, and that’s financial, but [also] there’s a lot of changes they’ve made that are not purely financial, that ease the difficulty of playing on tour. And they were late.”

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