WTA president: Merger with ATP should be discussed ‘more seriously’

Revenue distribution a thorny issue in unifying women's and men's tennis.

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Micky Lawler, the president of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), has expressed her desire to see the creation of a unified body to govern men’s and women’s tennis globally.

The American said that while the WTA and its men’s counterpart, the ATP, do already “collaborate closely” in competitive matters such as rules and anti-doping, a merger of the two main governing bodies in professional tennis would be in the best interests of the sport as a whole.

“I think that the closer we’re able to work together, the better it is for the sport,” she said, speaking exclusively to SportsPro at the ongoing OTT Summit in Madrid.

“So yes, I would like to see more collaboration and eventually coming together as one governing body, or at least to have an umbrella governance of the sport.

“I think together is better. That’s how the sport became as popular as it is.”

Lawler added that the idea of a single governing body has been addressed at the top levels of tennis, but said that those discussions had been conducted “way too superficially” by the sport's various stakeholders.

“I think we should look at it more seriously,” she continued. “On the player side, I know that there isn’t always support for this, but it’s got to be fan-first.

“We do this for [the players] and they’re the only ones that have the leverage to grow the strength of every stakeholder in the sport.”

Tennis currently has a hugely fragmented governance structure. Besides the WTA and the ATP, whose executive chairman and president Chris Kermode will step down at the end of the year, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the organisers of the four Grand Slam tournaments, and regional and national associations all have a say in how the sport is run.

Unifying any or all of those organisations would be a difficult, if not impossible task, while another clear obstacle standing in the way of creating a single global governing body would be the always-thorny issue of revenue distribution.

Some top players, notably 16-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, who currently serves as president of the ATP Player Council, have questioned the awarding of equal prize money in the sport. In 2016, the Serb said male players should earn more than their female counterparts, adding that remuneration should be based on “who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets”.

At present, there are several combined men’s and women’s tennis tournaments around the world, including top-category events in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid. For the most part, however, the WTA and ATP operate as entirely separate entities with different calendars, broadcast partners and commercial relationships.

One area in which the two tours have previously collaborated closely is in digital media. Up until 2016, WTA coverage was provided by TennisTV, the ATP’s over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform, but the women’s tour elected to package its streams separately from 2017 onwards under a landmark partnership with the Perform Group.

Speaking during an on-stage panel session at the OTT Summit, held this week at Madrid’s Melia Castilla hotel, Lawler noted that one of the reasons the WTA elected to part ways with TennisTV was because neither tour could determine how much value each one brought to the service.

Asked whether a similar issue would arise if the two bodies were to merge operationally and organise more combined tournaments, Lawler accepted that addressing the split of commercial revenues would be hugely complex, but insisted that an agreement could be settled upon in time.

“Hopefully we’ll get beyond that,” she said. “But yes, that’s always a discussion, that was also a discussion before we reached equal prize money at the Grand Slams.

“There are differences but my own hope is that we get to a commercial place where that is no longer a difference and then we can see the benefit of coming together.”

Micky Lawler, the president of the WTA, has expressed her desire to see the creation of a unified body to govern men’s and women’s tennis

Micky Lawler, the president of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), has expressed her desire to see the creation of a unified body to govern men’s and women’s tennis globally.

The American said that while the WTA and its men’s counterpart, the ATP, do already “collaborate closely” in competitive matters such as rules and anti-doping, a merger of the two main governing bodies in professional tennis would be in the best interests of the sport as a whole.

“I think that the closer we’re able to work together, the better it is for the sport,” she said, speaking exclusively to SportsPro at the ongoing OTT Summit in Madrid.

“So yes, I would like to see more collaboration and eventually coming together as one governing body, or at least to have an umbrella governance of the sport.

“I think together is better. That’s how the sport became as popular as it is.”

Lawler added that the idea of a single governing body has been addressed at the top levels of tennis, but said that those discussions had been conducted “way too superficially” by the sport's various stakeholders.

“I think we should look at it more seriously,” she continued. “On the player side, I know that there isn’t always support for this, but it’s got to be fan-first.

“We do this for [the players] and they’re the only ones that have the leverage to grow the strength of every stakeholder in the sport.”

Tennis currently has a hugely fragmented governance structure. Besides the WTA and the ATP, whose executive chairman and president Chris Kermode will step down at the end of the year, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the organisers of the four Grand Slam tournaments, and regional and national associations all have a say in how the sport is run.

Unifying any or all of those organisations would be a difficult, if not impossible task, while another clear obstacle standing in the way of creating a single global governing body would be the always-thorny issue of revenue distribution.

Some top players, notably 16-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, who currently serves as president of the ATP Player Council, have questioned the awarding of equal prize money in the sport. In 2016, the Serb said male players should earn more than their female counterparts, adding that remuneration should be based on “who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets”.

At present, there are several combined men’s and women’s tennis tournaments around the world, including top-category events in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid. For the most part, however, the WTA and ATP operate as entirely separate entities with different calendars, broadcast partners and commercial relationships.

One area in which the two tours have previously collaborated closely is in digital media. Up until 2016, WTA coverage was provided by TennisTV, the ATP’s over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform, but the women’s tour elected to package its streams separately from 2017 onwards under a landmark partnership with the Perform Group.

Speaking during an on-stage panel session at the OTT Summit, held this week at Madrid’s Melia Castilla hotel, Lawler noted that one of the reasons the WTA elected to part ways with TennisTV was because neither tour could determine how much value each one brought to the service.

Asked whether a similar issue would arise if the two bodies were to merge operationally and organise more combined tournaments, Lawler accepted that addressing the split of commercial revenues would be hugely complex, but insisted that an agreement could be settled upon in time.

“Hopefully we’ll get beyond that,” she said. “But yes, that’s always a discussion, that was also a discussion before we reached equal prize money at the Grand Slams.

“There are differences but my own hope is that we get to a commercial place where that is no longer a difference and then we can see the benefit of coming together.”

SportsPro