In all the disruption to individual sports, spare a thought for those who represent our heroes and our tournaments – the player and event agents!
Wimbledon is so vital to British tennis and not having it impacts a whole industry. Bizarrely through, with tennis being one of the first sports given participation permission post lockdown, my information is that participation has not been affected too much; public courts are full and racket and shoe sales are thriving. So apart from commercially, the loss of Wimbledon for a year may not have as much of a negative impact that other sports might suffer Clifford Bloxham
Agents and athletes are in the same boat. Agents need to represent the players and their sponsors, and athletes need to compete and entertain their fans. Lockdown has denied both groups their promotional and professional, not to mention their competitive, responsibilities.
Thankfully, however, they have been working closely together during lockdown to maximise their respective representations, the players to their sponsors and fans, and the events if and when they happen.
We have all missed tennis and of course, its biggest draw, Wimbledon. But player and event representative, Clifford Bloxham, from Octagon, one of the world’s leading personality and event agencies, thinks that tennis and its players have coped pretty well with the situation.
“Wimbledon is so vital to British tennis and not having it impacts a whole industry,” says Bloxham. “Bizarrely through, with tennis being one of the first sports given participation permission post lockdown, my information is that participation has not been affected too much; public courts are full and racket and shoe sales are thriving. So apart from commercially, the loss of Wimbledon for a year may not have as much of a negative impact that other sports might suffer.”
So maybe as we come out of lockdown, there is every possibility of a sporting boom, not least as now our casual and club players have both a reason and the time to play. Getting fit playing the sport we love is now the go-to choice for casual sportsmen and women. They can’t wait to get out there. Which is all good news for the industry.
But what of the professionals, not necessarily those inside the top 50 but those who strive to make a living from the game outside the spotlight? How are they coping?
Bloxham again: “They are all losing money, of course, because they are unable to compete. It particularly affects the lower ranked players but Wimbledon’s initiative to pay prize money to qualifiers and the LTA and others putting on competitive, prize money events behind closed doors, will have helped. Coaches, including those who coach some of our best players, will have suffered but hopefully there will be an upturn in their fortunes as the nation’s tennis players get back on to court.”
Elite athletes are a different matter. They too need to compete, but equally, they have the resources to sustain their lifestyle and competitive regimes until the tournaments begin once again, in earnest.
“We have been working continuously with the elite athletes and their sponsors, revisiting their contracts,” says Bloxham. “The key thing is maintaining good relationships between them. Sponsors understand that through no fault of their own, athletes are not able to fulfil their contractual commitments, and so we have been working with them to reschedule their appearances, adjusting financial terms, lengthening their contracts in some cases. Our philosophy is that contracts between sponsors and athletes should not be based on short term goals, but long-term mutual benefit, and we approach this situation that we are in on that basis.”
Some sponsors, looking ahead, have been innovative in their approach to their responsibilities. Mastercard, which sponsors the French Open and is scheduled to take place in September, despatched filming equipment to Jim Courier’s home so that he could pre-record his thoughts on the French Open, due to be played this September. So they already have ‘ready to go’ footage on past champions and past finals set up for their Roland Garros coverage.
Other players have done Q and A sessions on behalf of their sponsors, for staff and employees, while others like Heather Watson have taken up media opportunities with the BBC.
Government permissions notwithstanding, Octagon is looking to stage its scheduled summer and autumn events – behind closed doors most likely – in Lexington, Cincinnati, Moscow, Tokyo, Kitzbuhel and Istanbul.
Until yesterday Wuhan – yes, you heard it right, Wuhan – the central Chinese city, the home of China’s first Grand Slam champion Li Na and alleged source city of the coronavirus epidemic, was also due to stage its annual WTA event, now in its 6th year, this October.
But as I write, it was confirmed by the ATP and WTA that the Chinese government had cancelled all international sports events, so there will be no China tournament this autumn
Bloxham acknowledges the challenges going forward.
“The ATP and the WTA are committed to provide jobs for its players and have been doing a great job to restart the Tours, which a positive step in fulfilling their obligations. And of course, it is good for the players, and fans, as they watch on TV. This latest news from China, however, makes ours and the Associations roles very difficult for future planning.”
Perhaps the inclusion of Wuhan in the 2020 tournament calendar in the first place speaks volumes for the Tour, its intentions and tennis in general. Other tournaments may fall, but for the good folks of Wuhan, the axe has dropped on their hopes of seeing the likes Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova, all participants last year, play.
Despite this latest setback, Bloxham remains optimistic for other events.
“It will be a huge boost for the game, the players and the fans if we can get some of them played, even behind closed doors,” concludes Bloxham. “Once we are successful in staging some of our scheduled events, it will, I am sure, play a large part in putting the woes of Covid 19 behind us, as we look to the future of the game we all cherish.”