On Thursday, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) signed a partnership agreement with the Sports, Media, and Entertainment arm of TWG Global, to create a new business model for the Billie Jean King Cup.
We want the Billie Jean King Cup to have a positive, lasting sporting and social impact on all 211 ITF Federations. This competition has always been a powerful platform for the global growth of women's tennis and, with this news, we are committed to having a bold, historic and lasting impact for generations to come. We are thankful to Mark Walter and TWG Global for their investment… and we will work together to build on this event's incredible 60-year history to achieve an even greater future for women and women's sports. Billie Jean King
The Billie Jean King Cup is the premier international team competition in women’s tennis, and the world’s largest annual women’s international team sports competition in terms of the number of nations that compete.
Owned by the ITF, the global guardian of tennis, the Billie Jean King Cup will continue to be operated by the governing body, with a record 134 nations entered into the competition in 2023, from Regionals to the home and away ties of the earlier stages up to the Qualifiers and Play-Offs
The world’s 12 best national teams have secured their place to its pinnacle event, the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals, which take place from 7-12 November in Seville, Spain.
It is the first time since 2008 that Spain has hosted the finals of the competition, known until 2020 as the Fed Cup, and, prior to then, as the Federation Cup, which was inaugurated in 1963 at London’s Queen’s Club.
The Czech Republic dominated the competition in the 2010s, winning 6 of 10 competitions over the decade, while Switzerland became the champion nation in 2022.
For the second year in a row, the champions will receive the same prize money as the winners of the men’s team competition, the Davis Cup.
On the back of a title sponsorship with Gainbridge Insurance Agency running from 2022 to 2026, players competing in last year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals received the same as the men competing in the Davis Cup Finals, with Switzerland taking home a record sum of $2m.
TWG Global, a holding company led by businessman and philanthropist Mark Walter, will invest a ‘substantial’ sum in the competition, the ITF said in a statement, and will also provide expertise and infrastructure for the marketing and promotion of the Billie Jean King Cup, led by Ilana Kloss, the CEO of Billie Jean King Enterprises (BJKE).
The ITF will hold a 51% majority share of the new entity, Billie Jean King Cup Limited, which is a UK-based company that will work to source new sponsorships, broadcast, and commercial partnerships, while TWG Global, the investment vehicle of US billionaire Mark Walter, has acquired a minority stake of 49% in the joint venture.
BJKE is led by Ilana Kloss, who, with her wife Billie Jean King, have known Walter for several years through their investment in the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers.
The ITF’s sale of equity in the new commercial entity comes after the recent termination of Kosmos’s $3bn (€2.7bn), 25-year agreement to run and commercialise the men’s Davis Cup.
Speaking to SportBusiness, ITF President David Haggerty said: “This is different as it’s the creation of a new operating entity to grow the women’s World Cup of tennis.
“It’s backed by significant investment, we have the expertise and a dedicated team that Ilana will lead and the ITF will be involved.
“The ITF retains the majority control of the company. It’s a unique tennis for tennis partnership…we’ve formed it with people who have deep roots in not only tennis but sport. That’s the difference.”
The new business venture will leverage the premier women’s tennis team competition as a platform for women’s professional development programs in leadership, officiating and coaching.
Tennis trailblazer King, who is also an advocate for equity in sports and wages, said the goals of TWG Global, Billie Jean King Enterprises and the ITF are completely aligned.
“We want the Billie Jean King Cup to have a positive, lasting sporting and social impact on all 211 ITF Federations,” King said in a statement. “This competition has always been a powerful platform for the global growth of women’s tennis and, with this news, we are committed to having a bold, historic and lasting impact for generations to come.
“We are thankful to Mark Walter and TWG Global for their investment… and we will work together to build on this event’s incredible 60-year history to achieve an even greater future for women and women’s sports.”
TWG Global’s leader, Walter, is the controlling owner of Major League Baseball team LA Dodgers and an owner of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, as well as a co-general partner of the Chelsea Football Club, and also acts as the Chief Executive of global financial services firm Guggenheim Partners.
“TWG Global is thrilled to work with BJKE and ITF to make tennis a more balanced game for the women who compete and to encourage more great female athletes to follow in the footsteps of Billie Jean to push the sport of tennis forward,” Walter said.
Haggerty added: “It is thrilling and fitting in its 60th year to announce a unique partnership for the Billie Jean King Cup formed by people who have worked in sports and tennis all their lives.
“This joint venture will be overseen and operated by leaders who bring vast knowledge, experience, and shared passion for the global development of our sport, and who hold a remarkable track record in growing women’s tennis.”
Haggerty added that the new venture will benefit nations in their development of tennis as well as current players and the generations to follow.
According to reports, conversations over the setting up of the joint venture began 12 months ago, when the ITF commissioned market research into its different options, and worked with a third party to benchmark value.
“We now have a significant opportunity to elevate the Billie Jean King Cup with this investment and a team of people working on this property every single day,” Kloss, the CEO of BJKE, said. “This is a long-term partnership, and it allows us to build the event on multiple levels and make sure we have all of the elements in place, so that it continues to be the preeminent global team competition not only in tennis, but in women’s sports.
“The Billie Jean King Cup is a strong platform to elevate equality and women. Our goal is to help more women secure senior leadership and board positions with all ITF federations; have more women in media so that our story is told around the globe; and to have more women as officials.”
Haggerty, who is running for re-election this year, said the competition format will remain the same for now, but there is the possibility of expanding the number of teams in the finals, from 12 to 16, as in Davis Cup.