London | WTA boss backs long term merger idea

Women’s tour boss Steve Simon says a merger between with the men’s ATP ‘makes all the sense in the world’ but it would not take the form of an acquisition and warned that financial disparity would initially be a consequence.

I'm not afraid of the full merger; I never have been... It's not an acquisition. This isn't about either tour taking territory. Right now we compete against ourselves as well as all the other leagues and entertainment properties. We compete for fans, partners, sponsorships as well as broadcast and data, so the alignment allows you to aggregate assets. Steve Simon, CEO WTA Tour

“It’s not an acquisition,” Simon told the New York Times. “This isn’t about either tour taking territory.

“Right now we compete against ourselves as well as all the other leagues and entertainment properties.

“We compete for fans, partners, sponsorships as well as broadcast and data, so the alignment allows you to aggregate assets.

“I’m not afraid of the full merger; I never have been,” Simon added. “I would certainly be the first to support it, because I think then you truly have the business and the strategic principles all aligned, which is what you need to do.

“Obviously it’s a long and winding road to get there, but I think it makes all the sense in the world.

“This isn’t about trying to save the WTA. We’ll be fine, but look, if we’re going to do the right business thing and we’re finally going to bring the sport together, I think the WTA would be very supportive of this concept.

“Crisis and challenges can sometimes provide opportunity as well.

“There’s going to be no shortage of accountants, tax attorneys, attorneys and everybody else that is involved with it.

“It would take time, but conceptually it may not take as long. If you agree on the goal, you can usually get things done quicker.”

The tennis season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and the hiatus will continue at least until mid-July, depriving lower-level players who depend solely on tournament winnings of the chance to earn a living.

Roger Federer called for a merger between the two governing bodies last month, with both Simon and ATP Tour Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi welcoming the suggestion, but some top WTA players have said they want an equal standing for the women players in a combined organisation.

With 7 governing bodies currently running professional tennis, amalgamation of the WTA and ATP would unify the rules of the two tours outside of the majors run by the Grand Slams and the team competitions organised by the ITF.

The men and women have separate ranking systems, while some rules, including on-court coaching, injuries rules and timeouts are also different.

Viewers need different pay-TV platforms to watch tennis matches and a merger of the Tours could simplify television contracts and sponsorship deals.

Simon told Telegraph Sport that his constituents, who now earn around 80 per cent as much as their male equivalents, would not expect to be paid the same as the ATP players from day one.

“You certainly can’t go in with those expectations that [financial equality] is immediately there. I think it’s a long-term goal.

“But I think that, by coming together, we are presenting the sport in a way that our fans and our partners and the marketplace will embrace.

“Also, if we were able to get to that stage [of a single merged body], you’d still have a men’s calendar, you’d still have a women’s calendar, you’d still have combined events.

“Not every facility can accommodate a combined field. But over time, if you’re one organisation, you have a lot better chance to resolve.”

Simon believes there are obvious benefits to a potential merger.

“A merger is a long and winding road. But you would like to think that everybody should be treated equal.”

Vasek Pospisil's call for a player union has lost momentum

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Meanwhile, an initiative backed by Novak Djokovic, to form and independent player union has failed to gain momentum after Federer and Rafael Nadal refused to get behind it, according to Canadian Vasek Pospisil.

The World No 93 said up to 80 players in the top 100 on the ATP Tour were in favour of the proposal but nothing has come to fruition as yet.

One of the main driving forces behind the call is that players want a greater share of the revenue generated from the four Grand Slam championships which, they claim, still only represents around 10% despite rises in prize money.

Writing in The Globe and Mail last year, Pospisil argued that a player union would ‘restore fairness and transparency’.

“Tennis is extremely International,” he explained in a recent interview with TSN. “So unionising players is not that easy because you have all these conflicting labour laws from different countries.

“It’s a very tricky, difficult scenario. But when I got injured last year I tried to have a crack at it.

“We are definitely closer than ever. We are definitely more unified than ever before.

“Novak was sort of for it from the get-go. At one point we were 80 of the top 100 male players signed onto the engagement letter, Novak being one of them. I had like 12 of the top 20, but when we went with Roger and Rafa ,they were not in favour.

“Actually, they just wanted to go themselves and talk to the Grand Slams, which is something that went against the gist of what we were trying to do. It’s a shame, to be honest,” he added.

Both Federer and Nadal rejoined the ATP Player Council last August in a bid to reunite the men’s tour following various disagreements, including the decision to dispatch former chief Chris Kermode last year, which divided opinion.

The Player Council, which is headed by Djokovic, with Pospisil a long-time member, issues advisory decisions to the ATP Board of Directors and members are elected by their peers.

Djokovic has been strangely silent on the notion of merging the ATP and WTA Tours and there are some players who have vocally opposed the idea, such as Nick Kyrgios.

“Did anyone ask the majority of the ATP what they think about merging with the WTA and how it is good for us?” Kyrgios wrote on Twitter.

“We shouldn’t merge,” he added later.

Asked about Kyrgios’ view, Pospisil said the Australian was in no position to comment because he didn’t know the full facts of what was going on.

“To be honest, he’s in no position to express an opinion when he just hears about this for the first time and has done zero due diligence.” Pospisil told TSN.

“There are some guys like that and I’ll have no problem telling him that to his face.”

The Canadian added that talks are ongoing behind closed doors and it is still unclear as to whether or when any collaboration may occur.

Billie Jean King, the founder of the WTA, is delighted that the merger has come up for discussion.

Elsa/Getty Images)

Speaking to Christiane Amanpour on CNN International, Billie Jean King said: “I’m thrilled that Roger brought it up because when the top male players bring something up, people listen.

“I did get the chance to talk with Roger and he said the reason he even thought about this is because he finally had some space and time to reflect on about the sport.

“What tennis people have to understand, we’re much stronger if we’re together.

“From sponsorship to opportunities, we can grow.

“We have to understand we’re not competing from within our sport like a lot of tennis people think.

“Our job is to be together so we can compete with other entertainments and other sports. I don’t think people realise we’re in this business.

“I think it’s very important. We’re not an acquisition, the WTA are not an acquisition. We’d be a full partner in this drive to make our sport better and more valuable.”



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