London | WTA improves its commercial footing as it celebrates 50 years of women’s tennis

The WTA has been penning a number of new commercial deals to help women’s tennis build on its 50-year legacy over the next half-a-century.

I am proud to be a part of the WTA, as they are committed to innovating the sport, investing in the players, and promoting us all over the world. I’m inspired to be a part of the evolution of women’s tennis, and building out the next 50 years of the WTA. Iga Świątek

Its new multi-million dollar deal with CVC Capital Partners comes as the WTA celebrates its 50th anniversary after being founded in 1973 by Billie Jean King, and Steve Simon, the WTA chairman and Chief Executive, is optimistic about the future of the sport as it continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the tour’s withdrawal from China, which badly affected its bottom line, financially.

“I am excited for the next chapter of the WTA, whose future will continue to push the growth of women’s professional tennis,” he said. “It is truly fitting that we are celebrating 50 years of the WTA alongside the introduction of this landmark and historic opportunity.

“This partnership with CVC brings experience, a network and capital to move our sport to the next level, embracing the ambition of our founding members, urging women’s tennis beyond its barriers and pioneering new standards for a more equitable and valuable sport.”

In a statement, the WTA said about the deal: “Beginning in 2023, CVC will be WTA’s business partner, investing capital and serving as a catalyst to drive the growth of the sport.”

CvC Capital, which is a private equity firm that previously owned Formula 1 and has also invested in rugby, cricket and French and Spanish soccer, is said to be investing $150m (£125m) into women’s tennis in return for a 20% stake in the newly formed WTA business entity.

The WTA will continue to own the majority stake, and retain full sporting and regulatory responsibility for the women’s tour.

The partnership aims to generate better commercial growth in women’s tennis, and raise its profile after a difficult period, which has seen the gap with the ATP Tour widening.

Key focus areas include providing fans with greater access to the sport, invest behind the Tour’s brands, build player profiles and invest in digital platforms and commercial capabilities.


World No 1 Iga Swiatek supports the WTA Tour's future plans

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

It is hoped this investment will drive up prize money, which significantly lags behind the men’s tour, but for this to happen, Simon says scheduling needs to be fairer.

He is hoping this year’s French Open night sessions, as an example, will not feature 9 men’s matches and only one women’s, as happened last year.

“We’ve spoken to all of the Grand Slams, and all of our combined events, with respect to scheduling,” said Simon. “It’s something that’s very, very critical. At the end of the day, you are what you say you are.

“Unless you are showing the product in your prime time windows, you are telling the consumer what the value is, so it is very very important that there is a mixture between the men and the women in the prime time spots.”

The WTA has taken a major financial hit following its continued stance on the Peng Shuai issue, and a decision on whether there will be any women’s tournaments in China this year will be made in the next few weeks.

Simon repeatedly has said the WTA will pull out of China permanently unless the authorities carry out a transparent investigation into Peng’s allegations of sexual assault against a former Chinese Vice Premier.

“We are still evaluating it,” said Simon. “We’ve said we would make a decision at the end of the first quarter, or the early second quarter of this year. No decision has been made as of yet.

“My position on that has not changed. But obviously we have a Board [of Directors] that are evaluating that right now, and it will be a Board decision.”

Peng is said to be well but Simon wants a personal meeting with her to ensure her future wellbeing and freedom.

“We do know that she is safe and doing okay.” he said. “I do want to speak with her directly. I haven’t yet, and our position on that hasn’t changed.

“We’ll make a decision on Asia towards the end of this month.”


WTAtennis.com

The CVC deal offers much-needed financial stability for the WTA Tour, which will gain access to CVC’s international network of 25 local offices across Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

The WTA organises 70 annual events open to 1,600 professional players from more than 80 countries, and investments will be made into tour brands, building player and tournament profiles, with digital platforms also being improved.

Gemma Wright, Senior Managing Director in the media and entertainment team at CVC, believes they have got a bargain.

“Tennis is the number one professional women’s sport in the world, with a huge fan base and commercial opportunity,” she said. “WTA and CVC will work together to innovate, grow fan engagement, and the revenues of the WTA, which we can then reinvest back into the game.

“We could not be more excited to be supporting women’s tennis, and look forward to working closely together with the WTA to grow the sport globally, in collaboration with the players, tournaments and other stakeholders in the sport.”

World No 1 Iga Swiątek, winner of the French Open and US Open last year, said: “I am proud to be a part of the WTA, as they are committed to innovating the sport, investing in the players, and promoting us all over the world.

“I’m inspired to be a part of the evolution of women’s tennis, and building out the next 50 years of the WTA.”

In the absence of massive revenues from China, the money is needed, but some wonder what the impact will be of CVC owning a big chunk of the WTA.

Tennis has been battered by the collapse of seemingly appealing but pie-in-the sky deals, with outside entities that failed miserably, including, in 1999, the Swiss Marketing group ISL Worldwide, which signed a 10-year agreement for $1.2 billion with the ATP that disintegrated after two years, and then, in 2018, the ITF signed a 25-year, $3 billion deal with the Spanish investment group Kosmos, which led to devastating changes to the once venerable Davis Cup event, and has since imploded.


Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, is trying to steer the women's tour through choppy waters

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

“I’d like to see the sport be fully integrated,” Simon told Inside Tennis this week. “That’s to say that we don’t have the organisational fragmentation. We should be one professional body running the game.”

While such aspirations remaining illusive, the WTA further expanded its portfolio with Morgan Stanley, named as the exclusive presenting partner of the WTA’s Come Play initiative, which utilises tennis to positively impact communities and encourages girls of all ages and abilities to lead healthy and productive lives on and off the court.

As part of this global community tennis program, WTA players, alumnae and coaches participate in tennis clinics and activities to help build the next generation of leaders.

In addition, the partnership includes financial literacy and planning resources for players along with a content series, branding at select WTA events and more.

As its financial position improves, the WTA is catching flack for imposing fines on the WTA and Wimbledon last year that threaten and deplete the activities of British tennis, while the lack of ranking points at The Championships 2022, has hurt many of its players.

Simon, however, remains unapologetic and is adamant that Wimbledon should be open to all players.

“Our position has been consistent that our tournaments should be open to all players who are eligible…That is the WTA’s founding principle,” he told Inside Tennis. “I don’t know how to condemn strongly enough the invasion of Ukraine from Russia, nor the Russian government, and everything they stand for…[But] I don’t think that necessarily the athlete should be punished as a result of the decisions that their government has made, because we’ve had many other situations in the world where bad things have happened with countries, and there have been decisions that we may not agree with, and those athletes have competed.

“So I definitely believe the athlete, on an individual basis, should be able to compete, and it is in no way a reflection of what our feeling is as far as what is going on over there.”

A decision from the All England Club and the LTA is expected over the coming weeks.


The Original 9 followed Billie Jean King's leadership to form the WTA 50 years ago

Chris Smith/Volvo Car Open/WTAtennis.com

This time last year, the WTA and Hologic embarked on a landmark partnership introducing Hologic as the global title sponsor of the WTA Tour, in a multi-year alliance aiming to achieve significant progress through a shared vision of greater wellness and equality for women.

The WTA and Hologic have amplified preventive health education, along with elevating fundraising efforts with WTA Charities to benefit research on women’s cancers over the last 12 months.

“The results we’ve seen from our first year of partnership are a powerful indication of the meaningful change we are going to achieve together,” WTA President Micky Lawler said. “We are very proud of the progress we’ve made, not only with our players and the enhanced health resources we’ve extended, but also the message we’ve been privileged to share with women around the world.

“As two organisations who are dedicated to a more equitable future for women, we are excited to build on this success and inspire a healthier future.”

The Hologic-WTA partnership debuted at the BNP Paribas Open, displaying an immediate commitment to athlete wellness, and, during 2022, an estimated 150 players participated in comprehensive health screenings with added support from Hologic’s investment and latest medical technology.

In addition to the WTA’s existing robust screenings in dermatology, cardiology, orthopaedics, internal medicine, nutrition, hydration and mental health, WTA athletes welcomed the opportunity to undergo a scan with Hologic’s Horizon® DXA system to receive detailed analysis of their bone density, providing a valuable insight for players.

Highlighting the partnership’s multi-year investment in athlete wellness, WTA player heath evaluations are increasing to an annual frequency, as the WTA and Hologic jointly put a special focus on athletic performance in 2023.

Founded by King on the principle of equal opportunity, the WTA has built tennis to be the global leader in women’s professional sports with a worldwide audience of nearly 900 million.

The Hologic WTA Tour consists of players representing approximately 80 nations, competing in over 70 tournaments across 6 continents every year.

Players compete to earn ranking points, prestigious tournament titles and to reach the WTA Finals as well as the 4 Grand Slams, while the WTA Tour is one of the few sports today in which women and men compete on the same stage.

After 50 years, the WTA is looking ahead at hurdles to be cleared if women’s tennis is to reach parity with the men’s ATP.


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