St Petersburg, Fla. | Simon to step down as WTA CEO to strengthen leadership for continued growth of women’s tennis

Steve Simon is to relinquish his role as Chief Executive of the WTA, it was announced on Tuesday, but he will continue as Executive Chairman under a plan to restructure the women’s tour that comes after months of development work that he claims was unconnected to the complaints by players during the season-ending WTA Finals last month.

We started these discussions [about changing the WTA leadership structure] in the summer time, so they’re not tied to anything that happened in Cancun or ... the perception that it hasn’t been the easiest of years. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO

The changes in leadership include the hiring of a new CEO, who will report to Simon, as will the CEO of WTA Ventures, the commercial enterprise with CVC Capital Partners that was formed this year, while Micky Lawler will stand down as President, and apparently will not be replaced.

A statement was released on Tuesday: “The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) is moving forward with its strategic plan for the growth of women’s tennis with a further revision to its structure. The revised structure will separate the roles of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to allow greater focus on the WTA’s mission and goals and will bring on an additional new leader to assume the CEO role.

“The CEO will be charged with responsibility for managing and growing the operations of the WTA and its many initiatives. The WTA has begun a comprehensive selection process for the CEO position, supported by the global executive search firm Korn Ferry.

“Once the position of CEO has been filled, Steve Simon, currently Chairman and CEO of the WTA, will assume the role of Executive Chairman. In this role, Simon will focus on governance, strategic interests of the WTA within the sport, integrity issues and the development of new markets and frontiers for the WTA. In addition to his designated role as Executive Chairman of the WTA, Simon continues to serve as Chair of the WTA Ventures Board.

“In parallel with the changes to the Chairman and CEO roles, Micky Lawler, who has served as President of the WTA since 2015, has decided to leave the organization at the end of the year to pursue new opportunities.

“The planned revision to the WTA’s structure is the latest step in the WTA’s strategic development, which has led to a landmark collaboration with CVC Capital Partners and the creation of a new commercial division, WTA Ventures. The new structure will help the WTA to secure its objectives of growing the game and delivering equal prize money for women by 2033.

“It will ensure that the organization benefits from breadth and depth of expertise and experience across sporting, operational and commercial matters, allowing it to take advantage of future growth opportunities while delivering world-class events and providing an excellent experience and increased compensation for players. The changes have been developed with the WTA and WTA Ventures Boards since the summer.”

Steve Simon, the WTA’s Executive Chair designate, said: “Following investment from CVC Capital Partners and the creation of WTA Ventures earlier this year, we are now moving ahead and implementing further change to ensure the WTA is well positioned for future opportunities. WTA Ventures is achieving significant progress under the leadership of CEO Marina Storti, and we are looking to replicate this model by bringing in additional operational expertise for the Hologic WTA Tour.

“By putting in place additional leadership capability and capacity, we are getting ready to accelerate the development of women’s tennis as the WTA moves beyond its 50th year. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Micky Lawler. She has been a valued colleague who has made a significant contribution to the WTA and we wish her every success for the future.”

Victoria Azarenka, former WTA World No 1 and member of the WTA Players’ Council, welcomed the development, commenting: “I wish Steve all the best in his new role, and the continued progress and development of the WTA as an organization. The partnership with CVC has been a great opportunity for growth to our sport, and the addition of an added leadership role for increased aid will continue pushing the WTA forward and the progression of women’s sports. I look forward to seeing the benefits this will bring for everyone involved in our sport.”

Adam Barrett, Chair of the WTA Tournament Council and WTA Board member, added: “On behalf of the tournaments, we are committed to delivering the highest-quality experience for players and fans.  Adding a strong CEO to the WTA leadership who will be laser focused on key operational issues will have a positive impact as we work together to further elevate women’s tennis for players, fans, partners, and our tournaments.”

The announcement follows recent developments at WTA Ventures, which last month concluded new media rights agreements with Sky Sports and Canal+ across multiple European markets. In addition, WTA Ventures has announced several new appointments to its leadership team, bringing further expertise in brand marketing, finance and strategy.

Micky Lawler is resigning as WTA President to pursue other interests, and will not be replaced in the new structure

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Simon has led the WTA since succeeding Stacey Allaster in 2015, while Lawler was in her role since 2014.

“My focus will go to, obviously, governance,” Simon said in a video interview with The Associated Press and BBC from the WTA offices in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Managing the respective boards and councils. Working directly with the CEOs of the daily business of the tour. I’ll be able to spend more time on the geopolitical issues that remain very prevalent to the sport and do affect the business.

“I will spend more time working on the strategic direction of the organization and the challenges that face the organization.

“I believe we were a $64 million business in ’16, and we’ll be a $128 million business this year,” Simon said. “And we’re due to double that by 2027 with our current business plan projections.”

The WTA has faced some difficult issues in recent times, such as the suspension of events in China over concerns about the well-being of former player Peng Shuai,,the coronavirus pandemic; and the ongoing uncertainty about the staging of the WTA Finals.

This year’s edition in Cancun, Mexico, was not announced until September, and players complained about the temporary outdoor court created for the season-ending finale, with the then World No 1 Aryna Sabalenka calling the conditions ‘another level of disrespect’.

Players outlined various other concerns in a letter to Simon and during two meetings with tour leadership, including establishing a guaranteed income, and coverage for maternity leave and injury absences, alongside objections to a planned change in rules governing mandatory tournament appearances.

“We started these discussions [about changing the WTA leadership structure] in the summer time, so they’re not tied to anything that happened in Cancun or … the perception that it hasn’t been the easiest of years,” Simon added.

He also said that with the combined role’ of CEO and Chairman, ‘you’re going to start missing some things at some point in time. There’s just only so many hours in the day that you can get to’, and he thinks that it ‘makes a lot of sense to have somebody to deal with the day-to-day business, and … I can deal with more of the higher-level issues that obviously take a lot of time’.



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