Google Down the Line!: THE LOW DOWN: Sharapova opens Pandora's Box, but WTA Tour reaches compromise anyway

Monday, May 12, 2008

THE LOW DOWN: Sharapova opens Pandora's Box, but WTA Tour reaches compromise anyway

Maria "Shriek"apova and the thugs of the WTA Tour are finally playing nice after the Russian publicly blasted the Tour and its executives through her website, reaching a compromise that both sides can feel happy about...well, mostly Maria that is.

The photo shoot in question was reduced to 90 minutes from 5 to 6 hours, with Maria talking on the phone while taking a ride around Rome:

I was riding around in a car for an hour talking—pretending like I’m talking on the phone. The timing compromise was still pretty difficult since it’s before a very big event for all of us. Considering the time reduction, it definitely makes that a lot easier than going into a four- or five-hour shoot with hair and makeup, which adds another hour.

And did the new world no. 2 find her bullying tactics to be a success? "I’ve obviously made my point," said the 21-year old. "I wanted to let my fans know that I didn’t feel like people were listening to me. I think it’s in the best interest of the tour.”

Yes, the tour must be thrilled that you opened a Pandora's Box - good times!

(image via AP)


  1. Oh yeah, don't mess with the stars.

  2. This absolutely sickens me. I think the WTA just cemented it's status as a joke by kowtowing to one disgruntled star who is essentially holding them hostage and being extremely childish.

    I wonder what the other players on tour think of this? I know I would be pretty pissed off if one star was getting even more special treatment from the tour.

    The fact of the matter is, the WTA wasn't in the wrong in the Sharapova situation.

    By RULE they have to attend their one tour sanctioned Tier 1 event for each half of the year and failure to do so results in a fine, a fine which grows incrementally each time you bail one your tour sanctioned event (which Sharapova has done in the past and hasn't had a problem making up injuries for - does no one remember Montreal a couple years ago?). They have this, obviously, because the WTA guarantees each tournament a certain number of gold or silver sanctioned players so the tournament benefits from having at least some star or marketable players which allows these tournaments to make more money from patrons and sponsors, which in turn benefits the tour by allowing them to command more money from individual tournament organizers, which in turn benefits the players by increasing purse sizes. Not to mention the WTA further compensates these gold/silver players through a contract they can sign, if they want, every year. And if the WTA contacts a player to ask them to play in some event to fulfill the number of gold/silver spots and it isn't one of the events in their contract they will be further compensated on a percentage basis of their total contract amount.

    As far as the photo/commercial shoot goes, if she didn't attend she deserved to be fined. I hardly buy the "I can't do photoshoots a day before a tournament starts because they're so mentally draining" argument. As someone who has been on set at numerous photoshoots I can honestly say there is absolutely nothing "mentally draining" for models at a photoshoot unless you're literally functionally retarded. Plus, let's not even get into the fact that she has a first round bye and thus won't even be playing until Weds. when the shoot was Sunday, or the fact that no other player voiced displeasure about the timing of the shoot. But more than all that, she is required as a tour member to participate in promoting the tour and doing publicity for it. The reason she was going to be fined if she didn't attend is because her clothing contract is Nike which typically requires a clean contract (you cannot have patches on your clothing) so she can't wear that SEWTA tour patch like most other wear and is required by the tour. The tour will also allow for you to put the patch on a visor/hat/whatever and I've seen plenty of the Nike athletes, including Sharapova, do this instead as they cannot put them on their clothing. However in the last two years I've noticed she no longer wears the patch on her visor, and the rule for those who don't wear hats/visors or don't have the patched on them, they are then required to participate in publicity moreso than other tour members and if they don't are subject to fines which grow incrementally. The $300,000 fine she would have gotten for it only means that she's been warned and fined for this before - these fines don't start at $300k.

    (This is all spelled out in the WTA rules and player's guide, which sadly, I have actually read through earlier this year. Being bored in classes will do that to you.)

  3. And for the record, I'm not one to defend the leagues and associations in sports mostly because I don't like that there is seemingly little to no accountability for the commissioners/CEOs (and in some, like the NBA, the refs). So, while I don't actually think the idea of hearing the WTA's dirty laundry is a bad thing, it wouldn't be right in this particular situation, and it wouldn't be particularly prudent for any current player (talk about shooting yourself in the foot).

  4. ellie - you make a VERY strong argument and this shows me this is an issue that needs to be discussed even further.

    but i think there's an element here that isn't really being talked about: ballers are missing a unified voice and don't feel their concerns are being heard by the decison makers, the tours are very fragmented and so this leads to actions like maria's where they're looking to vent AND gain support.

    sometimes just going to the press is not enough or it backfires and the message is taken out of context. so their websites become the perfect venue - they can completely control what is said and how it's said.

    i wouldn't be surprised if that started to happen more. rafa seems close to losing it on villiers of the atp.

  5. In regards to the ballers missing a unified voice, definitely. They do need something set up whether it be a players' association/union with an independent third party representative that has only their collective interest's in mind or do like the PGA Tour and have an elected board of players to represent their interests to the tour decision makers, where the players hold meetings separately throughout the year and meet with the CEOs/whomever a couple times a year.

    Either way you look at it there are positives and negatives in each approach. In my opinion I think the latter would ultimately work better and be easier to set-up and incorporate than the former if only because it's worked well enough on the PGA Tour that whenever the discussion of a players union a la the MLB, NFL, NHL comes up it never gets enough support to really gain any steam amongst the PGA Tour members, which is mostly attributed to the fact that those guys are essentially independent contractors and thus serving their own interests and not that of a teammate-against-the-owners-and-commissioner interest. Tennis players are more-or-less independent contractors, choosing their schedules (mostly) like PGA Tour players are free to do. The thing that would scare me, if I were a player or a tour sponsor or decision maker, is the tennis tours implemented a player's union would be the possibility of a strike or major hold-out by the ballers. In a union there is always that threat looming, and whilst it can be useful leverage to have in negotiations, it could also prove disastrous to the sport if a strike were to happen. Or disastrous where tennis isn't the main or major sport - the NHL is, or was, considered one of the "4 major sports" in the US until their lockout in 2004 which resulted in almost crippling the sport in the US market (not that their ESPN to Versus TV contract has exactly helped them recover or bring fans back). Even the NBA has suffered since their last holdout and it took the MLB years to get back to where they were and keep growing their fanbase. Inevitably in something like a strike or lockout the media will portray the events in such a way that the players look like the ones at fault while the decision makers are the ones being held hostage by greedy, spoilt athletes. And why shouldn't the media portray it that way? They're (majorily) in bed with these leagues to begin with - there's too much business and money going between the two to be perfectly objective and unbiased in their reporting (which is a huge problem I have with ESPN and to a lesser extent Fox Sports) and they wouldn't want to bite the hand that feeds them. Which, at long last, brings me to...

    Using their own websites to completely control what and how something is said. This is something I got into an argument with a professor about in class a few weeks ago after that infamous Buzz Bissinger rant on Costas Now. If more athletes (or their people) start recognizing that they can control their message to the masses, that they don't need to go to traditional media sources to say something and risk the chance of it being misconstrued they could shift the dynamics of power the media has (and that scares the hell out of MSM'ers because if they have to go to someone's website or blog just like everyone else, then what is their place or function? But that's a whole different argument). To a certain extent athletes can control some stories or tell their sides without all the screaming monkeys on Around the Horn telling the public what we should think about certain stories or athletes' actions.

  6. Thanks for the information in this paragraph "By RULE they have to attend their one tour sanctioned Tier 1 event..." and the stuff about the guarnatees of the tour and how they work.

    I don't agree though with your position that she shouldn't have protested or shouldn't have got a shorter shoot. For one thing, acting and modelling are very exhausting. I've done both, they're FUN and strenous. Try it.
    The other reason is that the tours can change, improve the RULE, to better suit the players. I know sometimes people think if you're getting paid a lot then shut up, but this is not how it works. (Some people say it's this generation ..., and back in the day ... That's fine. So this generation wants a better life. )

    They are the "talent" so the organization should continually make things easy for them so that they can play tennis.

    Recently I met a group with a film to make. I thought, great, I'm an actress ;) let's do it. I learned over time that PR, hanging out, blah blah blah was part of the expectation. It didn't work out. I expected finite (though large) demands on my time...just the way some people work. I guess Maria wants the same e.g. WTA should plan the shoot to bits so that the players can show up shoot and leave in very little time, except if it's off season and she feels like hanging out for six hours getting her hair blow-dried or whatever. I think it's cheaper.

  7. t - I wasn't saying she shouldn't've had her little hissy fit, I'm just saying the WTA should have held it's druthers and not bent over backwards for one pissed off player. Do we know if everybody else only had to be there 90 minutes? If so, then great. Otherwise, no not so great at all. Yes they are talent and the tour should make it easier for them to some extent, but they are still a business and have to look out for their own business interests, which to some extent are in the interests of the "talent". My main issue here is that there is seemingly a bigger problem of the "stars" being able to push the tour around for their selfish interests - what about the overwhelming majority of the other ballers that aren't stars? They wouldn't be able to push the tour around like that and that is wrong. There shouldn't be favoritism or special treatment in the relationship between sports leagues and some of their players.

    As someone who grew up on backlots and has done both acting and modeling I will respectfully disagree with you on acting and modeling being exhaustive and strenuous. Can they be? Sure, if you're running for take after take or have to hike through a jungle or up around the Santa Monica Mountains to get to a set. But otherwise? No not so much. They might get repetitive and utterly boring, particularly with all the sitting around but you can always do something to entertain yourself, or, you know, take a nap if you had an early call time. Generally it's the crew and PR people, etc. that photo-shoots and films are utterly exhausting and strenuous for, not the talent.

  8. It's all good, Ellie.

    Maybe she just scored a goal for many other people, who knows? She certainly tried to include her colleagues in making her case.

    I believe you on crew being often more physical than acting/modelling. Good Maria didn't have to do five hours of either this week.

    The thing with selfish interests is a longer discussion. Maybe she just scored a goal for many other people?


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