Could a commissioner or an umbrella organization overseeing both the ATP + WTA Tours come to fruition in the very near future?
Douglas Robson's article for USA Today investigates the possibilities of the two tours moving closer together as more events, particularly when the 2009 season rolls around, see the men and women playing in the same tourney or in back-to-back weeks including Madrid, Cincinnati, and Beijing.
Robson highlights a number of areas where the tours are already leveraging each other:
•Some 35% of the ATP's 63 events and 40% of WTA 50 tournaments will be combined or played in consecutive weeks in 2009, among them events at Madrid, Cincinnati and Beijing.
•Staffs have been consolidating in London in recent years, and both human resources and IT functions are now shared. A number of media functions, such as the production of the annual media guide and the two tour websites, also are shared.
•This year the ATP and WTA teamed up in conjunction with the International Tennis Federation and the four majors to form a so-called integrity unit to combat gambling. That followed the formation of a joint anti-doping program overseen by the ITF in 2006.
•Next year the tours will embark on their first commercial joint venture by pooling digital rights for video streaming of content though a single portal called tennistv.com. They will split revenues evenly.
WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott has been talked about as someone who could potentially oversee both tours and has publicly expressed interest in the role. He already sees an evolution towards the two tours working in tandem possibly in five years:
We have done some things together already. It is happening organically.The challenges to this idea include legal issues such as TV rights, title sponsorships (the ATP has no interest in a Sony Ericsson-type sponsorship for the tour), and the always thorny issue of the Grand Slams which aren't controlled by either tour.
From a business and branding perspective, having the two tours live under one organization seems a like a no brainer and would encourage consistency across the board. It becomes confusing for the casual fan when one tour experiments with, say, on-court coaching while the other doesn't. However, the umbrella organization would need to ensure the unique identity, characteristics, and marketing of each tour remained intact.
As I mentioned previously, leveraging the star power off both tours would give the executives more weight to sell sponsorships and tickets, not to mention buying TV time (another area where consistency in scheduling is crucial for the growth of tennis.) Moreover, it would seem organizing the tours would get easier from a logistical standpoint - where the top ballers go the rest follow.
(image via Getty)