After reading this article about the changes in the men's game in 2009, am I the only one who feels this: confusion will reign supreme...leading to lack of interest...leading to ambivalence. Read...and ponder: a tour structure that makes the film Syriana look like The Cat in the Hat:
ATP Announces 500 Series Tournaments
By Richard Pagliaro
Tennis is a numbers game and the ATP is aiming to elevate its numbers with declarative digits. The ATP is assigning numerical names to its tournaments and believes the new classification will create both a streamlined schedule and an enhanced bottom line starting in 2009.
The ATP announced today 10 cities that have been awarded "500" status for the new-look 2009 ATP Tour. The 10 are Rotterdam, Dubai, Acapulco, Memphis, Barcelona, Washington DC, Beijing, Tokyo, Basel and Valencia.
Offering 500 points for each champion, the "500" tournaments will create "a global standard tier of premium tournaments and ensure a stronger broadcast and sponsor proposition from 2009," the ATP said in a statement. The 10 cities announced today are set to make a financial commitment to the Tour of $20.7 million from 2009, an increase in prize money of 118 percent over 2008 for these events, according to the ATP.
Designed to complement the nine "1000" events, which are now known as the Masters Series, and ATP World Tour Finals in London (which is currently called the Tennis Masters Cup and is presently contested in Shanghai), the "500s" will be backed by a top player commitment to play four a year, including one "500" event each season after the U.S. Open.
Asked how the ATP plans to enforce that player commitment, an ATP spokesman told Tennis Week today: "The players will need to play four of the 500 events for ranking purposes. Not doing so will result in zero pointers for each one missed."
Starting in 2009, the ATP will no longer use the term "Masters Series" to characterize its top tier events. Instead, those nine tournaments will be labeled "1000" events, signifying the points earned by tournament winners. The nine "1000" events that will replace the Masters Series will be: Indian Wells; Miami; Rome; Madrid; Toronto/ Montreal; Cincinnati; Shanghai and Paris. Monte Carlo will also have 1000 status but will not have the same mandatory player commitment as the other nine.
The rebranding effort marks the latest marketing change for the collection of tournaments once known as "The Super Nine" before they were renamed "Masters Series." The Masters Series was created when the ATP signed a 10-year, $1.2 billion deal in 1998-99 with the Swiss sports company ISL (International Sports & Leisure) for exclusive marketing rights of that Series, but that deal proved to be disastrous as ISL was unable to meet its anticipated sponsorship sales and ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2001 leaving many Masters Series events scrambling to procure individual sponsorship deals and the Tour searching for the most effective way to package, promote and sell its most prestigious tournaments.
This latest renaming is the Tour's effort to redefine itself. One crucial element in that aim is broadcast accessibility of its tournaments for fans. To that end, an ATP spokesman told Tennis Week today that starting in 2009 the 10 "500" tournaments will be available on ATP.TV, which currently streams Masters Series events over the Internet.
The 2009 ATP Tour will feature an Asian swing of three weeks starting after the completion of the U.S. Open in September that will showcase top players at new tournaments — "Shanghai 1000", and the Tokyo and Beijing "500’s". This will be followed by an enhanced European indoor swing comprising of two new "500" events in Valencia and Basel as well as the Paris "1000", which is currently the BNP Paribas Masters (Paris Indoors). The swing, and season, will conclude at the 2009 season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London’s O2 Arena.
Hamburg, which filed anti-trust lawsuit against the ATP in a U.S. Federal District Court in April in an effort to preserve its current Masters Series status, has been reserved a "500" level week though its litigation against the ATP "is ongoing" the ATP told Tennis Week.
Monte-Carlo reached an out-of-court settlement in the tournament's anti-trust lawsuit against the ATP in July. Under terms of that agreement, Monte Carlo has dropped its lawsuit against the ATP and will retain its Masters Series status, but lose the player commitment requirement of other Masters Series events starting in 2009.
In announcing the 10 host sites for its "500" series, the ATP touts the "500" tournaments alone will bring over $200 million of facility investment into new stadia builds at Acapulco, Beijing and Valencia; as well as existing facility upgrades in Barcelona, Rotterdam, Dubai and Memphis" and a "$600 million investment into upgrades and new facilities via the “1000” tournaments."
The facility upgrades and new stadia combined with what the ATP claims is "$200 million of committed marketing support, prize money and other investments" leaves tour execs excited by the prospect of a 10-figure "$1 billion" investment into men’s tennis from 2009. If those numbers are accurate — and the ATP did not provided specifics in today's release — it would be quite a coup for a Tour which will lose leading sponsor Mercedes-Benz, when it's current three-year sponsorship pact concludes on Dec. 31, 2008.
Without specific documentation of the new stadia and planned upgrades its difficult to quantify the validity of the numbers the ATP presents, however if the men's circuit can enforce its promise for mandatory annual player participation at four "500" events, including one post-U.S. Open "500" it will be a positive step for a Tour that has seen several top players, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick pull out of tournaments in recent weeks.
Since assuming his post, ATP Executive Chairman and President Etienne de Villiers has said streamlining the ATP schedule to create a more cohesive collection of tournaments around the four Grand Slam tournaments and the ATP season-ending Tennis Masters Cup to create a healthier schedule for players and a more attractive package for sponsors and broadcast partners is his primary aim.
If the investment in men's tennis in the form of facility upgrades is accurate then the tournaments will be doing their part in contributing to the new-look Tour in 2009. In order for tennis' television audience to grow — which is imperative in persuading sponsors to reach into their pockets and buy commercial time during tennis telecasts — the game's governing bodies must be willing to create a cohesive, understandable schedule that builds audience attention toward the four primary peaks that are the Grand Slam tournaments while retaining the value in of the "1000" and "500" events that will form foundation of the Tour.
"The changes we are undertaking represent the biggest shake up of the ATP Tour since its inception but reflect a true appetite for the sport in emerging and key markets; as well as an expression of ambition and confidence in the future. In total more than $1 billion of added capital and increases in tournament ‘on site financial’ commitments will be made," said Etienne de Villiers, Executive Chairman of the ATP. "Our objective has been to provide a Tour structure that tells the best story of our global circuit. We need to have the best players playing in the best stadia, in the best markets at the right time. Our players, fans, tournaments and sponsors deserve a world class Tour and that is what we will be giving them in 2009."
The questions remain: can the ATP enforce player participation to create the competitive climate and consistent rivalries vital to the sport's popularity? And will the Tour be able to sell the restructured circuit to sponsors and broadcast partners? Answering those questions will ultimately determine how much value will accompany the ATP's new numbers.
One other question: who in the world proposed this theatre of the absurd?