ATPs de Villiers Explains New ATP 2007 Plans
Posted on August 29, 2006
ATP President Etienne de Villiers addressed the media Monday at the US Open in response to the organization's release a day earlier announcing changes to the tour in 2007, including the elimination of five-set matches, a 10 percent increase in prize money for all tournaments, and the introduction of round-robin play, similar to the year-end Masters Cup, at smaller tour events.
The following are excerpts from the press conference:
Which tournaments will be round robin and start on Sundays?
"The answer to that is we'll experiment for the next couple of years and see. Initially, we thought that the Round Robin should be a programing device that would actually bolster the smaller tournaments as a result of the emphasis that we're placing on the larger ones. Then when I met with Roger, Rafa, Marat and Andre, Rafa and Roger said this is just such a great idea, why don't you do it on the bigger tournaments.
Our thinking then went to let's make it an exclusive of a category within our premium tour, if you want. The demand within the tournament group has been such that we kind of figured if we were not going to implement the roadmap until 2009, let's go figure out how it works, what the fan reaction is, what the media reaction is, what the tournament economics are, obviously what the player reaction is. I'm a great believer in doing it, trying it and fixing it rather than trying to get it right. Anybody who feels they'd like to do it."
Who will shoulder the economic burden placed by round robin events and keeping players around longer?
"What we've come to is, because it does place a load, not necessarily an extra load on the player, depending on the size of the field, it does actually put a load on the timing. So we're probably going to mandate for the experiment for next year. If you want to entertain Round Robin, you need to have the eighth day. So anybody that wants to try and do it, if it gets to be unmanageable, we may actually have to screen it. At this stage we're just asking for interest...We've actually got Deloitte & Touche to do a study on the financial viability of the tour. If the incremental cost is of housing and feeding and transporting those players the extra day is going to make the difference, we're going down a blind path here. It can't be that sensitive. What we're going to have to do is make sure this makes for a much more entertaining product, a much more fan-friendly product, a more media-friendly product. Hopefully that just lifts the whole thing. It's not been raised, interestingly enough, by any of the tournaments. All of them who want this, it's never been an issue."
How big will the round robin fields be and what will be the format?
"We originally started with the notion that the category of tournaments that we were going to create which sat below the four Masters, combining the four men's Masters, would be a 64 draw initially. We're now convinced that it should probably be a 48 draw to give us 16 by 3. You don't have any dead matches and then you then take 16 and go through on knockout. On 32, it's probably going to have to be 8 by 4 if we're going to experiment with that. That's the very smallest field. We are also pretty convinced that although it's not a decision that a 56 draw makes more sense in the Masters events, given that you will allow the top eight to have an extra day's rest, I'm really concerned that we are creating a rod for our own back. We've seen it now too often this season. These athletes now have the ability to play the stroke play that the athleticism, the sheer talent is such that longer rallies are almost inevitable, longer matches are almost inevitable. We have to be cognizant of that."
What is being done to address the player injuries?
"We had a very interesting conversation with the doctors last night. I tasked the doctors with a challenge to get to scientifically understand cause and effect of physiology, racquets, technology, balls and surfaces and to see whether there's any correlation with that and injuries, so to see whether we can actually get ahead of this. There isn't just a single bullet."
Are you worried about players tanking what might be a meaningless match? Do you think the prize money and ranking points will be enough to keep those competitive?
"I think that's always the problem that you've got. Whether it's a question of tanking, which is a word I think we won't use today, I think we've had enough speculation of tanking this week. It's just a question of whether a meaningless match is, in fact, an entertaining product. That's more of the issue. Do fans really like to watch friendly matches as opposed to meaningful matches? I think that's the issue with a four-draw Round Robin or four-team Round Robin. These are issues we are all looking at. This is why we initially contained it to the 48 draw because it did have that configuration."
How does that influence your top players not to play doubles after all the work you've put into convincing them?
"I'm just going to beat the crap out of them if they don't (smiling). No, I don't know what the answer is. I think we're giving them an extra day. In a sense, that should take care of it. We're also going to try to make -- we haven't agreed yet but we're certainly talking about making the Round Robin part a match tiebreak in the third in order to get it shorter. We haven't finalized that, please. These are just ideas we are having. So as we can get the schedule to work..."
Where is the additional prize money going to come from?
"From the journalists (smiling)...The 10% minimum prize money level was a decision that was made, dare I say not with the full-hearted support of the tournaments. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas or Thanksgiving. You're not going to get tournaments that are going to volunteer prize money increases when there's no formula...There's a sense that the sport is growing. There's a definite sense that there's a following wind here. We're talking to broadcasters right now about renewing our TV rights for 2008/2009. There's a significant 15, 20% per annum uplift on television revenues. We've just renewed a deal -- I won't mention the category -- but for the ATP where we renewed it at a 97% increase over the last deal...We have had not a prize money increase. Since 2000 and 2004 it went down 5%. We had to break that cycle. We think and we hope that the structure that we're putting in place and the system that we've got is actually going to bear fruit. But rather than it be a complete leap of faith."
What are the marketing challenges?
"We need to start by just telling a better story. We tell the story better. We tell a story that is based and focused on the Slams with these swings. We'll get there. If on top of that we can promote a number of players so that we now no longer say, when a tournament tries to get its stars and has to pay $350,000 to get one of the five so-called stars in the sport, we've got 20 stars, then you got to start asking the question of yourself, who's here rather than who's not here. Because we've got into this habit of saying, who's not here in the draw. Well, Hewitt and Federer didn't make it. Well, you know, you don't say that when you watch Real Madrid play Arsenal playing football. If Thierry Henri is not playing, it's still Arsenal. If Ronaldinho is not playing, you'll still go watch Barcelona. We have to build more equity and value into our sport, into our events. None of you here is asking who's not here because nobody is not here. But, you know, there were times when the top clay guys wouldn't even bother to play Wimbledon. I don't have aspirations to be Wimbledon, but there is a great brand that has built over time and has a real resonance with consumers, casual consumers, too. That's the task. We've got to do that. You get people to care. You have enough fans. There is so much going for the sport...It's gladiatorial. It's the best head-to-head contest you'll see in any endeavor. There's nothing quite as exciting as this. Boxing matches don't last for three hours. We're just not getting enough of this in front of enough people. Once you do that, it kind of takes care of itself."
What are the plans for calendar changes?
"The answer is it looks unlikely in the short term we'll be able to truncate (the season) at all. The reasons being threefold: One is that we've got huge potential untapped and we need to supply in Southeast Asia we need to supply Southeast Asia with more programing. Second reason, we have a very strong, very vibrant indoor tournament structure in the fall all over the world: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Basel, Stockholm, Vienna. They are great traditional tournaments. Ultimately, I'd like in 2009 or 2010, to bring the Masters Cup back to Europe, so it would make sense to have that. Then finally, you've got to squeeze Davis Cup in, as well. You only got eight weeks. The current system requires a week between the end of the US Open and the Davis Cup. So we really, in effect, have only got six weeks, and to try and take a week out of that is just not doing justice to the sport. It's not doing justice to the players. That's why I said I think the way to resolve the issue for player health -- and I had this discussion with players yesterday and the day before -- is that we find other means. We separate back-to-back tournaments. We eliminate five-set finals. We start with 56 draws. We mandate less major events for them so that they've got better and more control over their schedule. I think that's as much going to help cure the problem and get ahead of it with medical insight, research, and technology. And the Australian, Steve Word and I, had a chance at this. He's looking at options. I don't think he needs or necessarily wants to change in the short term. It's not a problem for us the way it is. It starts -- the advantage of it being where it is, it starts the season off with a bang. It's a great way to start a season. The disadvantage is you don't get much of a run length. It's a disadvantage for him. You don't get much of a run length to build, and awareness. You don't get the road to Australian Open the way you can do with [the USTA's] Arlen's [Kantarian] tournament [US Open], which I just think is fantastic."