TIME Mag: "Tennis gets reset" [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

TIME Mag: "Tennis gets reset"

~*BGT*~
11-01-2006, 03:40 PM
Tennis Gets Reset
THE MEN'S ATP TOUR WAS DOUBLE-FAULTING UNTIL A NEW BOSS DEMANDED AND GOT RADICAL CHANGE FROM THE PROS

Just five months into his job as president of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), Etienne de Villiers faced a hostile crowd of doubles pros at the Masters Cup in Shanghai to explain to them why he would have to curtail their sport to save it. The players had already filed suit against the ATP, and there was De Villiers last November, back swinging just four months after cancer surgery, telling them he was going to go ahead with a shortened, no-ad scoring system; a super tie-break instead of a third set; and a rule that doubles players must qualify for singles, thus making it harder for doubles specialists to get into doubles draws. The outraged pros viewed the move as a cost-saving effort to kill that form of the sport--one that out-of-shape executives love to play but rarely pay to watch.

A year later, doubles, which had been losing money for the past 15 years, is thriving using most of those new rules. The ATP signed its first doubles-only sponsor, Stanford Financial Group, and the players have dropped their suit. Through frank talks and fulfilled promises of more doubles promotion and center-court matches--made possible by shortening the format and attracting more top singles players to doubles--the former Walt Disney exec has turned some of his harshest critics into his biggest fans.

Resolving the troubles in doubles is the most visible example of how the straight-shooting South African is reinventing this most conservative sport. Bob Bryan, one of the pros who initiated the lawsuit along with his twin brother Mike--they're the top doubles team in the world--now lobs compliments via e-mail: "He's a cool guy who doesn't need this gig. He just wants to help tennis and the tour."

The structure of the men's professional tour practically begs for a brawl, with lots of competing interests steeped in tradition and little incentive to work together. Unlike many professional sports leagues, which are made up of a collection of more-or-less cooperative clubs, De Villiers represents a coterie of competing constituents. The ATP oversees the maze of tournaments around the globe and is co-owned by the tournament directors and the players, groups whose interests often clash.

The pros are free agents, choosing to play the events they like, while each tournament director scrambles to woo top names. De Villiers is the referee, trying to strengthen tennis while balancing the needs of tournament directors and players. To complicate matters, national or local tennis federations govern the Grand Slams--the Australian, French and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon, the sport's biggest events--and the International Tennis Federation oversees Davis Cup matches between countries. The result is a scheduling nightmare in which even the smallest changes become political.

But De Villiers, 57, may be the perfect candidate to turn tennis around because he has nothing to prove. He's rich and secure. At Disney for 14 years, he most recently ran its international TV business, then he moved on to a private-equity fund. "I've had a great career, and I don't care if I lose my job," says De Villiers, whose cancer is in remission. "So I'm prepared to do the right thing and go to the edge to get there."

He is planning to revamp the sport from day one--starting tourneys on Sundays instead of Mondays to gain more weekend fans. Those four-hour, five-set matches? Gone by 2008, except at the Slams, replaced by best-of-three matches, to reduce player injuries and increase fan interest. The most radical alteration is a round-robin format at smaller tournaments until the final rounds, which would revert to the traditional knockout. That setup would give spectators more opportunities to see marquee players. But the draws would be smaller to accommodate more matches, so fewer low-ranked players could compete. "As much as fans will never come to watch me give a trophy in a beautiful blue suit, they won't show up to watch the 156th guy play," says De Villiers.

The Disney man took over an organization that inked a $1.2 billion TV and marketing deal in 1999 with Swiss company ISL, only to watch that outfit go belly up two years later. To weather the loss, the ATP cut staff, eliminated player bonuses and pushed for more sponsorship dollars. Worse, the sport's U.S. television viewership leveled off; it's nowhere close to golf's.

The ATP's total prize money has remained stagnant for the past two years even as the Grand Slams continue to increase payouts. The tour's 64 events have an estimated total purse of about $60 million for 2006, which is about 8% lower than five years ago. De Villiers is raising the prize money 10% at tour events in 2007--the first significant hike in years.

De Villiers intends to drum up interest by promoting plotlines and player drama--reality TV for the country-club set. "We have the most phenomenal characters of any sport, but we're not doing a good enough job telling the story," he says, his entertainment background evident. (His staff even calls him E.T.) To pitch tennis to the public, De Villiers hired marketing ace Phil Anderton, a veteran of Coca-Cola and the Scottish Rugby League, where he garnered the nickname "Fireworks Phil" for the countless fan-friendly ideas he brought to the sport (yes, including fireworks).

Anderton oversees the ATP's new global-marketing fund, which will increase from $500,000 this year to $5 million next year and reach $10 million by 2009. To pay for it, De Villiers tapped sponsors and taxed tournament directors, insisting that better marketing creates money across the board. "He realizes that tennis is about show business," says Perry Rogers, an ATP board member and president of Agassi Enterprises.

He also thrives on confrontation, which can rub tennis vets the wrong way. "I'm not sure if he knows the difference between a forehand and a backhand," says a tennis insider who requested anonymity. That wouldn't bother De Villiers--and it doesn't matter. Tennis doesn't need a tennis expert; it needs someone who can execute a business plan. It's your serve, Etienne.

http://www.time.com/time/insidebiz/article/0,9171,1552059-2,00.html



Now I know why he's called Mr. Disney.

savesthedizzle
11-01-2006, 03:44 PM
"As much as fans will never come to watch me give a trophy in a beautiful blue suit, they won't show up to watch the 156th guy play," says De Villiers.

Speak for yourself. I went to USO quallies only to see Viktor Troicki. And I would have paid to do so even if USO quallies weren't free.

"I've had a great career, and I don't care if I lose my job," says De Villiers, whose cancer is in remission. "So I'm prepared to do the right thing and go to the edge to get there."


So how do we go about getting this fool fired? :)

lordmanji
11-01-2006, 03:54 PM
im in favor of third set super tie break but not the no-ad scoring; in favor of increased marketing; not in favor of round robin play - i like seeing upsets and up and comers. even the 156th in the worlds. otherwise, good job etienne.

alfonsojose
11-01-2006, 05:09 PM
Perry Rogers, an ATP board member and president of Agassi Enterprises :o So Pure :rolleyes:

alfonsojose
11-01-2006, 05:10 PM
So TMC is really going to be called "Swiss Maid and the seven dwarfs" :lol:

Kalliopeia
11-01-2006, 10:02 PM
I get the feeling that tennis to Etienne de Villiers is a shiny new toy. He's going to poke at it and take it apart and if he breaks it beyond repair in the process, it doesn't matter to him. He can always move on to something else.

scoobs
11-01-2006, 10:11 PM
I don't think people on here quite get that he's not talking to us. He's already hooked us - the tennis fanatics - the people who WILL go and see the World Ranked #156

He's speaking to the VAST MAJORITY of casual fans who want to see recognisable names and faces and rivalries.

I do not endorse everything this man is saying or doing but people need to understand he is not trying to appeal to us.

Johnny Groove
11-01-2006, 10:16 PM
So TMC is really going to be called "Swiss Maid and the seven dwarfs" :lol:

The Swiss Maid, The Spanish Conquistador, The Argentinian Racer, The American Burger, The Croatian Waiter, and the 3 dwarfs :p

Katastrophe
11-01-2006, 10:18 PM
I don't think people on here quite get that he's not talking to us. He's already hooked us - the tennis fanatics - the people who WILL go and see the World Ranked #156

He's speaking to the VAST MAJORITY of casual fans who want to see recognisable names and faces and rivalries.

I do not endorse everything this man is saying or doing but people need to understand he is not trying to appeal to us.

I'd appreciate anything he'd be willing to do to help promote tennis over here. Aside from the US Open, there's literally NOTHING. No coverage over here, but plenty of high school football games and bowling tournaments on ESPN all the time. :rolleyes:

uglyamerican
11-01-2006, 10:21 PM
So how do we go about getting this fool fired? :)

He'll get fired in 1 of 2 ways.

1) Players will not enter the RR tournaments and the fields for these events will be much weaker than the previous year.

2) He pisses off too many tournament directors.

scoobs
11-01-2006, 10:22 PM
If he could sort out US TV coverage that would be something - almost impossible though. Between competing networks and channels buying different rights and often then using them incoherently, he'd have his work cut out for himself trying to create a unified tennis offering.

He'd be better trying to get the internet as a method of delivery working much better with live matches from more tournaments and delayed matches too from tournaments around the world.

atheneglaukopis
11-01-2006, 10:27 PM
If he could sort out US TV coverage that would be something - almost impossible though. Between competing networks and channels buying different rights and often then using them incoherently, he'd have his work cut out for himself trying to create a unified tennis offering.

He'd be better trying to get the internet as a method of delivery working much better with live matches from more tournaments and delayed matches too from tournaments around the world.Agreed.

Katastrophe
11-01-2006, 10:32 PM
If he could sort out US TV coverage that would be something - almost impossible though. Between competing networks and channels buying different rights and often then using them incoherently, he'd have his work cut out for himself trying to create a unified tennis offering.

He'd be better trying to get the internet as a method of delivery working much better with live matches from more tournaments and delayed matches too from tournaments around the world.

*Sigh* I know, just wishful thinking on my part. I can't even get the Tennis Channel either! I've called my cable company so many times to ask about it, they know me by name and sometimes refuse to take my call...:p

Kalliopeia
11-01-2006, 10:32 PM
1) Players will not enter the RR tournaments and the fields for these events will be much weaker than the previous year.

Looking at the list of tournaments slated for round robin next year, the top players aren't going to enter most of them. Many of them didn't this year, anyway. And once they get slapped with the reality of playing more matches every week because of round robin, they really aren't going to want to enter them.

scoobs
11-01-2006, 10:33 PM
The only one where top players are likely to enter is Queens - because on the transition from clay to grass, a guaranteed two matches may be no bad thing.

NicoFan
11-02-2006, 12:42 AM
If he could sort out US TV coverage that would be something - almost impossible though. Between competing networks and channels buying different rights and often then using them incoherently, he'd have his work cut out for himself trying to create a unified tennis offering.

He'd be better trying to get the internet as a method of delivery working much better with live matches from more tournaments and delayed matches too from tournaments around the world.

Agreed.

But I do think there is some hope for TV here in the US. And that's by using a smaller cable station that is on most of the cable providers listings for free. I'm thinking of what Nascar did - by using TNT to build their audience. And now they are on NBC for half the year and Fox for the other half. Of course, they also knew how to market the sport...and they treat their fans wonderfully...unlike tennis.