Gaudenzi: Agility & Efficiency Needed In COVID-19 Year

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ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi discusses how tennis stakeholders are collaborating for a safe return to play following the suspension of the Tour since March. The Italian also talks about the Tour structure, future opportunities and how tennis can emerge stronger from the pandemic.

The world of tennis has been through a lot recently, including the announcement of the revised calendar from August. Could you explain how some of these major decisions are made at the ATP and across tennis? What are some of the difficulties involved in the process?
Firstly, it’s important to outline the structure we have in place at the ATP, which is fairly unique in sport. The ATP is an equal partnership between players and tournaments, and that’s reflected in our core governance structure.

At the top, we have the ATP Board of Directors which is responsible for the main decision-making on the Tour. The Board consists of seven people: three Tournament Representatives and three Player Representatives, and myself as ATP Chairman. Essentially, it’s a 50-50 representation reflecting the equal partnership between players and tournaments that embodies the ATP. While each Board member is elected by their stakeholders, they have a fiduciary duty to do what is right for the Tour overall.

Beneath the Board you have the Player and Tournament Councils, elected by their constituents to represent the wider interests of the players and tournaments, respectively.

Overall, it’s a very democratic ‘pyramid’-style structure. The challenges inevitably arise due to the vast array of differing views and perspectives not only on the player side, but also with tournaments. A 20-year-old player ranked in the Top 200 will likely have very different priorities to a 30-year-old ranked in the Top 20 or doubles player ranked 80. Equally, on the tournament side, the financials of an ATP 250 tournament are very different to a Masters 1000.

So, the challenge in our system really comes from the hugely disparate points of views that we have to consider in our decision-making. While it is essential that we listen to everybody’s views, the reality is that consensus can be hard to come by. We cannot cater to individual interests and the Board must do what we believe is right for the sport overall, which ultimately, I strongly believe it is in the best interest of both players and tournaments. And we cannot simply look at matters through the lens of tournaments and players – but also our sponsors, media partners, and most importantly from the fan perspective. We must remember that the fans are the ones driving the commercial success of the sport across on-site attendance, TV viewership, and as the target audience for our sponsors.

Inevitably there are difficult decisions to be made and we cannot make everybody happy. Also keep in mind that we must also work collaboratively with the WTA, ITF and Grand Slams, especially in navigating the current crisis and finding solutions for tennis to return safely. This collaboration around complex issues is now more important than ever in order for us to grow the sport to a different level.

When balancing varied interests in decision making, what is ATP’s overall goal and priority?
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, our number one priority has been protecting health. This always has been and always will be the factor that most informs how and when tennis is able to resume and we make no decisions without consulting relevant medical experts. We have robust and exhaustive protocols in place to be implemented at ATP events in order to mitigate risks of infection but we must also be realistic that it is not possible to remove all risk.

After health, our primary goal is to pursue the greater good for our sport, and to try to salvage as much of the season as we can in terms of playing opportunities, ranking points, prize money, and delivering our sport for the fans who are eager to see tennis again.

We realise that the resumption of the calendar is not perfect by any means – we would love to have more events and more playing opportunities, and more space between our marquee events to ease player scheduling. The reality is that the economic impact of the crisis has meant that tournaments further down the pyramid are less able to weather the storm than those at the top. But does that mean we should hold back the whole Tour until the situation is fully back to normal? Our judgment was that we need to start somewhere and if we have tournaments at the top level that are able to run, and in a safe environment, providing earning opportunities not only for players but for the whole industry, well that’s a start.

The way in which we make this return balanced and fair for all, in terms of playing opportunities, including the Challenger Tour, prize money, the FedEx ATP Rankings, travel, is something that we will continue to work on.

In the long term, I am optimistic that with the preventative measures developed and the unity shown by tennis’ stakeholders, tennis will be back stronger than ever and will continue to grow for years to come.

Andrea Gaudenzi began serving as ATP Chairman on 1 January, 2020.

Regarding the ATP Tour resumption, which stakeholders were involved in decision-making?
It’s been a long process over many months that has resulted in a completely revised calendar under new terms. We’ve had to be agile and creative, and the process has involved compromise and concessions on all sides. The Board and the Councils have been a key part of that process. We also had group calls with all tournaments and all players.

And just as importantly, our decisions were made in close collaboration with WTA, USTA, FFT and ITF. There were many moving parts to finding a revised schedule that fitted around dates, venue availability, health and safety, and travel restrictions amongst other considerations. What we have is a workable schedule that salvages as many events and earning opportunities as possible and I want to thank everyone involved for their efforts. Much work lies ahead and we continue to monitor global travel restrictions with player access in mind while final decisions ultimately rest in the hands of local governments, keeping in mind the situation related to Covid-19 is continually evolving.

In general terms, a time of crisis like this accentuates the need for a nimble and fast decision-making process. And while the Board is responsible for setting the overall strategic direction of the Tour, the management needs to be empowered to take day-to-day decisions if we want to run the business professionally. One of the things I’ve learnt in my years working in start-ups is that ‘done is better than perfect’. Decisions have to be taken and it won’t necessarily be perfect – but it’s better than waiting for a perfect solution that will never come as you watch others pass you by.

Do you think the circumstances around the ATP Tour’s resumption in August creates a fair playing field?
One of the great things about our sport is that it is truly global and meritocratic, based off ranking. We all know how important the FedEx ATP Rankings are – it’s the fabric that essentially ties the whole Tour together.

The impact of the pandemic challenges the essence of our Tour on many fronts – not only economically, but in terms of travel restrictions, quarantine etc. For a truly global Tour like ours that involves so much international travel, it’s very challenging.

It’s not going to be perfect from the outset and it will take some time but it’s something we will continue to work on and try and ensure as fair and balanced outcome for everyone involved in terms of playing opportunities, prize money and the fairest way possible for the rankings to resume.

How fair are the concerns within tennis around the circumstances of resumption, including which events have been rescheduled, FedEx ATP Ranking points, restrictions on player entourages etc.?
I think it’s natural for there to be a level of concern. The global situation with COVID-19 is rapidly developing and that presents a lot of unknowns.

I believe our precautions and protocols are well informed and under the current plans, some of the biggest ATP events in our sport should still be able to be staged safely despite the circumstances.

In the end though, we can have the most robust plans in place but collaboration and approval from local governments will be key, and we’ll continue to monitor international travel restrictions as the situation evolves weekly.

Some groups have expressed some frustration at not being more involved or aware of decisions. How effectively do you feel major decisions have been communicated?
We do our best to communicate decisions in an effective and timely way, keeping in mind that there are constraints and confidentiality requirements that must be respected in certain situations. In today’s world of social media, information spreads very quickly. That can be both an opportunity and a challenge at the same time.

At a certain point though, in order for a business to be run effectively, you cannot consult each player or tournament member on every item. While we would love to be as inclusive as possible, it is simply not scalable to micro-manage in that way. We would be extremely inefficient and we are simply not set up that way as a business; no organisation is. That’s where our governance structure needs to come into play, with the Councils and the Board, who are elected to represent their constituents, which is key to allowing us to be nimble.

How well do you feel the structure is working in terms of the having the vast array of stakeholders represented?
Any player or tournament representative on the Board or Councils should be held accountable via the election process we have in place – they have to be fully empowered and in the end, they can be voted in or out. And the same applies for my role as ATP Chairman.

A separate question is whether the ATP governance structure needs to be tweaked or modernised in any way. You can have the best governance structure in place but in the end the structure relies on the people and interpretation from stakeholders in order for it to work effectively. We’ll continue to assess if any adjustments need to be made there.

Separately the question of a broader governance structure that incorporates WTA, ITF and the Grand Slams is something that should be addressed for the benefit of the whole sport.

There have been a lot of questions over the income distribution in tennis and how to make the lower levels more viable. What is your view on that and how can it be addressed?
If you look at the numbers, total prize money across the ATP Tour, Challenger Tour and Grand Slams has more than doubled between 2009 and 2019, reaching more than US$270 million last year. And the biggest annual percentage increases have been directed towards the qualifying and early rounds in an effort to spread prize money to more players. So there have been some impressive increases in recent years.

Can we be doing better as a sport? I believe so, otherwise I would not have taken this role. For me the question is how can the sport come together and collaborate in a meaningful way that will raise the bar for everyone. Related to that, we must ask if the distribution of prize money is working as designed for what we are trying to achieve as a sport.

We have a strategic plan in motion which hopes to address these areas. The focus, first and foremost, is on growing the whole pie for the entire sport but also ensuring redistribution down through the tennis ecosystem all the way through to the Challenger Tour, which is required if we want a healthy sport that is appealing as a viable career path.

What are your predictions for the sport of tennis as it returns post COVID?
I think this pandemic has shown that tennis is stronger when we all work together and empower the respective boards, not only in the decision-making but right through to presenting a unified front as a sport. Tennis has enormous potential when its stakeholders work together and there will be a lot of upside if we can continue in that direction.

Separately, our sport’s business model has always relied strongly on ticketing revenues, particularly in comparison to some other sports. Having seen how difficult it has been for tournaments to be economically viable with reduced or no fans on-site, the pandemic has accentuated that reliance on on-site attendance. It shows more than ever that we need to look at our operations and ensure we’re investing in the right areas that have the most potential, particularly in technology, media and data, where I believe we have a lot of room for growth.

There is a lot of work ahead as we look to get the Tour back up and running, but I’m optimistic about the long-term prospects of our sport if we continue to stay united and work together.

Source ATP World Tour

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