It would be a seemingly harmless statement if it had been written by a tennis player or fan over time to contemplate the state of the sport.
It’s a great idea that has been launched more times than anyone can count. But because this time the player was Roger Federer, and the comment was made via Twitter megaphone during times of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the comment immediately gained traction. The result was a wave of support for the suggestion by the Swiss icon.
“You’re not the only one,” number 2 female player Simona Halep tweeted.
” I agree [about the need to merge], and have been saying it since the early 1970s, ” tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted. “One voice, women and men together, has long been my vision of tennis. The WTA itself has always been Plan B. “
Rafael Nadal was among the male players and tennis commentators who consistently support who rang: “Hey @rogerfederer as you know from our discussions, I totally agree that it would be great to come out of this global crisis with the union of male and female tennis in one organization. “
Clearly, the social distancing that the pandemic has required, as well as the shutdown of economic activity, has caused people to step back and take a deep breath, looking at their respective professions with fresh eyes.
“When things are going well, no one wants to give up anything in a business. You can’t get anyone to focus on change, “Chris Kermode, executive president and president of ATP from 2014 to 2019, told ESPN.com. “You tend to get people to focus on different ideas and potential changes during a crisis. Necessity therefore drives many of these decisions. “
The crisis is obvious: professional tennis stopped on the eve of the Indian Wells combined event, and no ATP or WTA tournament will be played until at least July 13, the week after the end of Wimbledon, s ‘it had not been canceled. The economic impact of the lockout has been profound, especially for players ranked outside the top 200.
Administrators of ATP and WTA have developed a new interest in bridging the gap between tours in recent months, even before the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
At the Australian Open in January, WTA President Micky Lawler met Andrea Gaudenzi, Kermode’s successor, and officials from Tennis Australia, to discuss ways to build a closer working relationship between tours. The first item on the agenda: the creation of a female event for the opening ATP Cup of the season, with as much in common as possible.
“We are talking about a WTA Cup to be launched in 2022,” Lawler wrote to ESPN.com in an email at the time. “It’s in the works. “
Vasek Pospisil, a representative of the ATP Player Council, who openly criticized the pricing structure in tennis and the perceived lack of player power, wrote in response to Federer: “Hey @rogerfederer & @RafaelNadal. Excellent idea. ATP has been working on it since it presented the vision to us in January. “
The main stumbling block to uniting circuits under one roof has been the reluctance of the historically more profitable ATP circuit to devote its own resources to the WTA circuit.
In addition, basic ATP players have traditionally been lukewarm about the idea of merged tours. Count Nick Kyrgios as skeptical not entirely bewitched by Federer’s suggestion. “Someone asked the majority of ATP [players] what they think about the merger with the WTA and how it is good for us? “
Another obstacle to realignment plans is the governance structure of tennis. The sport is more or less managed by a committee, with four different governing bodies and seven stakeholders with a skin in the game. The governing bodies: ATP, WTA, ITF (Fédération Internationale de Tennis) and the Grand Slam Board (a panel representing the four Grand Slam events).
“If it is ever profitable for both parties to merge, it will happen,” said Kermode, who more than doubled the price of ATP and presided over soaring attendance figures during his tenure. five years. “But until then, that will not be the case. If one tour is better than the other, why do it? The two must be encouraged to merge. “
In a follow-up tweet, Federer said he was not arguing for “the merger of competition on the ground”, but for the merger of ATP and WTA. He wrote: “It is too confusing for fans when there are different ranking systems, different logos, different websites, different categories of tournaments. “
Some disparities between the circuits and their operation could be overcome quite easily. A shared logo, website, filing system and database would be most welcome for most stakeholders, as would a joint broadcast partner on subscription for events of lesser interest to the major networks.
A closer partnership could also open the door to more combined events, not all at the highest level like Indian Wells. But it could get tricky. This could mean cutting jobs by up to 50% for both tours, or creating events with larger draws and more playing days. The tournaments currently on the calendar should be knocked down, but they have full rights to the games. stakeholders.
Other issues, such as sponsorship agreements, broadcast contracts and awards, would present more daunting challenges. “I think the goal would be to work more closely together,” said Kermode. “An organization will certainly not happen in the short term. “
The current crisis could further encourage touring to go ahead and strengthen the spirit of cooperation. It is also difficult to see what concrete steps can be taken in the near future, as the tours are working out the details of a multi-million dollar back-up plan to provide financial support to the less fortunate players. classified on both tours.
It is impossible to say what the climate will look like when the visits resume, and the feeling of shared difficulties and the need for mutual support begins to fade. It is unlikely that a merger will be a priority because the tours are trying to make up for lost ground. A merger that radically transforms the ingrained structure of professional gaming would be an extremely difficult, complex and expensive undertaking, even in the best of cases.
ATP and WTA primarily organize their respective tours, sanctioning tournaments that provide voters with a career. This includes the ability to play and earn income, ranking, marketing and media awareness. Neither ATP nor the WTA is or can be a union under current US labor law. The players are not tour (or gaming in general) employees but individual contractors who, if they attempted to unionize, would violate antitrust laws.
The ITF is the governing body of the global recreational game as well as the owner and / or promoter of various professional competitions, including a circuit for aspiring ATP and WTA pros and the Davis and Fed Cups. National associations such as the USTA are affiliated with and provide significant funding to the ITF. This allows affiliates to benefit from, among other things, the status of a non-profit organization.
The Grand Slam Council speaks on behalf of the four majors when they share a common interest (such as an official Grand Slam code of conduct) or have to act in unison. But each Grand Slam entity is also an independent stakeholder, free to do whatever they want. The promoters of the French Open demonstrated this in mid-March when, without consulting their partners, postponed this year’s tournament until September. It should start only a few days after the conclusion of the US Open – if this event even occurs.
The officials of the French Tennis Federation have taken a lot of heat for their action; however, as more and more tournaments fell, including at Wimbledon, critics quieted down. There is a chance that at least three Grand Slam tournaments can be played this year (the US and the French Open).
ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said: “Everyone was upset about the move to the French Open, but after a while I thought” good for them “. I hope that in a few months we will have an incredibly busy schedule. Perhaps we could end up with the best three months of tennis ever. “
Tennis has a Gordian knot of governors, but it is an international sport of individuals rather than teams. Golf has a similar structure, with independent entities such as the PGA, LPGA, R&A and USGA working together to administer different aspects of the sport, including separate professional tours for men and women.
“It is easy to write that tennis is dysfunctional because of all these governing bodies,” said Kermode. “But it’s not unusual in international sports to have this. In the end, when you think about change, you should always ask yourself: “What are the benefits? The answer will tell you if something is worth it. “
The benefits of merging and advancing the game into a new era without some of the gender imbalances of the past is a particularly attractive idea in the current circumstances, especially with revered names advocating it. This hiatus has encouraged people to think about better ways of doing things. But once they get back to doing things, these ideas could be put on the back burner as the daily realities of life on both tours take over.