Spanish newspaper Marca reported last week that the WTA will be renaming its tournaments for the upcoming 2021 season.
Currently, the WTA’s tournaments are structured into 5 categories, Premier Mandatory, Premier Five, Premier, International, and WTA 125K Series.
The proposed changes would bring the women’s tournaments inline with the current ATP Tour naming structure, which groups tournaments by the number of points on offer at each event.
Per the report, the WTA tournaments will be renamed as follows:
- Premier Mandatory and Premier Five events will now be labeled the WTA Masters 1000 tournaments;
- Premier tournaments will become the WTA 500 tournaments;
- WTA International events will become WTA 250; and
- 125k series will become the WTA 125.
It’s likely this means there will also be a change in the number of ranking points up for grabs at each event.
Currently, players who win a Premier tournament are awarded 470 points. But after the new system comes into play, it is likely players will instead be awarded 500 points, similar to how the ATP Tour’s ranking points system operates.
Signalling that there could be future collaboration between the two tours, the news has reignited talk that the ATP and WTA should merge together, something that became a hot topic in 2020.
Long-time advocate for the unification of the tours, Billie Jean King and 20-time major winner Roger Federer were the loudest in those discussions, arguing for the merger of the ATP and WTA, with Federer taking to Twitter to reveal his bewilderment at why the tours hadn’t already teamed up.
I agree, and have been saying so since the early 1970s. One voice, women and men together, has long been my vision for tennis.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) April 22, 2020
The WTA on its own was always Plan B.
I’m glad we are on the same page.
Let’s make it happen. #OneVoice
And it is strange that a merger hasn’t already happened considering all the benefits this union could bring.
King has advocated for the unification of the tours for over 25 years, arguing that standardization would bring greater competition, bigger revenues, and more fans to the game.
“I tried to get us together back in 1968 and 1970 and the men rejected us,” King said. “Roger Federer just brought it up not too long ago, saying that men and women should be together.”
“I have always felt that if we were together, we would have one voice and not just what we can do on the court but what we could do for the world off the court as one.”
“I don’t think it is going to happen in the near future, but I wish I did.”
It begs the question, why haven’t the tours already merged?
The sad truth is tennis has always been a very divided sport which means blanketing its operations under one roof would always be a difficult issue.
Following the dawn of professionalism in the 60s, King sought to unite both male and female tours.
The male players stubbornly refused her proposals and segregated themselves from their female counterparts, which led King to opt for her “plan B” and establish the Women’s Tennis Association.
In 2008 WTA chairman, Larry Scott mooted a similar proposal to try and collaborate more with the ATP Tour, but this was again shot down by the ATP Player Council following disputes over equal pay and was perhaps a contributing factor to Scott’s resignation in 2009.
Scott was subsequently approached by the ATP to take up a CEO position on the men’s tour, but declined the offer, “I wasn’t interested in that, but what I really thought the sport needed to do to unlock its full potential was for the WTA and the ATP to merge.”
“I have a deep belief that that needs to happen. It’s obviously not going to happen on my watch.”
Perhaps now is the right time for both tours to collaborate more.
After the coronavirus pandemic caused pandemonium on the tennis circuit this year, the tours have been forced to work together to ensure certain events could still take place.Embed from Getty Images
With the pandemic causing a massive drop in revenue for both organizations, the tours will now need each other’s support, now more than they ever have done, in order to recover from the pandemic.
That certainly is the end goal of the current ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi, who, while trying to get his head around the quagmire of problems the coronavirus outbreak has caused, asserted that a future collaboration of the two organizations was in the best interests of the game of tennis.
“When it goes back to normal, (I will be) focusing more on the longer vision, the strategy, cooperation between the Grand Slams, WTA and ITF and the bigger picture because you need to know where you want to be in 10, 20 years if you want to have a plan for next year,” Gaudenzi said earlier this year.
What are the benefits of merging the tours?
As a fact, the ATP Tour brings in more revenue than the WTA Tour, earning just over $41 million more than the women’s competition in 2018 (figures from CauseIQ).
Combining the two would certainly increase revenue for the WTA, but could cause a sticking point to arise on how that revenue should be distributed, with the men’s competition being the bigger contributors of the two.
Another issue would be some of the entrenched and frankly prehistoric attitudes of some of the male players on the ATP Tour.
Andy Murray gave insight into how several players reacted to prize money increases that brought the women’s prize funds inline with their ATP counterparts.
“I spoke about that to some of the male players who were unhappy because the prize money was equal. I said: ‘Well, would you rather there was no increase at all?’ And they said to me: ‘Yes, actually,’” Murray recalled.
“That’s some of the sort of the mentalities that you are working within these discussions, where someone would actually rather make less money just so they’re not on an equal footing with some of the female players.”
Credit to Andy Murray for calling this out.
Despite these issues, the benefits of the merger are monumental.
From a financial perspective, combining the two entities would be a lucrative move that would bring in more revenue and save on administrative costs.
Marketers, venue operators, and sponsors would no longer have to choose between which tour they’d like to engage with. Instead, they’d get greater value for money by investing into just one organization that would provide them the benefit of advertising across both the male and female tours.
“This would be the one sport where you could really market to the male and female consumer together,” said Leverage Agency CEO Ben Sturner.
Statistically, the men’s tour gets greater media coverage than the women’s.
With the WTA lagging behind, a merger would certainly help the women’s game gain more traction by running it’s broadcast operations through the same platform as the ATP.
It would also bring some new exposure to the ATP tour. For example, if a match with exciting young talents like Coco Gauff was being broadcast on an ATP or joint channel, it would certainly pull in bigger audiences and create greater publicity for both the ATP and WTA.
And with TV scheduling power lying in the men’s court, a partnership with the ATP and ATP media would provide the WTA with a broader platform to reach bigger audiences around the world.Embed from Getty Images
While both the ATP and the WTA are reeling from the effects of the pandemic, we are still not certain on how next year’s tour scheduling will play out.
What is certain that is the effects of the pandemic will have a knock-on effect for both the WTA and ATP tours next season.
That means perhaps now is the time for the tours to start considering a merger to help them stabilize and build for the future.
“I think this is the right thing to do for both and it’s the right time to do it, because in this difficult time it’s really tough to predict, and there are a lot of talks going on, about the tournaments, the cancellations,” concurred Elina Svitolina.
Although the merger is logistically a long way off, perhaps the WTA’s decision to rename the WTA Tournaments shows a step on the first rung of the ladder towards unification.
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