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“ATP and WTA will do more and more together” – Analysing WTA chief Steve Simon’s promise

Roger Federer’s twitter suggestion in April that the ATP and WTA should merge sparked a continuing conversation about the merits of greater collaboration between the men and women, for the benefit of all.

ATP and WTA stars ATP and WTA stars

In his wide-ranging interview with Tennis Majors, the WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon covered many subjects, from the impact of Covid-19 on the sport, to the plans for 2021 and how it may not be until 2022 before we see full stadiums again. But of everything we learned, the fact that the WTA and ATP are likely to work together even more closely in the future could be the most important of all.

As a reminder, here’s what Steve Simon said about what the WTA’s recent alignment of its tournament titles with those of the ATP Tour might mean for the potential merger between the ATP and WTA, mooted earlier this year by Roger Federer.

“I think a lot should be read into it… Andrea (Gaudenzi, the ATP chairman) has spoken to it and I have as well, that the more we work together, the better. I think this is a perfect example. When I approached the ATP that we were considering this and for the reasons, they didn’t hesitate at all and they certainly could have… I wouldn’t want to encroach upon it (the names of events) unless they were supportive. I think it was done purely for an effort to obviously make it easier for the fans and media to understand what the levels of events are. And I think it’s a very positive step and showing everybody that we are actually working together. Through this last year, I think the entire sport has worked closer than it ever has together. I think situations like this do bring people together and it’s been positive. And I think you’re going to see the ATP and the WTA doing more and more together, which I think is something very, very positive.”

Are you and Andrea (Gaudenzi) in regular contact over issues and matters going forward?

“We speak fairly regularly. Andrea and Massimo (Calvelli, the ATP CEO), obviously, leading the team, and their executive team as well. Our teams do speak a lot together. We speak on a regular basis, as appropriate and as needed. But no, we have a lot of respect for everybody at the ATP. And the more we can work together, the better.”

Steve Simon, WTA chairman

Greater collaboration is inevitable

There are many hurdles to overcome if there is ever to be what we would usually think of as a full merger between the two Tours. The greater bargaining power of the Tours is an obvious benefit but both Tours will want to retain their own identity, too. The logistics of it all will take a lot of time; all the existing deals would need to be renegotiated.

Would there be a combined player council, for example? There seems to have been a real shift, though, in the way the two Tours feel about each other, and perhaps the pandemic, and all the financial uncertainty and hardship it has brought, will be the spark they needed to work together more and more.

Certainly, greater co-operation is likely, and in fact, it has already begun, with Madrid extending their tournament to be held over two weeks. We should probably expect more combined tournaments, pooling resources, reducing costs and boosting revenues. The new ATP leadership has some big ideas, and with the slams more powerful than ever, if the Tours can have a united front, it can only help, especially in a year when the uncertainty over the 2021 Australian Open shows what difficulties both Tours could have.

The idea of a merger is not new, of course. In 2008, then WTA chief Larry Scott wanted the Tours to merge but it was blocked by the men over the always thorny, but increasingly out-dated argument about equal prize money. If there is to be a merger, they will need to move on. The fact that it was Roger Federer who started the discussion anew with his tweet in April about a possible merger surely means something. And if they’re all earning more, then that ought to help.

Engaging fans, sponsors, television

A merger – or greater collaboration – would also help to engage fans in a simple, united way. You can imagine a united Tour using social media to sell the sport better, to get fans talking about bigger issues. Sponsors and television, in particular, would surely benefit from a single product that they could promote and place better in the schedules.

Simon says he did not know that Federer was going to Tweet what he did. Though the ATP must have done – the subsequent follow-ups from the likes of Rafael Nadal were too well-scripted and swift for it to be anything other than co-ordinated – we’ll have to take him at his word. The likes of Andy Murray are also firmly in favour and if you have the biggest names in the sport pulling in the same direction, then it’s a hard train to stop.

“If you talked to Serena (Williams) or Venus (Williams) or any of them, you would hear some similar comments and our Player Council would love to see us working together, too,” Simon said.

“So I think it’s something that I certainly believe in, us working strongly together. There’s obviously challenges and a lot of business issues that make it challenging at times to get it across. But I think the more that we do it and the more we keep pushing that direction, it clearly is the right thing to do.” (Federer’s tweet) created conversation. I think that’s the best way that you can describe it and where it went.”

There is a long, long way to go and any merger will take years to pull off. But the fact that the two Tours clearly want to work together more and more is an obvious indication of the direction in which they intend to take the sport.

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