Back in March, The First Serve gave its readers an insight into the behind the scenes goings-on with respect to tennis’ governance crisis in the article: Change is Coming.
In the few months since what was essentially just an ideological concept, the Vasek Pospisil and Novak Djokovic co-founded Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), has come to life.
Armed with an all-star advisory board and (albeit non-universal) player support, the PTPA is seeking to correct the shortcomings that tennis’ governing bodies have failed to address for decades.
By way of background, the PTPA was formed by Pospisil and Djokovic, who grew increasingly disenfranchised with the efforts of the ATP Player Council (on which they sat) and their inability to effectively advocate and create change for the interests of the players themselves.
One of the common complaints was that the ATP would too often yield to the interests of the tournaments over that of the players – who felt they were too busy trying to focus on their careers to be able to assimilate themselves in complex commercial negotiations.
Despite the ATPs current structure being designed to treat these two groups (players and tournaments) on equal footings, their interests too often conflict.
According to its newly created website – and very active social media accounts – the PTPA is designed by the players for the players and is mobilizing to create transparency and fairness throughout the decision-making in professional tennis.
The PTPA will act as a union to represent the interest of players free from the shackles and conflicts of interests that erode the efficacy of the current ATP and WTA structures.
Alongside Pospisil and Djokovic on its advisory board sits Executive Director Adam Larry – founder of Joreal Consulting who presently works with the respective players associations of the NHL and NBA and Carrie Gerlach Cecil, an American jack of all trades, who sits on the board to lead brand and communications strategy. Gerlach Cecil began her career working with Honourable Senator John McCain and is CEO of ANACHEL a global marketing and communications firm.
The remaining seats are occupied by Bill Ackman, Michael Hirshfeld, Rebecca Macdonald, Dr. Katarina Pijetlovic, and Anton Rabie who together provide legal, investing, managerial and executive experience across a number of relevant sectors.
Unsurprisingly, the birth of the PTPA has already ruffled a few feathers and the number of players supporting the cause is growing. While Federer and Nadal have distanced themselves from the PTPA, names like Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime, Karlovic, Zverev, Querrey, Raonic, Isner, Berrettini, Hurkaczand Schwartzman have all publicly sided with the PTPA.
Mind you, what is of more interest than this subplot to the Djokovic, Nadal and Federer rivalry is that there seems to be no real (public) support for the PTPA in the women’s game. Surprisingly, the most visible female supporter of the PTPA is #435 ranked Brit, Tara Moore. Moore insists that there is locker room support for the PTPA in the women’s game but that many are afraid of speaking out due to fear of whether any change will help or hinder them.
Meanwhile, the ATP has publicly stated they do not believe they can effectively co-exist together. But that’s the point. The status-quo in the world of professional tennis doesn’t work.
American Ryan Harrison recently took to Twitter to say, among other things: “This isn’t personal… It’s not about who your favourite player is… This is a broken system. This is a system that has proven incapable of being successful and has been left far behind from other sports.”
Also in Harrison’s statement is the particularly poignant remark when referencing the current ATP structure that is designed to treat the tournaments and players on a 50-50 basis: “if you were in a courtroom and you were on trial, would you want your [defence] attorney also representing [the] prosecution?”
Implicit in Harrison’s frustration is the simple fact that tennis, as an industry, makes a small minority of athletes obscenely wealthy while the rest struggle to afford basic necessities.
The issue is not that the likes of Osaka or Federer should give up their part of the pie – they’re the best in the world; they deserve their riches – rather, the issue is that the pie should be bigger.
This point, in particular, is one that the PTPA has been frequently addressing on its social platforms.
The PTPA has been disseminating information highlighting the financial shortcomings at the sports lower rungs. Graphs showing the lack of prize money with respect to total revenue and average wages for players ranked 301-400 compared to those in other sports have been repeatedly posted.
Beyond sharing crucial information, the PTPA has already achieved its first mission.
Recently, the ATP Tour Board of Directors was in the process of pushing through a vote to formalise the ATP’s “strategic plan”; which is a 30-year deal that will provide licenses to the Masters 1000 tournaments and aggregate the rights of players, including player data, under the ATP Media umbrella for the benefit of the tournaments (the Plan).
In fairness, the Plan also included increased prize money at Masters 1000 events and ATP 500 level events.
What was missing from the Plan, however, was details as to how these data rights and media rights licenses would affect players, timelines on when lower-level tournaments would see increased prizemoney, information on what benefits the players would receive, and why the Plan needed to be 30 years long.
Consequently, the PTPA formed a campaign to #DelayTheVote and demanded the ATP provide answers to 30 questions that the PTPA stated were crucial to understand what they call a backroom deal negotiated in secret.
Although the PTPA did not necessarily receive answers to all of their questions, they were proud to report that the ATP vote has been delayed for the time being.
For our purposes the depths and intricacies of the PTPA’s concerns with the Plan need not be explored in full – however, it suffices to say that the PTPA is already making big moves.
Notwithstanding its somewhat chaotic first few months, the PTPA is well and truly here to create disruption. It is right to say that the sport is well past due for structural reform and fundamental change. The current norms do not work. And the fact that the most well-compensated individual in tennis history, Novak Djokovic, is leading the charge – should speak volumes.
Watch this space.
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