With tennis dubbed as the ‘sport that never stops’, it remains true that regardless of what time of the year it is, there will always be a tournament somewhere around the globe in progress.
This century has seen an explosion in the number of tournaments on offer for players across all levels and with more events on offer, there is also a significant amount of planning and organising required.
Peter Johnston knows this process all too well having found himself as a well-established tournament director, a position that comes with its challenges and requires an open mind.
Johnston joined The First Serve Monday Night radio program earlier this month to discuss some of the challenges that are impacting tournaments, including the increased need for events to create their own unique image which has in part, been impacted by the pandemic.
As Johnston explains, tournament identity has become more prominent due to the plethora of events on offer for players.
As such, the challenge for tournament directors has been trying to create a point of difference and their own differing personality to attract not just the players but also fans, broadcasters and sponsors.
“You’ve got to create a personality where not just the players buy in but also the sponsors and broadcasters buy in so it’s just a relentless selling,” Johnston told The First Serve.
“You have to be very durable. You have a lot of punch the air moments with satisfaction, but you have a lot of punch the wall moments when something goes wrong.”
The Australian Open has successfully developed a strong identity which associates the tournament as the ‘happy slam’ reflected by the accessibility, colour and friendly nature it presents.
Likewise, Wimbledon has created their own image with the continuation of traditions that help add to the prestige and regal distinction associated with the event.
Having recently travelled to Wimbledon myself, I quickly realised that the preserved traditional elements enhance this event and while I can understand the need for change in certain facets, Wimbledon creates an atmosphere that sets itself apart, making the player and spectator experience memorable.
For Johnston, the biggest problem he and other tournament directors now face is the lack of lead up time.
This issue has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic which at the time forced some tournaments to have limited and unrealistic time frames to prepare.
“The longer lead time to create the personality of a tournament the better,” he said.
“If you haven’t got the lead time its then very hard to do the deals, its hard to sign the players and its hard to create the identity.”
A lack of lead time is still impacting the sport even in the aftermath of the pandemic which is making Johnston’s role evolve further, where he has to be agile and prepared to pivot on the fly.
One of the prime examples of condensed lead up time causing issues and flow on affects is the WTA finals which Johnston says will be extremely difficult to rally broadcasters and creates uncertainty for players and fans.
“The WTA finals, the premier event on the women’s tour and we’re August and we don’t know where they’re playing,” he said.
“So how do you really make a dollar when you’ve got such a short lead time to maximise it?
“You can’t sell your broadcast rights for the same money because broadcasters have already committed so it’s a massive chain reaction.”
With media coverage, particularly in the Australian landscape, starting to generate more discussion, effectively organising and directing a tournament has never been more important, so that the sport can maximise its image and bolster the number of eyeballs engaging directly with it.
Meanwhile, Johnston has a strong book of tournaments under his profile including ATP 250 events in Zhuhai and Tel Aviv while also taking charge of the Kooyong Classic which occurs before the Australian Open in early January.