ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi: We're all on the same side – that's team tennis

Gaudenzi speaks to The National about plans to expand in Saudi Arabia, his 'OneVision' strategy, and the threat of a possible civil war in tennis

Andrea Gaudenzi was re-elected for a second term earlier this year that would see him continue to serve as ATP chairman through 2026.
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Professional tennis’ first foray into Saudi Arabia saw Hamad Medjedovic clinch the Next Gen ATP Finals title in front of a capacity crowd in Jeddah.

Andrea Gaudenzi, the chairman of the ATP, attended the final day of action at King Abdullah Sports City's indoor arena and says the tour’s first experience in the Kingdom was generally positive, despite the teething issues that are expected with any first-year event.

“I think I've heard very, very good feedback, both from the players and from my team, in terms of execution, the infrastructure here is impressive. The amount of work, investment and passion into the details has been amazing. I also looked at it on TV and it looked very nice. So yeah, I’m very, very, very pleased,” Gaudenzi told The National on the sidelines of the tournament now in its sixth edition following a five-year stint in Milan.

The Next Gen ATP Finals features eight of the world’s best players aged 21 and under. It was that criteria that attracted the Saudi Tennis Federation to host the event as a way to engage with the Kingdom’s predominantly young population.

But as has been the trend with other sports, Saudi Arabia is keen to expand its involvement in tennis by staging bigger events across both the men’s and women’s tours.

“We are exploring a number of different opportunities" with Saudi Arabia, said Gaudenzi.

“And we are here obviously, so we want to work with Saudi. I think we had very good relations the last couple of years, very interesting discussions.

“They have expressed the willingness and the desire to do more in sport and in tennis. I think the biggest challenge on our side is the calendar. In all honesty, it's very tight, it's very jammed.

“But the desire for us to actually be here and be in the region, because we value the Middle East a lot, is there.

“I think we're going to have to work it out together in phases or we're looking at all opportunities. We don't have the solutions at the moment, but we're definitely going to keep discussing with all the parties.”

An announcement regarding the WTA Finals signing a multi-year deal with Saudi Arabia is said to be in the works, but Gaudenzi hopes the Next Gen ATP Finals will become a combined event that unites the best young players on the men’s and women’s tours in Jeddah – an idea that was floated for this year’s edition but never materialised.

“We did already try to push it forward. I definitely would like the idea to have Next Gen being combined and to see the top eight [21-and-under] men and women together, I really liked that concept a lot. And hopefully it can come to reality ... Obviously, this is beyond my control,” added Gaudenzi.

Threat of a spin-off tour?

The 50-year-old Italian was re-elected for a second term earlier this year that will see him serve as ATP chairman through 2026. A former top-20 player, Gaudenzi’s chairmanship has centred around his ‘OneVision’ strategy, which is based on three core principles: driving unity, enhancing the fan experience, and leveraging scalable growth opportunities in media, data, content and technology.

Tennis’ fragmented structure is one of the main reasons the sport has been unable to maximise its financial potential with its seven stakeholders – ATP, WTA, ITF, and the four Grand Slams – rarely aligned.

As Gaudenzi’s OneVision strategy enters its second phase, which is meant to foster unity among the various stakeholders and among players and tournaments, a recent report in The Athletic suggested that the four Grand Slams are plotting to form a partnership between themselves and the nine ATP Masters 1000 events to create "a premium tour that resembles a tennis version of Formula One”.

According to the report, a 10th Masters tournament would be added, to be staged in Saudi Arabia.

Is there a real danger that the tour’s biggest events, the Masters 1000s, would leave the ATP’s umbrella and join forces with the Grand Slams?

“No, in my opinion, absolutely not,” replied Gaudenzi.

“I think that generally there is a lot of noise in that regard. I think what I've been extremely vocal about the last four years with OneVision is that we need to figure out a way to work together, right?

“Because ultimately, whatever was written in that article, it's definitely the concept of focusing on a premium product, which will mean the Slams and the Masters and the premium product, all together combined, is a very powerful proposition for the consumers. That I agree with 100 per cent. That's what we are trying to do with OneVision.

“Obviously, I don't know, different people probably come up with different ideas on how to get there.”

‘Having civil war doesn’t help’

Gaudenzi believes tennis should not compete with itself and instead unite to compete with other sports and entertainment organisations.

He feels division, like the one suggested in The Athletic report “will only destroy value, not create value.

“And there is also another problem: in some cases it’s difficult to come back. Because then you hinder the relationship and it becomes even more difficult.

“Ultimately, I think you can get there by building on top of the value that we have today rather than destroying and creating disruption, which I think ultimately, it's always more expensive, it’s time and energy and money-consuming, it’s not necessary.”

Gaudenzi doesn’t believe the Grand Slams have any interest in purchasing other tournaments or running their own tour and says they actually prefer to “simplify the narrative”.

“I'm 100 per cent pro unity and pro finding solutions through conversations in a room. I strongly believe we can agree a lot more than we actually believe, when you're together,” said Gaudenzi.

“Because ultimately we are aligned. We are all pushing for tennis to be stronger and growing, vis-à-vis the other sports and vis-à-vis the other entertainment properties. So we're on the same side, we're on the same team – that's team tennis. Having civil war doesn't help.”

Gaudenzi has also warned that a spin-off tour could further confuse fans. “So it would be a massive mistake to go down that direction,” he added.

Transparency, profit-sharing and guaranteed base earnings

While many challenges lie ahead, there are significant accomplishments that have been achieved during Gaudenzi’s tenure through his strategic plan.

The ATP is a membership organisation of tournaments and players but historically players had no access to the financials of the tournaments they were participating in. But in 2022, a game-changing 50-50 profit-sharing initiative was introduced which gave players full transparency on the economics of tournaments, via auditors, and gave them access to half of the profits made by these events, based on a specific formula.

The first profit-sharing payout for the 2022 season – announced last month – resulted in an additional $12.2 million Bonus Pool distribution to players, which increased the total player compensation this year by a record $50 million.

Gaudenzi says the profit-sharing initiative has fostered trust between players and tournaments and has changed the dynamic among their representatives in board meetings.

“It’s like we are on the same boat and it's a lot easier to make decisions and there is a feeling of, we're a team rather than before, you could see players and tournaments sitting on the opposite side of the table, it was almost like a tennis game,” he explained. “You know, I serve faster, I have to return faster but now it's a team. And that is the mindset that I'm trying to change also at the higher level with WTA and the Grand Slams.

“I think we are in a very, very good place with WTA. We are discussing Tennis Ventures which is a merger of all the commercial entities – ATP Media, TDI [Tennis Data Innovations] and WTA Ventures."

“And I'm also not shy in saying that the progress with Grand Slams in the last few years has been slower than I would have wished. But I'm still optimistic.”

The ATP also announced an unprecedented Baseline programme which will guarantee base earnings for players ranked in the top 250, provide injury protection compensation, and offer newcomer investment funding for players who have broken into the top 125 for the first time.

Since player earnings have always been directly related to performance, the Baseline programme offers a degree of financial security to the players, irrespective of their results.

Currently, the ATP is the sole contributor to the baseline programme but Gaudenzi believes the benefit can be much greater if the Grand Slams contributed as well.

“I think we can make player welfare a lot better if the wider group would also contribute. But giving that feeling to them of security I think is very, very important for their career and their mental health,” he said.

Undervalued media rights

As Gaudenzi puts it, phase one of OneVision strategy was about “getting our house in order” and phase two is about achieving goals that involve collaborating with other stakeholders.

A key challenge has been how undervalued tennis’ media rights have been. While broadcast deals are usually one of the biggest sources of revenue in other sports, that is not the case in tennis, once again due to its fragmented structure.

“It's probably the biggest untapped opportunity in our sport. And the solution to that is one word: aggregation,” said Gaudenzi.

“If we were able to go to market with the Grand Slams, ATP, WTA package, premium product, to market, especially today, where big global streamers, the Apples, the Netflix, or the Amazon, are coming into sport, it will be a very, very, very compelling package.

“Two-hundred days of premium product, lots of volume; if you compare that to Formula One which is two, three hours per race, 23 races per year ... I think we can be a very, very compelling proposition.

“The problem is that we all go to market separately, market by market. That's very inefficient and it also creates pain points for the fans.

“You need three, four, five subscriptions per market to actually follow tennis [on TV]. We make it difficult for fans to follow the story rather than say, ‘hey, free aperitivo, come and have dinner in our restaurant. Here is a plate of pasta’.

“So aggregation basically means again a deal with a Grand Slams and the WTA. It's OneVision. One of the goals of OneVision is aggregating the commercial rights.”

Does he see it happening though?

“Is it moving as fast as I wish? No. And that's going to be the number one priority my next three years. So I don't know, I'm an optimist. Will it be easy? No. Is it impossible? No. It's doable, but we'll see!”

Updated: December 08, 2023, 1:42 PM