by Dan O’Connell
The following are personal views of myself, Dan O’Connell, based on an international career that began as a United States Peace Corps Tennis Coach and led to nearly four decades based in Africa and Oceania. This paper is meant for tennis players and leaders to consider / improve. I believe we all wish for: fair play in sports – worldwide.
In 1986, the Wimbledon Championships established the Grand Slam Development Fund, overseen by the ITF. In 2012, Grand Slam Nations provided the Grand Slam Development Fund $400,000 each, or $1.6 million. Grand Slam Nations have donated $40 million, with a purpose to allow the ITF to employ ten development officers to assist over 180 nations in a variety of programs. From 1991-2011, it was my honour to serve as the Fiji based ITF Pacific Oceania Development Officer. The Grand Slam Development Fund is a remarkable success story and might expand: (1) to provide National Associations sponsorship prize money to host many new low-level competitions and (2) to enhance their current programs in nations where tennis is struggling.
The Grand Slam Nations are the envy of all tennis nations. Australia, France, England and the United States are fortunate hosts of the Grand Slams. They earn an enormous profit. It has been reported the US Open produces the largest economic impact than any annual international sporting event in the world. According to the New York Times, the four Grand Slam Events shared total revenue of $800 million in 2013. It is estimated the Grand Slam nations share a total profit of $300 million. More than 99% of the Grand Slam profits are used to support domestic development programs in these four nations. Is it correct to share tennis profits this way?
Is too much of the Grand Slam profit going to only four nations? The $1.6 million Grand Slam donation to the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund is less than 1% of the profit. If we live in a society built around moral capitalism; should each Grand Slam nation pay a $10 million host fee, to benefit the Grand Slam Development Fund? A Grand Slam host fee might provide the ITF $40 million, to assist tennis development in 180 nations.
Questioning Grand Slam wealth should continue. Professional players recently complained about low Grand Slam prize money. Player pressure was required before the Grand Slam Nations quickly realized they needed to share their pot of gold. As a result, US Open prize money will rise to $50 million in 2017, while in 2008 the US Open prize money was $20 million. The current US Open TV rights collect $40 million a year, but in 2015, the new ESPN TV deal will provide the US Open over $70 million. This new TV deal will more than cover the difference for increased player prize money. Corporate sponsor JP Morgan Chase provides the US Open $15 million a year. IBM, American Express and other companies also provide large sponsorship amounts. US Open attendance is around 700,000. A ticket to the finals of the US Open cost between $130 and $8,000 per seat.
If 100 PGA golf professionals earn $1 million, should more than 25 tennis players earn $1 million? NBA, NFL and MLB professional athletes share the same ratio of player revenue to total revenue, in the 43% to 50% range. Top touring pro Janko Tipsarevic is quoted, saying tennis gains between 11-13% of Grand Slams total revenue. The biggest problem facing tennis is a lack of worldwide prize money. Public opinion will agree; besides higher prize money for 100-200 ranked players, lower-ranked players deserve a liveable income.
Grand Slam nations will not share meaningful profits as this will reduce their domestic development programs. What is fair for our sport: four nations spending $300 million in domestic programs, or a larger percentage of Grand Slam wealth used to assist world tennis? Should each Grand Slam nation be asked to reduce their domestic program by $10 million, meaning they share a profit of $260 million? Can the ITF, the ATP, the WTA and 180 National Associations request $40 million of the Grand Slam profit to be used to “grow world tennis”?
Tennis will become more popular worldwide, with prize money. $30 million will create 2,000 low-level events ($15,000 each), or even 4,000 tournaments ($7,500 each). With an extra $30 million, can the ITF introduce a new worldwide competition program? Will National Associations in Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania be able to host more events? One problem to overcome is players quitting after their junior career. If players can participate in nearby, affordable-to-attend events, will they continue to compete? If ITF sponsors prize money, nations can afford to host domestic events. Prize money sponsorship can expand the low-level competition path, leading to Grand Slam tennis. Players need to compete. Growth through competition!
There have been talks of changing venues or expanding the number of Grand Slam Events. The Asian Tennis Federation has threatened to push for their own Grand Slam and Romanian promoter Ion Tiriac has told the ITF he wants to promote more Grand Slams. Many nations have infrastructure required to host a Grand Slam event. To create wealth for world tennis, could Grand Slam venues rotate, allowing different nations to host for ten year periods? Tradition is important, but should the ITF Board explore other valuable alternatives?
If the ITF Board asked National Associations bidding for Grand Slam hosting rights to pay an annual fee of $10 million: would they pay? If China, India, Tunisia and Qatar were offered the opportunity to host a Grand Slam Event, would they pay a $10 million host fee? Most leaders believe Grand Slams earn a profit of $50-$90 million, so yes; other nations will pay a host fee. As the governing body of worldwide tennis, can the ITF Board ask a $10 million hosting fee from Australia, England, France and the United States?
The ITF Executive Board of thirteen members is dominated by five members from Grand Slam nations. If these five members can find a creative way to influence only two of the other eight members to join them (to gain a majority); does this mean the Grand Slams continue to provide 180 nations only $1.6 million? Or, can the charismatic ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti and the ITF Board persuade the Grand Slam Board to share a larger percentage of their wealth? Maybe Francesco and some ITF Board Members believe the world should benefit much more, while Grand Slam Board Members will continue to make their case to retain 99% profits. Will Grand Slam wealth distribution become an issue in the 2015 elections of ITF Board Members? Could a new ITF Board be elected, to shift power away from the Grand Slam nations, to instead benefit world tennis?
This struggle has already begun. National Associations are challenging the Grand Slam nations to share their profits. A 2010 Tennis New Zealand request concerning Grand Slam profit sharing was made to the ITF Executive Board, but the ITF Board did not respond. This year, ten Pacific National Associations have sent letters to the ITF Board, challenging how the Grand Slam profits are shared. Having visited over 50 nations on ITF business, it is clear to me these nations will be thankful if the Grand Slams donate $40 million towards player prize money and world development. If the ITF Board cannot change the Grand Slam profit sharing issue to benefit world tennis; will the 180 National Associations unite, joining Pacific nations in questioning wealth? Or, must the Grand Slam nations always control 99% of the profit, with 180 nations always envious?
If wealth is redistributed, the primary concern is to provide prize money for many more professional players. Players should not lose too much personal money trying to become a professional. $30 million prize money will enhance the pathway, allowing more players to try to reach the big money earned at the Grand Slams.
Tennis in smaller nations will benefit if the Grand Slam Nations provided $10 million, instead of $1.6 million. If worldwide funds can reach the developing world, like soccer; tennis will not die. FIFA (soccer) provides 200 nations $250,000 annually. From 2007-2010, FIFA provided $350 million for worldwide soccer development. Since the Grand Slam Development Fund began in 1986, the Grand Slams have donated only $40 million for world development. As a former ITF Development Officer, I know each year it is becoming more difficult for our sport to survive. When South Africa and other nations cannot host national tennis tournaments because of a lack of sponsorship funds, we have a problem. The majority of the National Associations in the developing world have no paid employees. All work is done as a volunteer. The annual national budget in these nations is less than $20,000. Do world leaders realize the sad, declining state of tennis in many nations?
To grow the world game, can we find a way to share tennis wealth in a more meaningful manner? Instead of individual nations independently seeking answers to the Grand Slam wealth sharing issue, will world tennis benefit through a group approach? Can the ATP, the WTA and 180 National Associations unite and ask together: will the ITF introduce a Grand Slam hosting fee to grow our game?