INDIAN WELLS, California (AFP) – The WTA Tour is weathering the global economic downturn, but chief executive Larry Scott said the women’s tennis tour can’t afford to be complacent as fans and sponsors feel the pinch.
“The message I’m sending to players is we have to work harder,” Scott said, saying it was more important than ever for popular stars such as Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova – as well as the tour’s lesser lights – to go the extra mile to publicize the game and make sure sponsors get value for money.
Scott said his task was to “sensitize” players, who may be unaware of just how tough financial times might impact them.
“I don’t assume players have a full grasp of what’s happening in the economy,” Scott said. “I’m going to be asking them to work harder than they’ve ever worked before.”
That said, Scott said the tour to date was in good shape. But the WTA is planning to survey its tournaments asking them to report on their finances in recent years and expectations for 2010 in an effort to spot and head off any potential problems.
But Scott insisted the tour “is in the healthiest financial position it has ever been in,” noting that total prize money in 2009 is up 23 percent and adding that he was not aware of any tournament that had lost a title sponsor.
He noted that the tournament in progress at Indian Wells has the backing of a new title sponsor this year in BNP Paribas.
In addition, tour sponsor Sony Ericsson is on board through 2010. That means the WTA tour doesn’t envision having to make the kind of move recently announced by the ATP World Tour, which is rebating three million dollars in fees to its 63 tournaments.
The rebate is the men’s tour’s answer to a request from tournaments that wanted a reduction in prize money.
“Times are tough, everybody knows that,” the ATP’s chief operating officer Flip Galloway said in a statement. “The ATP is trying to give its tournaments some financial relief to help them through the current difficult times.”
Scott admitted that the current economic climate certainly wouldn’t foster expansion.
“I’m not expecting to see any tournament that’s growing,” he said, noting that even if attendance levels remain relatively even, people will likely spend less while on the grounds and income from smaller sponsors will likely dwindle.
“We’re going into uncharted waters in terms of the economy,” Scott said. “If we continue to hold our own I’ll be satisfied.”