by Karen

News broke today that Stacey Allaster, CEO of the WTA was stepping down as head of that organisation after 6 years at the helm of the largest women’s sports organisation in the world.  This news will be met by shouts of don’t let the door hit you on the way out (on court coaching) to the increase in prize money for players and one of the largest media deals ever done by a women’s sports organisation (the WTA deal with Perform). 

As a fan of the women’s game I will be one of those who will be straddling the fence regarding the departure of one of the more controversial and yet non-controversial CEOs in all of sport. 

When Allaster took over the WTA it was a time of transition. The Tour was struggling to attract viewers and most of the talk centered more around the fact that players were sitting atop the women’s rankings who had failed to win one of the sport’s highest honours, i.e. a Grand Slam.  After the debacle of what was Larry Scott’s reign as the CEO of the WTA, where the marketing was person focused rather than Tour focused, women’s tennis suffered.  

I am hopeful that when people focus on Allaster’s tenure of the WTA, they will focus on the following success stories:

  • the growth of women’s tennis in Asia.  
  • the most successful staging of the WTA year end championships in Istanbul
  • the media deal signed with Perform which saw fans of the women’s game being able to watch tennis, from first to last ball and being able to watch matches on repeat ad nauseam
  • the use of social media to promote its product
  • the #WTARisingStar campaign which has allowed drive by fans a chance to meet the next generation of players
  • the Year End Championships that feature players with various rankings competing in an under card tournament 
  • the visibility of women’s tennis in a way that it has never been visible
  • the increase in prize money across all levels of the Tour
  • the mandatory tournaments which ensured that tournaments were guaranteed top 10 players at events
While there have been many successes that I have perhaps forgotten to mention, there have also been failures:

  • the lack of a Tour sponsor at a time when women’s tennis is becoming increasingly more popular is something that Allaster has failed to achieve. I have never been able to figure out why when tennis is so popular, as evidenced by the numbers from events, the women’s tour has not been able to secure a Tour sponsor
  • on court coaching – at a time when the feminist movement was gaining traction, the instituting of this system into the women’s game has been a bone of contention for all fans.  As far as I can see the only people who seem to like on court coaching are those in the commentary booth who believe that it adds to their talking points rather than aids the player who is being coached
  • the plan to institute a grunt o meter to satisfy the chauvinists who seem to be only offended when women grunt
I believe that Allaster has done a really good job in moving women’s tennis into the 21st century.  To have grown the sport in the way that she has done, and without the aid of a Tour sponsor says a lot about her business acumen and her ability to make blood out of stones. 

The Spin team takes this opportunity to wish Stacey all the best. 

At the time of writing the WTA has not named a replacement and the press release has indicated that they will now be doing a search for a replacement.  May I suggest that the following be some of the criteria that the WTA needs to look at for its next CEO:

  • top of the list is that the next CEO should be a former player. The women of the WTA do not need a CEO who is coming from another industry.  They need someone who has been a player and who knows not only the business of tennis, but also the sport of tennis
  • the person must have some experience in marketing.  It can’t be that the person coming in is clueless about marketing, and in particular, the marketing of women’s sports.  
  • Passion – the person must have a vested interest to see this sport and organisation succeed.  It can’t be this is a job. It has to be what the person lives and breathes
In addition to the above criteria, there should also be a committee made up of directors from each country that has a Premier Mandatory tournament, with a place at this table for Europe and South America.  The WTA has to move away from this focus on Asia and bring tennis back to what it was, a worldwide sport that can be seen in every time zone.  At the present time with so many tournaments in Asia, the Tour is losing out on visibility because of the time differences. While I can understand that people in Asia are happy about this, there must be some kind of balance. 

Finally, here is my list of former players who could lead the WTA. In no particular order:

  • Venus Williams – recently graduated with a degree in Business Administration so we know she is qualified. She is a former/current player.  She has her own businesses so we know she knows how to do that, plus more importantly, she is Venus Williams. She can do anything 
  • Chris Evert – now hear me out. She is a former player. She has her own business. She knows the business side of tennis and she has the kind of personality that will make business leaders sit down and listen, plus if anyone can get the Tour a sponsor, it will be Chrissy. 
  • Steffi Graf – while Graf has stayed out of the spotlight since retiring, what better way to get back into the game than to use the poker face that served you well during your playing days to meet with business leaders and give back to the Tour.  She would need help in doing the marketing side of things but that is where her committee would come in. 

Which former player do you think would be best to lead the WTA Tour? Sound off in the comments or on Twitter. 

One thought on “STACEY’S DEPARTURE

  1. You have made several salient points in your post and I think you provide great choices (although I'd be shocked if Graf did anything other than demurred, at least until her kids are in high school) but I wonder if this is almost a two person job?
    It seems as if the WTA needs someone in charge of the Home Office, securing better broadcast/streaming deals, nailing down the details in order to secure tha primary sponsor and someone who can go about glad-handing sponsors and working with the Players'Council, doing the (no doubt) exhaustive travel involved to the major tournaments and events. It just seems that if the WTA wants to secure a Venus Williams, they would have to allow for flexibility while being able to get a list of priorities accomplished for a no doubt heavy agenda.

    I agree fully about Asia. With the economy in China in somewhat of a dip, how prudent is it to rely on China to be the WTA 'cash cow' anyway?


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