ATP Chairman Gaudenzi: A Sense Of Competence, Clarity And Long-Sightedness

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

With crisis comes opportunity and on Wednesday, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi sat for a wide-ranging – at times philosophical – 45-minute conference call with Italian journalists, in which he said the sport’s immediate strategy has been to protect public health and safety. He also stated the fate of the suspended tennis season revolves around the North American summer hard court swing, which is scheduled to start on August 3 with the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

In Gaudenzi’s mid-day press conference, which took place from his London home and was embargoed by the ATP until Wednesday evening, during professional tennis’s worldwide suspension – until at least July 13 – the ATP chairman said, “We need to use this time for self-reflection and for long-term planning, to create the future we want for our sport, but there are clearly much bigger issues.”

Gaudenzi called for tennis authorities – ATP, ITF, WTA, Grand Slams – to stop its infighting. He vowed to re-think the sport’s business model, saying, “We have a billion fans but just 1.1 percent of all TV sports rights worldwide.

“Right now, you need three or four different subscriptions to watch tennis, the situation varies depending on the country, everything is fragmented. We can’t keep asking this of our customers, it goes against every commercial logic.

“Moreover, the data on the hundreds of millions of ticket-buying fans are scattered across national federations and tournaments. There is no central database for them. So, we don’t know who our fans are. Even the big events will suffer from this situation in the future – even if they have more resources at their disposal, spanning over a fortnight. There are some huge investments that need to be centralized. We need to dream big, as a collective unit. We need to speak the same language, and to speak the truth. Some small sacrifices are required of everybody.”

Gaudenzi believes huge opportunities could arise from the coronavirus crisis, such as a chance for the major stakeholders in tennis to cooperate more – “since we are all expressions of the same game. We cater to the same fans, we are part of a story we are telling together, even if tennis is a very fragmented game, both with regards to the types of competitions and media-wise.”

Gaudenzi said he doesn’t think the road ahead for tennis will be a simple one because all of the governing bodies in tennis tend to put their own interests first. “This crisis has us at a crossroads: it can either elevate our game or divide us up even more,” he said.

Among other interview highlights:

• On the status of the remaining Grand Slams (French Open and US Open), Gaudenzi said: “The French Open took a few steps back, understanding the importance of dialogue. The US Open is planning to push the tournament back if the situation doesn’t improve before summer. Our operating principle is very simple: we have to try and play as many tournaments as we can in the weeks we’ll have at our disposal, in order to preserve the rankings and the prize money, and above all in order to provide the entertainment for our spectators.”

• On having a clay swing in mid-September after the US Open, Gaudenzi said: “We are working on the possibility of a four-weeks clay swing after the US Open. The best-case scenario would be to have the North American swing during the summer, then the clay, then Asia, and then the ATP Finals. If that were to happen, it would mean that we saved 80 percent of the season after cancelling the grass tournaments. With seven Masters 1000 and three Slams taking place, there wouldn’t be much room for complaints. If the US Open gets cancelled, the complexity of the situation would grow exponentially, because we should consider playing in November and December, too, but at the moment we are focusing on a re-start after the Wimbledon slot.”

• On the idea of extending 32-player draws to 48 and playing during the off-season, Gaudenzi said: “We need a head-start of six to eight weeks before we make a decision, because we need some time on an operational level. It will depend on how many tournaments we’ll be able to reschedule. The hypothesis of extending the draws is certainly valid, but many will find it impossible to play so many weeks in a row. An alternative might be to push back the ATP Finals, but we’d need to find another location, and that creates another problem. The players are having a long off-season already, so we’ll definitely play in November and December if necessary.”