Is an ATP/WTA Merger realistic?


Wednesday, November 27, 2019 12:56 PM UTC

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 12:56 PM UTC

For many years, the ATP & WTA have run as separate entities. WTA President Micky Lawler recently expressed her desire for a merger. However, is that desire realistic?
<div><h2><b>The current situation</b></h2><p>Before we get into how a possible merger could be achieved, let´s look at how the organisations are run. There are three main governing bodies for professional tennis, starting with the ITF(International Tennis Federation) that governs the game together with national and regional affiliates. Events like the 4 Grand Slams, the Olympics, Davis Cup and Federations Cup are run through the ITF. Men´s tennis is run through the ATP(Association of Tennis Professionals) and the WTA(Women´s Tennis Association) is the governing body for women´s tennis.<br /><br />Currently, while there are shared events on tour such as Indian Wells and Madrid, most of the time the ATP and WTA operate as separate entities in all senses and purposes. Most of the tournaments are different while the prize money on offer varies significantly, especially at the lower levels. To follow both Men´s and Women´s tennis as a fan, you´d currently need to have a subscription to both TennisTV and WTATV. Up until 2016, this wasn´t the case, before WTA created their own platform. The exception would be the Grand Slams where both men and women are in action for the viewers, but those are indeed events overseen by the ITF.</p><h2 style="text-align:center"> </h2><h2 style="text-align:center"><b>Weighing the pros and cons</b></h2><div> </div><p style="text-align:center"><a href=";a=f339dce1-88de-4994-ab6a-c24e019bdf3b&amp;f=3"><img alt src="" style="width:100%" /></a></p><h2><b>Pros:</b></h2><ul> <li><b><i>Added exposure and unity</i></b>:<b> </b></li></ul><p>One of the main advantages that a merger of the ATP and WTA would be the added exposure brought to the Women´s game, and tennis in general. Many of the sport´s biggest role models come from both tours, such as the likes of Roger Federer on the Men´s side and Serena Williams on the Women´s side. However, while many certainly prefer watching ATP tennis, for others there just isn´t enough availability or exposure to WTA tennis. A merge would bring this added exposure.<br /><br />Revenue is also a hot topic in the tennis world right now, with many professionals speaking out against the unfairness of the situation. While the associations are making hundreds of millions in revenue, the players only get to see a sliver of those profits in prize money. If both tours merged, there could be added power, unity and opportunity for all professionals to come together and apply pressure for the sake of improving their rights.</p><ul> <li><b><i>A shared streaming platform:</i></b></li></ul><p>In merging, a shared streaming platform for fans to enjoy top level tennis from both tours would be necessary, and those steps have already been taken. Over in the UK, Amazon Prime have struck a deal that allows fans to have both ATP and WTA tennis in one place, to the delight of WTA President Micky Lawler:<br /><br /><i>“To have these big events and to have to go here for the men and there for women, it’s not good for the fan, so we need to think about that and where possible we have to look at that very seriously. So in the UK it’s great now that everybody will have tennis in one place.”</i></p><p> </p><h2><u><b>Cons:</b></u></h2><ul> <li><b><i>Revenue sharing:</i></b></li></ul><p>In 2008, after Wimbledon had agreed to pay both men and women equal prize money, the tours had comparable revenue. The ATP tour brought in $61.3m whilst the WTA brought $58.7m. Since then however, that 4% difference has unraveled. According to the latest offical comparison back in 2014, that gap has increased to a staggering 54%, or $37.4m over its counterpart.<br /><br />In 2019, the ATP makes almost $150m in yearly revenue, but the WTA is severly lagging behind. Though no official numbers have been released, it is estimated to be only about half the size of its counterpart. In a merger, the ATP would thus likely have to share their revenue with the WTA, something that there has been no interest in doing thus far.</p><ul> <li><b><i>Accentuating inequalities:</i></b></li></ul><p>While a merger is desirable to many, if it currently goes through it might actually accentuate rather than reduce inequalities. There are many both on the player and governing side of the ATP that don´t view women´s tennis as equal to Men´s. It could well be that the women are regarded as an afterthought by their fellow professionals and the organizers of events.<br /><br />Without a more equal ground with both tours providing their strengths for the good of tennis, a merge would be difficult. Both tours have their intrinsic value, like the ATP´s strong revenue and media presence. The WTA on the other hand has stronger content, with more matches available on demand, and unique insights into the players and their games along with their coaches. Currently, these strengths aren´t respected and it is instead the differences that are being focused on.</p><p> </p><h2><b>Will they merge?</b></h2><p>While a merger is indeed quite possible, it doesn´t seem likely to happen just yet. A more equal ground is still lacking, both when it comes to revenue share, and the perception of women´s tennis from players and governors alike. Currently, from the ATP point of view, they don´t have much to gain from a merger. However, this might well change in the future. After being dominated for years by the legendary "Big 4" consisting of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, their era is nearing its end.<br /><br />These players have been the driving forces for the success of the ATP for decades now, and a big hole will be left behind them. On the women´s side, incredibly exciting talents are on the rise, such as teenage phenoms like 19-year old Bianca Andreescu and 15-year old Coco Gauff. Few have brought as much hype and attention as the latters scintillating run in Wimbledon this summer, and with new and exciting names entering the mix, a merger might become much more attractive down the line. As for now though, the WTA is pushing for it, but the ATP is yet to respond.</p></div>
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