The Opposite Approach: Operating Tennis Like Track and Field?

A basic idea on this blog is that professional tennis (PT) conducts its structured business in a manner that Elite Track and Field (ET&F) does not. The organizational differences, I argue, are important drivers in one’s relative success. I dream (maybe crazily!) of what ET&F might look like when it offers more and bigger events, creates its own majors, and compels its athletes to appear much more than they do now. Another way of looking at this is to consider a mythical PT Tour that is run like those for ET&F.

Majors. There will be one major per year. Adding the Olympic tournament to the current 4 major events, we will have 5 large tournaments that the sport will cycle through. So, Wimbledon will now be put on once every 5 years.  Qualification would be based upon a single performance metric: PT athletes would be required to show up at a sanctioned facility to have serve speed and accuracy, return efficiency, footwork, etc. quantified. Only those reaching a numerical standard would be eligible. Crafty competitors would likely be excluded! The PT major would now last for the typical 9 days of the ET&F Championship. This would probably require elimination of two rounds in the singles competition. So, 32 men and women will start, rather than 128. Total prize money would be reduced from about $41M (now) to about the $8M of the IAAF World Championships. TV rights would go down accordingly. Of course, in the Olympic year PT players would participate for little, if any, compensation.

Tour Events. All PT events (ATP/WTA Tours) would now last one day. Actually, they would last only about 3 hours, like Diamond League meetings. Only 1/3 of the PT disciplines would be competed. So, one Tour stop would have only men’s singles. The next might have women’s singles and doubles. Perhaps the third would have men’s singles and doubles. The goal is to not compete all of the PT events at each stop. A 3 hour men’s singles tournament is admittedly a challenge. Perhaps it would support 8 singles competitors. 4 simultaneous quarterfinals matches of a single set, followed by 2 simultaneous semifinals matches, leading to a one-set final match. Not much actual tennis, but the crowd will be free to go in 3 hours, according to the ET&F model! Rather than supporting a  Tour with 134 annual events, PT would want to slim it down to about 35, as ET&F does (in all of its current forms, combined). Appearance requirements for PT athletes would cease to exist.

Prize Money. PT would not concern itself with supporting a large group of athletes via event prize money. Certainly, there would be no need to publish lists showing these winnings. With the ET&F model, appearance fees and sponsorship deals would be the main income source for all. And,  because these are all individual, free-market transactions, it is noone else’s business  what they are. The PT Tour need not, and should not, list this on public sites. Basically, a few dozen PT athletes might make a full-time living, as opposed to the 400 that now earn $100K per year in prize money alone.

Enough detail. Why would PT want to revert to this? They wouldn’t. They have created a sport that is much bigger than this. The better question is: “why does ET&F settles for this now?”



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