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ATP TENNIS MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 31, 2007
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: Good morning, everyone. This is the first time I've been to a tournament this year in this part of the world. I have to apologize for that. Kind of been busy. I'm hoping today to show you just what "being busy" turns out to become. I think we've got some really exciting news to show you, to share with you.
I know you probably have questions about what has been going on in our sport the last couple of months, and I'm happy to take questions afterwards.
Key to what we've been trying to do, and if you want, our mission to change the sport, has been a desire and a need to create a tier of tournaments at the very top of our sport that have the kind of prize money levels, athlete participation, stadia and sitings that our sport deserves and will give us the opportunity to reach the potential we have.
Fan research has told us these are the key ingredients for success. You guys have told us. Our various stakeholders have told us. What we're announcing today, these eight tournaments, as well as the prior announcements of Monte-Carlo and our moving the Tennis Masters Cup, the ATP world finals as they'll be known, to London. Those 10 we believe now form that foundation.
So from 2009, the 1000s, as they'll be known, will have substantially increased prize money. We're talking 25% more prize money over 2005, and a 32% increase in the financial commitment that the tournaments will be making in order to not just fund the prize money but also to fund the marketing efforts we need to support these new venues in our sport.
But importantly, these eight will be backed by mandatory player commitments, and for the very first time in our sport, suspensions.
So simply put, from 2009, our fans both on-site and at home will be guaranteed to see the best players in all our best tournaments in the best places, in the best markets. By 2011, in conjunction with Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, six of our top tournaments will be combined or virtually combined.
That really does create the kind of events you guys have been telling us really matter in the sport, and which our fans tell us really matter.
We then will have a tier of tournaments that will lead into and support the tournaments that stand at the top of our tennis hierarchy: the Grand Slams.
The eight venues that we've announced today, I'm going to make sure they're there, you're seeing images of them here, and you have details in your pack, are quite stunning. Just think about this. More than $500 million has either recently been spent, very recently been spent, or will be spent going forward in providing tennis fans with these venues from Madrid's Caja Magica, the commitment to build a brand-new indoor tennis center in Paris, the significant improvement and rebuild of a new stadium in Rome, upgrading of the of the facility in Cincinnati. This is an expression of real ambition and real commitment and enthusiasm for our sport.
For too long I believe our sport has struggled to consistently offer its stars and fans world class standard stadium facilities, and that no longer will be the case.
But more than just what we're doing, this is a necessary step to grow. It's a giant step for us, but it's not sufficient. The next step is to continue making the fan more aware of what we stand for. So we're in the process now of trying, because it's so tough, to evaluate 22 applications for only 10 slots in our 500 category.
Again, we've been overwhelmed and excited by the ambition, the vision, that is being expressed by these applicants for our next tier of tournaments. So together with these top 10 tournaments, which the eight are mandatory that we mentioned today, plus Monte-Carlo and the World Tour finals, and the further proposed 10 500s we've always had which we've wanted to have, which is a premium tour, and that premium tour can be marketed to the media, television, to fans worldwide, and to give our fans a real understanding and a real insight to this great global sporting circuit.
And it's a unique global sporting circuit. Our fans want to understand this global sports story, and now they will have it clearly and dramatically made available to them - and not just on television, but on broadband and any other possible device that ultimately can take digital signals. We'll have it in-house, and it will be centralized within ATP media in order to do this.
So a lot of very hard work has gone into making this meaningful change. I have a member of my board at the back, and I have to thank him and all of my board for their selfless courage and their conviction to get us to this stage.
More often than not in the past, our sport has not served the long-term best interests, and as a result we've suffered. This board has had the courage to look beyond tomorrow and look at the future.
And it's not change for change's sake. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" is not a statement of courage and another statement of vision.
This calendar, this structure, will be understandable for fans and media. We'll back it heavily with promotion and marketing dollars. It will be healthier for players, too. More attractive to broadcasters, we'll offer more prize money, and we'll guarantee the top players at the top events.
Thank you. I'm really excited. I'm happy to take any questions.
Q. People who follow tennis are probably thinking this is a new branding mechanism for the ATP. Why is this different going from the Super 9 to the Masters, and the Masters to this?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: Good question. The question was about branding. We've not determined what the branding will be. What we have determined from fan research is that the fans truly value the fact that it is a World Tour.
American fans, believe it or not, value the fact that this is a sport that is played throughout the world. It is played by more nationalities than most sports. And Phil Anderton, I'm really privileged to have Phil as our chief of marketing. We've been able to punch well above our weight as a governing body to get somebody of his talent and experience.
He's being led by research. It's not by opinion, not by insiders, not by those that believe they know, but by hard, fact-based research.
We're coming up with an overall branding architecture. We're not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. We're going to see a period of transition where there is equity in titles and in names. We'd be foolish to throw that out.
But there has been within the Masters Series somewhat of an inconsistency in terms of terminology. The Pacific Life Open, it's the Italia Internationale, it's the Madrid Masters. So there's a number of nomenclature inside to understand as the Masters Series. We need to promote something that the average fan understands.
Our church is not the people sitting in here. Our church is not the diehard fan. They will stay with tennis and love tennis. Call it anything you want, and they'll still watch it because it is what it is: It's still tennis.
But we need to attract more people to the sport. And I think with an overall branding architecture, the flexibility inside of that, to reach the parts of the body that other sports don't reach.
Q. Could you explain again where Monte-Carlo fits into this particular situation. It's not one of the eight, but it's the ninth. It's a mapped inventory situation, as well?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: Happy to. I was reminded of the politician who was caught telling the truth. I'm a governing body executive who is caught having a situation which was a complete win-win.
Monte-Carlo's not the group of eight that has the mandatory player and suspension constraint or, if you want, rule. But what Monte-Carlo was able to persuade us of, we were able to persuade ourselves of and support entirely by the players.
By virtue of its great tradition, by virtue of its great location physically, at the time of the year, by virtue of the fact that it is what it is, Monte-Carlo is a truly iconic, aspirational city. Because of its tradition and history, and the players feel because of the way in which the player field is constituted, i.e., 80% of the top players being European.
We believe they believe that they don't need to require a mandatory player commitment in order to maintain the level of quality that would retain the integrity of that particular group of tournaments.
So we're comfortable, they're comfortable, players are comfortable. It seems like it's a win for us all. The other eight have the prize money -- they all have the same prize money, by the way. To the average fan and to everyone, it is what it is. It's the same as any other tournament. There's no distinction whatsoever. It's not going to be the asterisk Monte-Carlo.
We feel and believe that the players will play enough -- enough of the top players will play for it to be a truly meaningful top tier event. It has always been that way.
To us it's a real win. Our problem was not getting the number of tournaments down. Our challenge was to find the right number of tournaments where the top players would play. The more the better. But you have to be realistic about how many they can play and how many you can force them to play.
Q. Is the prize money changing at these tournaments? What's the penalty for not playing in these mandatory events?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: If they don't play in a mandatory event, and there's no reason for them not playing, they do not show at the tournament and do what is required of them, if they're injured, they show at the tournament, they do what is required of them, by virtue of their press commitments, sponsor commitments, they take a zero pointer because they haven't played by definition, but they're not subject either to suspension or to reduction in their bonus.
There are going to be very severe reductions in the bonus pool. If you don't make one of them and there's no excuse, you lose half of your bonus potentially. We have a seven and a half million dollar bonus pool for the top 20 players. Top bonuses are significant. If they're suspended they lose half of it. If they miss two, they'll lose all of it.
Q. What is the duration of suspension?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: Three years, about like your driving license. You get suspended once, but it stays in your record. You get suspended again, you actually have two offenses. And the suspension can work this way. It's not going to be you're suspended from the next event, because that conveniently might be the one you didn't want to play either.
You're suspended from the tournament where you're defending the most points the next year round. This, by the way, is one of the boldest things this board has done. I can tell you as well that this wasn't a split vote. This was a unanimous vote by the board. Player and tournament reps felt this was the right thing to do for the sport.
But the benefits to the players are enormous. The benefits are you're playing in the best possible arenas, stadia. Caja Magica is putting 130 million Euros into probably the finest tennis facility in the world today. Three indoor, outdoor, sliding roof show courts.
These guys want to know that the top players are going to come and play. They're prepared to put $4 million prize money down and a significant bonus at the end. And players respond well to that. This is not about sticks, this is about the carrots, as well. This is really saying, You're playing the best places in the world, the best arenas, you're going to get the best TV coverage. We're going to promote and market you. This is a good thing for our sport. This is a good thing for you. You're going to make more money on court. You're going to make more money off court. This is a good thing for our sport.
Q. With the amount of players that come from South America, particularly Argentina, why there isn't an event of this level played in South America in lieu of maybe one of the others?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: That's a good question. One of the weeks we've identified for our next level down to the 500 series will be in that region. We feel strategically it's very important that we build that.
We have to be realistic about delivering talent. This sport is a global road trip. It's driven very much by the players' preparation for the slams. You can expect players to play in the two weeks prior to one week before the Slam, the exception being Wimbledon, given the short time.
This is week 36 and 37 on our calendar. Weeks 33 and 34 are the strongest weeks for tournaments. Similarly, weeks 19 and 20, leading into the French Open, are the strongest weeks. It's when the WTA and the ATP both believe that's when players want to play.
So for us to create a 1000 event in a region that has great players but not where most of the players are, and it's not on the way to somewhere important, is really hard. But we're going to go to the first step.
If we continue to grow the way I believe this sport can grow, we'll take it to the next step as well. We're not constraining the model this way. We're saying there are absolute levels below which we will not fall, but we can build from that level up.
Q. Player A is not playing Indian Wells, has no legitimate reason not to play. The previous year he had his best performance at the Italia Open. Does this means he gets a zero at the Italia Open?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: He gets not to play the next Italian Open.
Q. For three years?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: No, just the one year.
Q. You said three years.
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: You get suspended once, but it's a cumulative suspension. It's a little bit like points on your driving license. It stays on your record. If you get suspended again, you'll be suspended from two tournaments within the three years. It's a cumulative thing.
I don't want to dwell on this because, quite honestly, I believe the system is going to work without suspensions, I truly do. I think we've got the right tournaments in the right weeks at the right prize money levels with the right kinds of incentives, bonus pools and stuff.
In the past, when we had significant bonus pools and there were tight races, they played these events. Why wouldn't you? If they're in the right weeks, you're preparing for the Slams, you're preparing for your lead into the Masters Cup, why wouldn't you play them?
The suspension thing is, if you want, the safety net that we have. We don't think we're going to need it. Good trapeze artists don't need safety nets.
Q. If a player complains of an injury, who will examine that player?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: That's a good question. Again, all of this was done in conjunction with the Player Council. We will set up a small committee: one player representative, one tournament representative, and one ATP representative, be it me or someone else.
If the players want to have an independent, we're happy to have an independent there. This is not about witch-hunts. This is about establishing exactly whether a player's capable of travelling or not. We do not want to hurt our stars. It's the very last thing you want to do, is to force somebody who has a problem with his ankle and put him on an airplane and it leads to a thrombosis or whatever.
We're going to be responsible and fair. And the presumption has to be that we're a responsible and fair group. We're giving the players access to this, if you want, group that will decide.
Q. The player can't bring a letter of corroboration from his own personal physician?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: We'll probably want to see independent medical advice. If the guy's leg's broken, it's in a cast, you really don't need anything.
We're going to be fair here. Players have expressed concerns about this. Clearly this is not the best news they've ever had. No turkey's vote for Thanksgiving.
So we understand that enough smart former player input, media input, anybody who knows anything about the sport, and I exclude myself from that, tells you this is what you need in order to get this consistency that our sport needs.
We need to consistently tell our fans, tell the media, tell those that we want to attract, this is an unbelievable sport where you'll see the best gladiators in the world go fight it out.
Q. What can you say about Hamburg? Why is it not a top event anymore?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: It's not a top event anymore. It is a subject of litigation. As a result, I really can't comment very much more on that I'm afraid.
Q. Do you know when you might be in a position to announce when these 500s will be formally confirmed?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: We've had the first review this week. We had a very productive review. As I said, I was positively shocked at how good and how exciting some of these proposals are from existing tournaments expressing their ambition as well as new venues that we had not expected - again, with great ambition and real viability in their business plans and their capital spent.
We'll go to Phase II of this. By finally Shanghai we will have a calendar for you and we will have nominated and announced all of these, the lucky 10, 11, 9, whatever we end up with. Because, frankly, until such time it's fully evaluated, we need to have that flexibility.
This process has tested a lot of my staff and my board's patience. I've said all along, it's not about pride here, it's about being right. If we've got to rethink something, we've got the time, rethink it. You pour concrete once, I don't want to pour it and go, whoops, there was too much pride that went into that concrete.
We're going to make the right decisions here. We're pretty convinced you'll be impressed. If you were impressed with what you saw back here, you'll be impressed what you'll see in the 500 level.
We need to have everything done and dusted by Shanghai.
Q. Is it possible to say yet whether one of them will be on grass?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: Not possible yet.
Q. When will Cincinnati first become a combined event?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: 2011.
Q. Why the lead time?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: As I explained, the two best weeks for both men and women are weeks 33 and 34. We want to have not just Cincinnati combined, but ideally to help the US Open Series and to help tennis and to give fans the best opportunity on television, we want to have more combined events.
Currently Canada runs a truly - for them - strategically important back-to-back structure. They require time. By moving them out of week 32 would hurt the men's event. By moving them into week 33, that would hurt Tennis Canada and hurt tennis.
I've been accused by certain players of doing things too quickly. Well, now we're doing things at the right pace. We think they're significant changes for 2009. 2011, we grow to an even better story where we will have six combined events. I'll explain in Europe what's going to happen is we have a combined event in Madrid in week 20, a regular tournament, then Rome as our Masters 1000, if you want.
In 2011, we're going to put them back to back, but we're also going to swap them so that Madrid will have the prior week and Rome will be a combined event so it will be a true Open. We'll have the players play Madrid first in this huge combined event. This is a mandatory combined event. This is unlike any other combined event we've created. This is where the top women's players and men players mandatory will be playing in Europe.
The only other two of that nature are Indian Wells and Miami. So this is a huge thing, huge thing for Europe. They will then be the lead-in, and the lead-out will be Rome. A lot of that, again, was consideration from players and the willingness of Madrid to recognize that the conditions in Rome are most like the conditions in Paris, so it was, again, the right preparation for the Slam.
We think as we evolve to 2011 we really have a great story.
Q. I would think the two Canadian events running in two different places is not a positive. How is that going to work?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: From a television perspective, I think it is a positive. We've tried to accommodate the USTA and the US Open Series in order to provide American fans with the best offering. They believe very much that a combined or a virtual combined event is a big statement of tennis in a market, and it's a big statement for television.
It's not as good as actually on-site. We understand that. What we do understand as well is the combined event gets more of you guys to come. You are our lifeblood, if you write nice things (smiling). But you will. I know. I can see it in your faces.
Q. On the subject of gambling, as you get further into this investigation, do you sense it really is quite impossible to stop players? If a player wanted to get involved in fixing a match, is it possible in any way to prevent that from happening?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: I'm pleased you brought the subject of gambling up. That was the elephant in the room. So the elephant has finally come out.
Let me just say this about gambling: We recognize the importance of maintaining integrity in the sport, probably ahead of most. We set up this tennis anti-corruption program in 2003 at the same time we entered into an agreement with Betfair. We've now we subsequently entered into an agreement with another ten online gambling concerns.
We recognized a long, long time ago that online gambling was a threat to the integrity, not just of tennis but of all sport, and we have put in stringent procedures. We have eight pages in our rule book from page 146 - please go read them. They're comprehensive, thorough, and deal very, very effectively with any suspected corruption.
So we take this ridiculously importantly and seriously. That's the first thing you have to understand. We're not complacent. We never stopped pursuing every potential and possible avenue to preserve the integrity of our sport. We have programs. They are rigorous. We have severe penalties. We can fine a player up to $100,000 for transgressing the code and a maximum lifetime ban.
And, trust me, if we find anyone, be it a player, entourage, anyone, they will have the maximum ban imposed. There's going to be zero tolerance here. This is not something that we in tennis will condone.
We've also got a full education and communication process. You all know we had Michael Franzese came to talk to the player. He took 45 minutes as a former mob guy telling these players just how serious it was if you enter into this nefarious world of gambling. It doesn't stop. It never let's go of you. It drags you further and further into it. He made it very clear to them.
We will continue to educate the players. We've reinstituted, not for gambling, but for an overall value-based education, we reintroduced the Disney University -- the ATP University. We were doing it at Disney. My former colleagues at Disney are very, very happy to do it. The players are going to be spending three days at Walt Disneyworld at the Disney University site and will be taught what our sport stands for and why it's important to behave in an appropriate way.
No player has been sanctioned under our program, and we don't believe there is a corruption problem in the sport. We've been very, very close to these online betting people, and the reason that we got onto this so quickly, the reason we got the horse racing authority involved and have hired two former Scotland Yard investigators to look into this one, is because we got the information real quick.
Came to us before it went to the press. It came to us. They talked to us before anything happened. This happens as a matter of course. Any time we hear anything from any player we go and investigate it. And what I've stressed to the players in the Player Council is you cannot look to us alone to solve this problem. If you hear something, it's your obligation to come and tell us. You have to assume the responsibility, as well, because this is your livelihood at stake. It's our sport's reputation, but it's your livelihood.
In fact, we are now considering as a board introducing a law that says, a rule that says, if you've heard of a gambling incident and you do not report it, that will be a violation of the code. It's kind of like golf. You're not allowed to ignore a rule of golf or overlook it.
We're going to do everything we possibly can. Months ago we started looking at how to increase security. Months ago we started looking at how we're going to improve accreditation registration of coaches and of entourage and trainers.
We have great capability now through the wonders of servers, digital information, algorithms, compression, and Moore's law. We can have a database throughout tennis that shows a picture and background of every single person that has ever been given accreditation, and we can update that.
We need to be increasingly vigilant, which we already are, of who is allowed access into areas where information may be available. We will continue to do that. We will continue to pursue, as we have done for more than a year now, joint initiatives where we set up resources together with the WTA and the slams and other tennis bodies to create sufficient resources and skills that will deal with that problem.
Just looking at an -- I'm privileged to what's going on in some of the investigation around the most recent incident. The skills, resources and spread required in order to get into this is extraordinary. We need to do it. We need to do it. We have been doing it.
We've been ahead of the game here. I hate to stand here and go -- I'm not going to be defensive. We are way ahead of most governing bodies in terms of this issue. We saw this coming. We're not going to be ostriches either. We're never going to be complacent.
Q. If you would have caught somebody, because it's not a rule, I can tell you I know some players -- I've been told by some players that other players bet. I cannot give you names, but I know that this happens. If you say you are ahead of the game, you haven't found yet one single player who was caught betting, I don't think so it's true. I think you are behind. That's my opinion.
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: I appreciate your opinion.
Q. Would you react to that?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: I'll go back to what I've said. Every single investigation, every single rumor, we investigate. We do, thankfully, live in a society where we don't chop people's hands off because we suspect them of doing something. There are people's reputations at stake here.
It's too easy to talk. It's too easy to have anonymous phone calls pointing fingers at people. It's too easy for you to speculate.
We need to be thorough, fair and comprehensive, and we will do that. If it takes time, it takes time.
Q. How many investigations do you have in progress now?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: I'm not prepared to discuss that. We never do.
Q. Why wait six weeks to interview Nikolay Davydenko? It's a truism in criminal justice the longer you wait to ask questions, the colder the trail is. He told us he won't be interviewed for another two weeks formally.
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: He will be interviewed when the investigative body feels it is the right time to investigate. These are very experienced investigators who feel they need to have as much information as they need before they go and interview somebody.
This is a traumatic process for everyone. We need to be fair. We need to be thorough. We need to be comprehensive. There are people's reputations at stake here, too.
Q. Speaking of a lifetime ban for someone who is caught. If someone is an entourage, a member of a player's entourage, is the player banned or just that one person? Is there a sanction against the player?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: I don't know the answer to that. I'll have to defer to someone who does. The penalty will be no less stringent.
Q. How quickly or how soon do you think there will be a decision on the rule about conduct?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: It's on our agenda for the Shanghai board meeting. It was raised. We hope to pass a rule.
Q. Is a rule likely?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: It's a smart idea. Very likely.
Q. You say that Key Biscayne and Indian Wells will be reproduced in Europe like Rome and Madrid.
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: No, I didn't. As things stand today, and we haven't released the calendar, at this stage I don't want people writing about what the 2009 calendar will be.
But at this stage, it is our view that we should separate Rome by one week between Madrid in order to give Madrid a good chance of establishing a major event, and also not to force Rome to go combined from 2009.
But over time we will then, by 2011, have the commitment from the Italian Federation to go and make Rome a combined event, and then they will be the week after Madrid.
Q. There will be two weeks? Indian Wells and Key Biscayne occupy three weeks.
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: They're both eight-day tournaments. They are no different than the current Masters event.
Q. How do you expect the players are going to react to Canada and Cincinnati continuing to be played back to back?
ETIENNE de VILLIERS: They are the ones that are insisting that they play them back to back. What we've discovered this year, both on the clay and on the hard, is that the measures we introduced by reducing the five-set finals, giving the top seeds byes in the first round.
We got Federer into the finals of both Canada and Cincinnati. That's a real good thing. We got all of them playing all three of the clay court events. That's a good thing. They tell us those are the weeks they treasure most. Those are the weeks they want us to play.
They're actually telling us the opposite: If you separate it you make it harder.
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