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October 26, 2015

Steve Simon

SIngapore, Singapore

STEVE SIMON: Welcome everybody. Thanks for coming today. I'm Steve Simon, the new Chief Executive Officer of the WTA, for which I'm extremely humbled to have been provided this opportunity.
Not too many times in your career or your life are you provided these types of opportunities and these platforms where you can hopefully come on in and try to really make a difference, which is, again, what we hope to do.
The WTA is a very special place. It's got a very, very special staff and some great players that are part of this organization. I think that it's just got a tremendously bright upside ahead of it.
Following a predecessor of Stacey Allaster, who I think has left a tremendous platform for us to build upon, and we're certainly going to try and do that and take it to the next levels as we can.
It's been a great few days to get started here in Singapore. We certainly have been very graciously welcomed by everybody here in Singapore. It looks like we're off to a great event with great matches yesterday and great matches today.
A Final all brought together by probably one of the closest races we've had in recent years to qualify here for Singapore with three positions that went down to the last 48 hours almost before the event, which is great. I think that reflects the depth of tennis and the talent that we have.
I think the excitement of the week ahead that we're going to have as well. As you guys will learn from me, I'm pretty relaxed and casual, so I'm here to answer your questions and to have good, candid conversation.
With that, I'm opening up the room to answer you questions. I'll see what I can do to answer them and hopefully not put everybody to sleep too quickly.

Q. The process between Stacey going and your coming moved very quickly. Obviously you were in a pretty good position. What was it that intrigued you about taking this WTA role to leave your role at Indian Wells?
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, you're right. It was a very quick process. Obviously Stacey had made a decision to step down and I think take care of family and spend a little bit more time at home, which is great for her. She deserves it, to go from there.
Look, I wasn't looking to make a change. I had been at Indian Wells for over 27 years, so that was definitely home. I was very, very happy there. I'm certainly going to miss the event very much and the team that's there. We basically grew up together. It's been quite a ride, to say the least.
I think I leave Indian Wells in a very good position. I am very proud of the position that they're in. I think that everybody that has been there and has been watching its growth is going to see some more exciting things over the next couple years. It's in a very, very good place and in good hands.
For me, I got a call from the board about 2 days after Stacey made her announcement. They asked me if I would consider the position. If I was, they weren't interested in a search, that I was their person that they would like to lead.
Obviously that is very humbling. You don't get that kind of support from your peers that often, as I was a member of the board. As I said earlier, there aren't too many times in your life that you're provided a platform where you can go in and try to make change that could really improve and leave the business you're in, or for methe sport that I'm in, maybe in a better place.
You know, whether I'll be successful or not remains to be seen, but to not take on that challenge would be something that I would regret. I really look at the challenge to see if we can do some of the things that sitting in a boardroom from the cheap seats we could always say why doesn't the tour do this and that.
Now I have a chance to be in the cheap seats, per se, see if I can make it happen.

Q. I have a lot of friends who are tennis fans. I ask them, Do you follow women's tennis. A lot of them follow the men's game a lot more closely. They say, Oh, you know, I don't really like the women's game. It's not as exciting. It's got so much inconsistency. Even Martina mentioned in her press conference that there is so much fluctuation it's baffling. What do you think is the strategy moving forward to change the perception?
STEVE SIMON: Well, I think that the women's game is actually in a good place right now. We have a lot of depth, which I think the race reflected. I think we do have a lot of great matches. Last night's match with Maria and Aggie was a great, compelling match.
You're going to have some today and then tomorrow Simona and Maria as well. I think that we have to continue presenting this game in a way that features it and puts it in a premium position at all times.
We need to have that culture of striving for excellence and striving for winning. We have to work at our structure so that we can place the events and the athletes in that place.
I believe that the results of that will bring that excitement and that viewership to the WTA and to where it's going to go.

Q. You've talked about making a difference, making changes. Apart from the area you've just outlined, are there any specific priorities you wish to change?
STEVE SIMON: Well, one of the things‑‑ there are many different things that are there on the list, and obviously we have to get our arms around actually achieving them.
But clearly there needs to be a focus on making sure that we're delivering a premium product at all times and utilizing evolution and innovation and looking at our structure so that we can deliver that product to the marketplace.
Clearly one of the big issues that we have right now is dealing with‑‑ which every sport does‑‑ is getting our athletes through the season healthy. There isn't a league or sport out there where at the end of the year the athletes aren't dinged up and aren't 100%.
I don't think that exists. We have to look at our structure and look at what we do to give the athlete the best chance to be as close to 100% at the end of the year as they can.
That's our responsibility. We certainly have built an off‑season in that we need to maintain. Obviously there may be athletes that do other things in that off‑season. I can't control that. But during the amount of the year that the WTA calendar controls, we need to be respectful and look at that structure so we can keep our product healthy.
Because it's our product. If I can't have them on the court I don't have the premium product that I am looking to deliver. It's a fundamental challenge we have to work with.
We certainly will always have withdrawals. I think this year they were a little bit up, but it wasn't material. It was about equal to last year as far as withdrawals over the course of the year.
It's something that hopefully between structure that we can create the right rest periods and keep the players as healthy as we can through the year.

Q. Just wondering, is it one of your ambitions to have a more close relationship with the ITF and the ATP? Things became a little bit distant in previous years, and I think everyone agrees for the betterment of the game it would be better if the three bodies and the Grand Slam committee were on the same hymn sheet.
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, I mean, obviously the alphabet soup of tennis needs to get along. No reason we shouldn't be getting along and having good, constructive conversations and looking at areas where we can integrate our efforts versus duplicating our efforts to the betterment of the game.
I think there is room for that. We all have individual businesses that we're running and you won't always agree. But the idea that there is any animosity between to me is unacceptable. There is no reason for that.
Everyone is going to have to make business decisions that are in their best interest, but I think there are an awful a lot of areas where we could create some efficiencies and integrations that would raise the game for all.
There is plenty of room for growth. There shouldn't be any fear that one group is getting bigger than the other, because as we're all growing, the entire pool is going to grow, per se.
I do think we come on in and that we do have relationships with all of these people as we coming in, so we don't have to establish them. I think that will also maybe mend some of those fences that were in the past maybe being trampled down a little bit.

Q. A little bit early to tell, but which point in your agenda will strike the most controversy and among which circles?
STEVE SIMON: The first time I have to actually penalize or fine somebody. No, you know, I think that the first one is going to come when we begin addressing the calendar. The calendar is the structure and the foundation of the tour.
To do some of the things we have to do, we have to make some fundamental changes in the calendar and our approach to it. Obviously you begin affecting schedules, investments that are being made. You begin affecting tradition, something that's been that way for a long time.
I think we have to take an honest and open look at that. That'll probably be the first thing that begins to create controversy and angst among the group, as we have those types of conversations.

Q. As we know, WTA made a lot of efforts in China market past few years, like open WTA office in Beijing, and we had a lot of tournaments and good players. After Li Na retired, what's WTA next strategy of China market in the next few years?
STEVE SIMON: Well, the WTA, led by Stacey Allaster ‑ I think she deserves a lot of the credit ‑ has certainly been able to create a great success in the Asia Pacific region. Where I think we are now with it is, is that we need to allow the region to mature and to make sure that we don't over saturate it.
I believe that the WTA has brought a lot of value to the region, and the region has in turn delivered a lot of value back to the WTA. Now that those investments are in place, we have to respect the region and the investments that have been made and let them develop and get a return against those investments.
So I still think there is tremendous opportunity in the region, but we have to grow smart and respect the investments that have been made by the people in the region that believed in the WTA and build from there.
So I think we have a very strong future here. I think it's tremendous what's been done. Now we need to be smart about it as we go forward, and respect it.

Q. Have any of the top players approached you or have you approached them to discuss potential changes in the calendar, and how do they feel about the current calendar?
STEVE SIMON: I think what you will hear, again, because I've just actually gotten started and I'm here, we'll start to sit down and visit with each of them, some over the course of this week and some in the weeks to follow.
I do want to sit down with all of them and hear their distinct thoughts and perspectives. I think one of the most important things we have out there is learning to listen and understand the perspectives of all the various constituencies involved. May not mean you agree with them, but you need to understand them and hopefully get to a balanced decision.
I think what you'll hear from the athletes is their focus will be on the calendar, and especially the calendar post‑US Open. Okay? Part of that challenge is it is a compressed period of time with a lot of events. The players are tired coming out of the US Open. It's been a long season and they've played a lot of tennis.
Then you exacerbate it when you have a compelling race that's forcing them to play even more to try and get here. The good news is that the players want to be here and they were fighting to get here and very excited to be here. I think that that's very positive.
But they would like to see something done with that part of the calendar, and I don't think they're wrong. What we do with it is the $99 question that we have to resolve and figure out how to do it.
But we do need to address that, and I think that's where you'll hear from them.

Q. The calendar between the US Open and Singapore?
STEVE SIMON: Yes. And that's not to mean there aren't other pressures and challenges in the calendar, but this is the area that's the most exacerbated due to the condition of the athletes at this point in the year and the extra pressure for the final push to make the Championships if they're not one of the ones who have qualified earlier in the year. It exacerbates it.

Q. As an American to American, we've lost a lot of tournaments in the U.S. As somebody who has tried to sell tennis and used to have no problems, it's very hard to sell editors. I used to come to Indian Wells every year and haven't been there in the last four or five. I think the lack of tournaments and stuff in the U.S. where there is a lot of money, how do we change the culture to make tennis of interest again to editors and fans?
STEVE SIMON: Well, I think there is actually a very strong following of tennis in the States. There certainly isn't the number of events that there was, that's for sure. But there is a strong following.
When you see the events in Indian Wells and Miami, Cincinnati, Stanford, Atlanta, you know, these are very, very strong events, and growing.
I think a lot of it is like everything else: It's cyclical. We certainly need to continue growing the U.S. player base. We have two obviously leading athletes in Venus and Serena that have set the stage, and some very good up‑and‑coming players led by Madison and CoCo and a few of the others.
Clearly we hope in the next generation of stars there is a U.S. player in there as well. I think it's important. Clearly the game has evolved and it's much more international than it was. I think that's healthy. Again, I think we need balance. We need some stars from the U.S., we need stars from Europe, we need stars from Asia Pacific. We need them across the world, and then hopefully grow them where they cross lines and it's not just an American star they are a star.
I think that there is still room for growth within the marketplace. We're holding our own. We're doing okay.

Q. You said there are some changes that need to be made. They don't have to sound critical for what has been done until now. We saw a great job made by Stacey and you and all the others. Well, calendar you said the wildcards just before this event was very complicated to understand who was playing, who could qualify. Also, the idea that the rankings come out‑‑ you know, there are many websites that put on a daily basis the different rankings after each day. You see what can happen, what could happen, and so on. WTA has always chosed to publish just the weekly ranking, which gives a lot of hits to the other websites. Maybe because you're afraid to make a mistake. That could be one idea. I think that that should be changed, personally. And also, there were years when Bali and the Fed Cup final were in the same week and all those things, which I hope will never happen again. I don't know if you will be able to solve it and sort it out with Fed Cup. Plus, and this is the last thing I want to say, is that the stats of WTA are really very much behind. You come from America where all the other sports have fantastic stats. You can find everything. Tennis is very bad position. ATP is honestly better than the WTA. I wonder if you are going to think about doing something about it, even if that at the beginning doesn't produce money but it could?

Q. Because they are some big sponsors say you should rely on our stats. We cannot rely very much on the WTA stats.
STEVE SIMON: Sure. Well, first of all, to start my English isn't very good either, so we're even there.
No, clearly the ranking issue, to hit your questions, if I get them all in order, the ranking issue certainly is something that could be looked at. That's traditionally how it's been done. I don't think we're afraid of making mistakes.
I think it's the fact that the rankings don't physically or officially change until the end of the tournament. So I'm not sure‑‑ that's been the basis for it. Could we look at it? Absolutely. We should be open to looking at anything and evaluating what it is.
With respect to your questions on the calendar, that's part of my concerns, that the calendar needs to flow and be in a system that provides for premium. When we have Fed Cup going on in one week and a WTA Tour event in another week, we're not putting a premium product on the court that week.
It's diluted. We have to work at that, and work at a calendar that deals with all these issues that we need to deal with and this flows.
When you get into data, there is a tremendous amount of data. Tennis hasn't done the job that it needs to do with respect to taking the data and then producing it in a manner that it can be consumed. That's what we have to do.
Is the ATP ahead of us or not? Arguably maybe yes, maybe no. Do we need to do a better job of taking the data and producing it in a form that it can be consumed? The answer is absolutely yes.
The world is changing in front of us, and data is something that's very desired. The definition of data is changing on a daily basis as well. We really are coming into a unique part of our world in that everything that used to be what I'll call Star Wars for a long time about data and digital versus linear is all merging in front of us now and happening in front of our eyes.
Those platforms are allowing us an opportunity to create and produce data as an example in forms that can now be consumed and pushed through these platforms. We have to get better about it. No question about it. No question.

Q. You touched on the ATP before. Their season is a month longer and they don't seem to have the same kind of withdrawal problems as the women's has suffered throughout Asia. There was an article that appeared in ESPN recently that talked about ‑‑ basically compared that very thing and said that maybe the women aren't training correctly. Also said maybe there is a cultural problem on the WTA Tour. I am not sure if you read that article, but do you have a response to that, and what are your thoughts on getting around that?
STEVE SIMON: The tour you were referring to was what? I don't think I caught that.

Q. The article. It was a couple of weeks ago on ESPN.
STEVE SIMON: Well, I don't think it has to do with the training of the athletes. I do think that obviously the sport has become much more athletic and demanding on the players. We can see it in their matches.
I think that they're training extremely hard. It's not an attitude issue. They want to play. I think it's a combination of, again, putting them in a system and a structure and a timing of when they play, that they've gotten the proper rest, the right training and can play at the right level and have the recovery time that's needed.
When you look at a tennis player, which is interesting, and I always confer because, again ‑‑ and I'll give everyone an apology of front of using an NBA analogy.
But we ask these tennis players to play in a regular week five to six nights a week for the ones that play deep. They're playing a two‑ to three‑hour match every time of pretty high level tennis. There are no breaks other than the 90‑second changeover.
They don't have a teammate that can take the ball for a few minutes. You have an NBA player that plays an average of 36 minutes a night. The starters do. And they have a difficult time playing back‑to‑back. We're asking them play two and three weeks in a row playing five nights a week, three hours a day. So that's going to beat up your body pretty good.
We have to figure that out a little bit better and see what we can do to keep them healthy. But it is a big question out there. I don't think it has to do with training or attitude at all.

Q. People always can see who won the WTA Final. It's over. But this year WTA create a new tournament in Zhuhai. Do you think the schedule is reasonable?
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, there is that one, and that's a calendar issue I think that has to be addressed. In a perfect world I would certainly like the WTA Finals, which is what we're here for, to be the last event of the year.
It is a calendar issue that we have to address. I don't have the solution to it today, but it's something that we're going to look at. We're very proud of the Zhuhai event coming on board. It's another opportunity to showcase the depth of women's tennis, which it will do, in a great region of the world and great venue.
But it is something that I would like to address and see if we could flip the weeks possibly. That's one solution. Maybe it's another solution that may be out there that we haven't investigated as of yet.
But it is something that we need to address.

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