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October 25, 2017
WTA Year-End Press Conference
HEATHER BOWLER: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining us again. This is a yearly rendezvous that we are very happy to have here with the media that join us in Singapore, and obviously we are very appreciative of your presence here towards the end of a very intense season, I'd say, for the WTA in 2017.
Obviously we have with us this year Micky Lawler, president, and Steve Simon, chairman and CEO.
Really, this afternoon, it's very much about knowing what do you want to know about the WTA? What are the questions that you've got to ask? So we really, really encourage you to raise your hands and ask all the questions that you feel you want to ask.
So with no further ado, we will start. Perhaps, Steve, we can start with what really characterized a very intense 2017 on the WTA.
STEVE SIMON: All right. Thanks, Heather. It's great to be back here in Singapore and seeing everybody here today. Always enjoy our annual chat here. We should have some fun.
Again, as Heather said, we really want to make sure that there is time here for you guys to answer all your questions.
Before I get into 2017, as Heather said, one thing I'd like to do here is we have always taken some time at our galas and everything and certainly thanked everybody that puts on this event and supports it and makes it the very special event it is.
We have had the opportunity to make those gestures, those acknowledgements at the annual gala and many other times through the week, but one thanks that hasn't been able to be given, which I think is very, very important, is actually here to this room and all of you. We can't thank you guys enough for all of the support and telling our story all year as we go around and talking about our players and our tournaments and the WTA.
Without you, we don't have a WTA. It's something that's very, very important to us that everybody here understands how much we respect the media. Don't always like the stories sometimes. That's fair (smiling). But it goes with the territory. But it is a partnership. It's something we greatly respect and don't take for granted. I'd like to start with just saying thank you to all of you guys. We couldn't do it without you. Thank you.
As we look at 2017, I think it's been a very, very exciting year for us both on and off the court. The WTA is going in what I feel is a very positive direction, and I like the progress that we are making as we are moving forward.
When you think about what's happened this past year on the court, like I said, I think it's been a very, very exciting year. I think we are seeing a new era of players coming through. I think we are also seeing unprecedented depth in our sport that we haven't seen before. I think some of the things that bring that to my mind and why I feel that way is if you look at the No. 1 ranking, as an example, and that's been a great story during the year. We have had three new players that have achieved the No. 1 ranking over the course of this year alone, starting obviously with Karolina, going to GarbiÃÂ±e, and now obviously with Simona. The final year end will actually be determined here in Singapore, which I think is going to be very, very exciting, as well.
You know, if you go further, beyond that, you're looking at a young player, Elina, that won five WTA events this year, and if I remember correctly, three of them were Premier 5-level events, which has never been done on the WTA.
We had a young lady, Caroline, who went out and won Wuhan and Beijing back to back. I can't remember the last time we had a player win a Premier 5 and a Premier Mandatory back to back on the tour, which is pretty exciting.
You talk about the Grand Slams. We had two young players, Jelena and Sloane, who won their first Grand Slam titles. And if my dates are right, I think it was 2005 was the last time we had three Grand Slam champions that were 24 years old or younger.
It is a new era coming through, which is exciting. And when you think about what the potential is for 2018 with the stable of young players that are coming through and performing at the highest level, and you begin to mix them with a Serena coming back, a full year of Maria and Petra and Vika coming back, and of course you've got Venus still playing at the highest levels of the game, you've got some compelling stories, and I think very, very exciting opportunities for us coming forward into 2018.
I see it as excitement. I see it as a lot of good things going on and a lot of depth in our game, which is exciting. You don't get that many players playing for No. 1 and playing to be here in Singapore unless they are going deep at the big tournaments, and that's what we are seeing and I think that's what I like.
When you talk about off the court, 2017, for us, has been a year of implementation. We have had a number of new initiatives that we have put in, all with the directive of being able to reach our audience on a 24/7 basis on any device that they want to watch us on. When you think about the initiatives that we have put in, it's been a huge year to take on as many as we have taken on. What we are seeing is growth in audience across every single platform, and what's even more exciting is we are starting to see an audience that's trending younger. Doesn't mean that the audience isn't hitting the key demographics that we want to hit from a commercial perspective, but something that's very, very important to me is obviously making sure that we are bringing in our younger audience who is going to be that key influencer as they get older, and we have to continue growing ourselves below and being able to bridge the gap of all of the new technology that's coming through and how entertainment and sports is being consumed, and I think we now finally have a platform that covers all of that and allows us to do it.
When you think about WTA Media, which is our linear arm, and it's gone on out and produced over 2,300 matches this year, which we've never had before, unprecedented. We launched in July WTA TV, which now has the ability between that and iQIYI to truly provide on a global footprint all 2,300 matches to everybody around the world on appointment viewing.
We launched WTA Networks, which is our non-live production arm and manages our social and dot-coms, all focused on videocentric, which is obviously the direction that consumption of product is moving towards. And in a year where we started with zero viewership, this year we had, I believe, over 220 million video views that went through this program just in the first year, which is pretty amazing.
We also just recently have launched some matches on Facebook Live, again seeing a very young audience that's consuming it, and initial viewership numbers are extremely high. Micky will touch on that in a few minutes, for sure. Again, very exciting and certainly all in line with what we are doing.
The final thing that we jumped on this year, which I think is a big one and we are really proud of, is WTA Charities, which I think is very important. We have never had a formal social responsibility campaign and platform. We now have one. The first year's efforts have been terrific. The three pillars of it, which is key to it, is service, support, and assistance.
On the service side, we have launched programs now that certainly assist and support through WTA Charities Cares that now has serviced over 50 tournaments and players' initiatives throughout the world, because it is about servicing them.
On the support program, we have been able to work with providing lessons and through Aces For Autism for I believe over 133 different people, which is great.
And when you get into the assistance side, we now truly have a fund that's there to help the tennis community who may have fallen on tough times throughout the years. It's certainly important that you're able to take care of your tennis family, and now we have a program to do that, as well.
It's been a very, very exciting 2017 from my perspective. It gives us a great foundation going into '18. It has set up, through all of these programs, the ability for us to truly diversify and begin to grow our efforts in the commercial space and in the partnership world, as well, which we are very fortunate in that the president of our company, Micky here, who does just an amazing job and brings such great value to our WTA Tour with her leadership and her business sense, and she's going to provide you a few highlights of what's going on on the commercial side.
MICKY LAWLER: Thank you very much. Steve told me this morning when we were on our way to an event not to brag. Don't brag. But that's really hard to do for me. Not about myself but about what the team has accomplished this year, which is nothing short of astounding.
The overriding message from the business development side this year has been that our partners are premium brands, consist of premium brands, and they have been very long-standing partners, most of all.
Why? Because we are the biggest women's sport in the world. Two, because the female market growth exceeds the market potential of China and India combined, which I read in the Harvard Business Review.
And, three, because it is morally and socially correct to support a platform that speaks to equal opportunity.
So that naturally provides with a very good foundation from which to grow our partnerships, but we also have to build a solid business case. That is becoming truer and truer as each day passes. So it's not just about exposure for a brand or about putting a logo somewhere. It's about truly growing a business.
So you will have noticed with our announcement two nights ago that we are not afraid to innovate or to be creative and that we are able to connect the dots and push the envelope by trying things out. We're not afraid to fail and course-correct and let's try this until we make it work.
On consistency, DDF, Dubai Duty Free, has been with us for 15 years. USANA for 11 years. BNP Paribas has been with the Finals for six years, and they are the biggest investors in tennis, specifically in women's tennis but in tennis overall.
Rolex, which is of course a similar case to BNP Paribas. SAP, we are in our second contract cycle and in our fourth year together, continuously working on the digital transformation side of the business.
You were here when we had the great announcement two nights ago. And then in 2017, we added a fabulous brand to the WTA family with Porsche supporting the Porsche Race to Singapore. That, of course, accomplished many goals for us and for Singapore and the WTA Finals here, because in naming the Porsche Race to Singapore, we were able to develop a year-long weekly story about the very, very competitive race to the WTA Finals.
What we do to integrate everything is we work on our platforms, we create events around the WTA, and as Steve mentioned, we launched at the WTA Networks platform this year.
What we do with networks, in addition to managing the social media and amplifying the WTA story, is that we create content. For example, the WTA Networks team has edited and cut the matches in real time to create highlights, short highlights, that then get voiced over by the players themselves. It has been very well received by the fans. It has done very well from an audience perspective, because not only do we share that on our own platforms, but the players share that on their own social media platforms, as well. It's a very organic, beautiful way to amplify the story.
We have also introduced streaming of press conferences and practice sessions. Here in Singapore, for example, we live-streamed practice sessions, and the legends give insights and commentary to those practice sessions.
We are working on three pilot shows that we are going to introduce. The first one is a look back on a historical match, which is a monumental match played by two players, two legends, Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce, and both of them are going to comment and relive those matches together.
Then we have the greatest doubles players of all time, Martina Navratilova speaking with two current great players, two current doubles champions, and analyzing a match together, looking at key moments again and what do you think about this? How could we have done this differently? What was great about this match? What were the mental challenges? So really diving deep into the matches and the players' heads, as well as looking at the big shots and key moments.
The third one is a show with Martina and Chris. They pick standout athletes of the past season. They each pick a different one. Why do you pick this one? Why did I pick this one? And then looking ahead at the next season. So those we look forward to receiving and enjoying.
And then the story of the month really is something that we innovated very recently, which was to stream the doubles matches on Facebook. We started that in Beijing, and, you know, we always fight for doubles and showing doubles on television, and it's not always easy because you compete with other sports, we're competing with new broadcasters this year that have a lot of other content, so doubles often gets left behind except for the semis and the finals. Even those sometimes don't get the exposure that they deserve.
So the geniuses that are behind Networks, Mike McGraw and Rob Dwek, they were able to work with Facebook to get those matches streamed. We have streamed 40 matches. The results have been astounding with views from 700,000 to 860,000. And what's been remarkable, as Steve alluded to, is the age of the audience. So we were ecstatic when we read in the Sports Business Journal that our television audience had decreased from 56 to 52. We're very easy to please, but we were the only league that had a drop in average age of television viewer.
Well, here 41% of our audience is under the age of 34 with the bulk of the audience being between the ages of 18 and 34. So that is really, really good news.
We also have a heavy male audience, but we are still very much female and male, so that puts us ahead of anybody else, as well.
The other great thing about the doubles Facebook streaming is that these matches are not commentated by professionals. So they are viewer-generated commentary. So people leave Emojis, they leave likes and -- only likes, no dislikes, and they leave voice mails. So it's really a new way that is truly -- you know, if you want to talk about real fan engagement, wow, we are getting some success there. So that is fantastic.
Then the other news is that this year we tried a partnership with The Wall Street Journal, and we had three tennis legends series. The first one was in London in late July with Kim Clijsters, and the second one in New York in late August with Billie Jean King. The third one was today in Singapore with Chris Evert.
What we did, we had these series moderated by Michael Lynagh. He's a rugby star, Australian. He won the World Cup with the Australian team in 1991, and he's still the lead scorer for the Australian team. He works for Dow Jones and works very closely with The Wall Street Journal, obviously, so he was the moderator in all three series. And he was fantastic as an athlete himself and as a businessman now, being able to draw the parallels between top athletes and leadership and leaders in the business world.
So these events were hugely successful. Great audience engagement. It is something that was so well received that we are going to continue and grow over the next few years.
Then we have Twitter as the world, the digital world, evolves. Twitter plays a bigger and bigger role in doing things in a different way, bringing sports content, fan engagement together. Twitter launched a program called Twitter Open this year. No, sorry, Twitter Custom. And we were one of three leagues only that were invited to pilot with them.
What this means is that Twitter looks for brands that want to sponsor content, and it's very popular, very competitive. We trend very high on this open platform. It was launched in the States in February and then in the UK in July and in Australia just six weeks ago in September.
As you can see, I hope that it is evident that we couldn't do any of this without the fabulous team that we have, many of them here in Singapore, and you can't imagine what it's like for Steve and me to be able to come to work every day and get the support and the trust and the confidence from all of our wonderful team members.
As Steve said, the year couldn't end on a higher note than here in Singapore, thanking the media for being our biggest cheerleaders, for being our fans, for telling our stories, and for truly caring about the WTA and its members.
So thank you very much. I hope I didn't brag too much (smiling).
HEATHER BOWLER: I also just wanted to let you know that we also have our partners in the room with us today. Rob Dwek, WTA Networks, is sitting with us. We also have John Learing from WTA Media. James Chubb, another one of our Perform partners. We have Melissa Pine, the tournament director for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals, Singapore, presented by SC Global, front row, Melissa.
If you have any questions, could you please raise your hand. Somebody will actually bring you a microphone. If you could actually announce your name and which media outlet you're representing, that would be great.
Please, if you can just direct your questions to anybody, either Micky or Steve or perhaps John, Rob, or Melissa, please, the floor is open and it's yours.
Q. When we talk to players or coaches and we ask what do you want in the future for WTA, they are, like, we'd love more tournaments. Like, we'd love to see, when there are four challengers there are also four ITFs and not one only. I wonder if we can have some clues about the new world map that should be on the way if you can share some of the novelties or...
STEVE SIMON: Sure. We're clearly working on, and as everyone knows and I have said, I am about evolving and obviously trying to evolve our structure. That will continue to play into these platforms that we have set up.
We are currently, right now, working through a lot of different concepts and things that we may want to try to do here down the road. Obviously a huge focus is on calendar, as you said, and whether you put more events.
I don't see us adding more events to the current mainstream calendar. I think that what you will see is with the ITF initiatives, as they are going through right now for 2019, is they are going to remodel their transition from the entry level of our professional sport to the WTA and/or ATP levels. We are going to be working very closely with them to make sure that there truly is a clear pathway for that young player to come through and hopefully achieve their dreams.
We all know very well we have a very crowded calendar. Adding more tournaments certainly isn't the answer. We have to work on our calendar. We still have issues with our calendar. And we have to be able to make some changes with our calendar that allow for not more tournaments but better flow and also starting and ending dates with our events so that it's a balanced and a healthy calendar not only for our players but for the events themselves to be healthy and to maximize their value.
Q. My question is will the WTA Finals be staying in Singapore after next year?
STEVE SIMON: Well, that's a good question (smiling). Our process with the Finals hasn't changed, since I have shared with everyone before. We plan to, at our year-end meetings, to look at the bids that we have received for 2019, and we are targeted to make our announcement for 2019 and beyond in April, okay?
We have actually had a very successful process and have found, which I think is exciting for the WTA, that there is a lot of interest in the marketplace for this event. We have received four proposals that are being worked on right now, which aren't secrets. Everyone here has asked me about them, so it's not a secret, from Manchester, England; Prague; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Shenzhen, China. There are two other cities who have indicated some interest, but I don't know whether we will receive bids from them or not.
We also have had a very good stay here, and I'm very happy and I love the city of Singapore. They have done a great job with the event. We have said all along that we'd be very interested in discussing an extension. Where it sits with them is we had an agreement that we would sit down following this event when they saw the results of this event and have a conversation about 2019 and the future, and I'm looking forward to those conversations.
Q. Can you also share which stage of assessment is WTA at the moment and...
STEVE SIMON: We're getting the bids in, and then we will be evaluating them with our board at the year-end meetings, and then we will be making a decision and announcing it in April.
Q. Obviously Serena is not the first mom to come to the tour, but she's certainly the most high profile. Can you talk a little bit about how important it might be that some of the players see that it's not either/or, motherhood or playing, but that they can be working moms on the tour? And how might the WTA try to help facilitate the possibility that there might be more moms coming? I know the men's tour has creches and things like that, but how important is that? Because obviously working moms is a big profile in other businesses.
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, no, I think, one, I think it's exciting, very exciting, and congratulations to Serena. I know she's excited to come back and actually mentions that she's very hungry for 2018 and looking to come back in Australia.
Serena is not the first high-profile mother that's been a mom on the tour. The most recent was, past one, was obviously Kim Clijsters, who's here, and Vika, as well.
I think it's something that's exciting. As you say, it should be congratulated. There is room for both. It can be done and they can play at the highest level. Kim came back and won Grand Slams after being a mom.
So I think it's very, very exciting. I hope that it becomes an issue that we have to deal with that we have more moms and kids out there, because it's great to see. And we do have several players now that travel with children. It's great. It's wonderful.
Q. Since I am from China and you mentioned that Shenzhen would be one of the cities bidding for the 2019 Finals, and we also know that Zhuhai holds the Elite Trophy, so is it 25% possibility that China will hold two season-end events? And do you see that the China market still has room to grow more tournaments or it's already too crowded?
STEVE SIMON: First of all, I wouldn't say that there is any percentage chance. I wouldn't put any percentage on where the decision will be.
Obviously there is some very great cities that are destinations that are interested in this, and they are all dynamic in their own right.
With respect to China and events, outside of the Finals, I don't see us adding any more WTA premier or international level events in the market at this point. I think that there are plenty in the market. You don't want to oversaturate it.
Where I think there is room for growth is, as we talked earlier, about the transition and whether the ITFs and the WTA 125s, in that area, how do we navigate that so that we provide the support system and the pathway from the significant investment that's being made in China for the development of talent to now progress through the system and that they can reach their dream?
So I think there is room for that, but I don't see us going on out and adding a lot more events within the market at this point in time. I'll never say never, but I don't see that outside of potentially the Finals, which I think is a marquee event, and would certainly be a star in anybody's cap to have it there.
Q. Steve, men's tennis at the moment seems to be quite proactive in terms of pushing team events. The ATP have plans for their own World Cup and Laver Cup that was launched, obviously Davis Cup still exists. What's the WTA's views on team tennis? Would you like to have your own team event, or are you happy to still sort of cooperate with the Fed Cup in terms of the calendar and leave it to the ITF?
STEVE SIMON: Well, first of all, the Laver Cup is not an ATP event. That was an exhibition, but obviously a great event, great success, and it was fun to watch.
Team events are very popular in all sports and I think very popular in tennis. We're obviously going to be supportive of the ITF and Fed Cup as long as that system is in place.
I think it needs work. I think obviously there's issues with it that need to be developed, but the concept of a team event is very strong. The challenge that we have is obviously getting a team event that can be integrated appropriately within the calendar without stuffing it in there, and if we can find that format and that investor -- and I'm not against partnering with the ITF or Grand Slams or anybody else, I believe in partnership -- if we can find that format and that investor and figure out how to insert it within the calendar in an appropriate way for flow, I'm 100% behind it.
But just to do it to do it, I don't think that's a good move, either. Because that creates only other negative issues that come from it. But the concept and the product around the team event I think is very strong, and it's something that we, as a sport, should be looking at. I know the ATP is looking at their new one possibly to start the year. It will be very, very exciting for them.
Q. In a business point of view, about to choose the next city or staying here, what are the main priorities or pillars to make that decision?
MICKY LAWLER: That's a very good question and a very difficult question, because we have worked closely with the potential host cities. I try to put the thought of telling the cities that don't win, I put that thought out of my mind, because that is going to be a very hard time.
There are pros and cons to every city. You know, we love Singapore. It is so good for business. It receives so much support from the government, obviously from BNP Paribas, from SC Global, from Rolex, from so many important partners.
And there is a great opportunity and will always be for the next, the rest of our lifetimes and many more lifetimes in China. You know, you saw the results from the 19th Party Congress and the positioning of Xi Jinping, and you can expect great things and great opportunities from China.
There is the opportunity of going back to Europe, which is a traditional tennis market and fantastic for an audience that has been forever tennis fans. Then there is an opportunity potentially in the States.
So there are pros and cons to every single bid, and we are going to be working night and day for the next several weeks. It's not like we have been getting our nails done in the last 10 months. So it's going to be really interesting, and we just cannot be thankful enough for all the interest that's been shown in this event. It's in large part thanks to the work that has been done here in Singapore and to a great team effort, because we are now in a very good place.
I know that's a very vague answer, but it's really the truth and it is exactly how we look at it on a daily basis at this moment. This is great. This is also great. And this is also great. Help us (smiling).
Q. Based on your experiences and observations from the past few years that Singapore has hosted it, what exactly are you looking for in a potentially new host city?
MICKY LAWLER: Well, Singapore offers a lot of what we are looking for to continue. Singapore is a global capital, cosmopolitan, very international. It's a business hub. The people are fantastic. The fans are fantastic.
The event has become better and better each year. The audience in Singapore is very demanding and used to big and great premium events. Formula 1 can attest to that.
So what we are looking is to keep growing, to keep becoming better, and to integrate all of the new initiatives that we have launched, and to keep providing growth and return to our partners and ultimately to provide a great sports and entertainment experience to our visitors, our fans on television, and to a global audience.
HEATHER BOWLER: Thank you very much. If there are no more questions, I think we will wrap up there. Thank you, Steve, and thank you, Micky, Melissa, John, and Rob.
Yeah, we will see you this time again next year, same room.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports