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January 18, 2018
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
An interview with:
-and- SAMANTHA STOSUR
HEATHER BOWLER: Welcome. Thank you very much for joining us. Obviously you have all read the news, and we are very proud of our new home of the WTA Finals. We have actually received a lot of calls and e-mails for questions, and so here is the opportunity.
Without further ado, introduce Steve Simon, who's WTA chairman and CEO, and Sam Stosur, who needs no introduction. But it's important Sam's with us today because she represents our Players Council, and obviously the players' opinion was very much a part of this decision-making process, and we are very proud obviously just to be here and share that with you.
Without further ado, I think the easiest is, assuming everyone has read the press release, maybe raise your hand and ask questions.
Before you ask your questions, if you would just be kind enough to announce your name and outlet for who you're representing, that would be easier for us afterwards to follow up if there is any need to.
Raise your hand.
Q. Could you just talk us through the process. We know there is a short list. How you came to this decision and why Shenzhen over the other candidate.
STEVE SIMON: No, it was a long process. We actually took over a year to go through it. It's a process we brought in-house and we did it ourselves this time with the real goal to know what all of our opportunities might be worldwide.
We found that there was some great excitement with respect to the vision and approach that we wanted to have for our finals, as well as we are very, very excited about the support and the feedback and the value that the marketplace was putting on our athletes, which to me was very exciting to see, to see them gaining the value that I believe they deserve.
As we went through the process, which was arduous, we got down to final presentations that were made at the year-end board meetings, and then we have taken those presentations and discussed them as a board. And also, as we do with everything, take them to our player and tournament councils for their respective feedback. Following that deliberation, we came to the decision with Shenzhen.
Basis for the decision is a significant opportunity for the WTA. Obviously it's the largest deal we have had in our 45-year history, to say the least. But the excitement about it was the far-reaching of it that it went. It encompassed not only the traditional elements that you'd have around the WTA Finals and significant prize money increase, which again I think goes to the value of our athletes, but it was a further investment into the WTA and promotion of the event, and beginning to create programs that really complement our core values of inclusion and equality for women within the marketplace and where that will go, as well.
It's a very, very exciting opportunity for us that we are really looking forward to being with our partners in Shenzhen and really applaud them for them supporting our vision.
Q. The 10-year deal, it's longer than one of these bids that has been in quite a while. Wondering what the decision was to give that much of a commitment because markets change. It sounds like a long time to be locked into.
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, 10 years is a long time. I think I have said this before. For events to be truly successful and for people to invest behind the event, you need time. And if you look at our most successful events in this sport, they traditionally have a long history. You could even look at our friends on the ATP and the success they had in London, where it's now been for 10 years, and look at how that event has grown.
We went into the marketplace with the idea that this would be a long-term agreement, and we found the marketplace was much more excited about that, as well, because there is a significant amount of investment that goes into this, whether it's one year, two years, ten years.
But now they have a chance to get a return and truly develop something. So we felt it was in the best interest of the event, as well as the tour.
It also now provides the tour a much longer runway, if you will say, that we can do some strategic planning and truly take this investment and invest it back into our sport and our game and the promotion of our athletes, which is something that's very critical for us, and we need to continue improving upon.
Q. There was talk a few years ago of the possibility the WTA and ATP holding end-of-year finals together. Bear in mind that the London deal for the ATP is about to run out, and yours, as well, was that ever on the agenda?
STEVE SIMON: We did not have that direct conversation with respect to this. I'm a proponent, which everyone knows, that really supports combined events. I think if the day ever came where we could bring these together, it would be an unbelievable event and an unbelievable celebration of tennis, having the top 8 men and top 8 women and the top 8 doubles teams of each coming to an event.
We'll always be open to that conversation when it comes. There is obviously a lot that would go into it, but when we do things together in this sport, we grow and really flourish, for sure.
Q. But you didn't approach...
STEVE SIMON: We did not on this one, no.
Q. It is often a topic of conversation how events in Asia, and especially in China, are not as well attended as events in the rest of the world. Did this come to be a factor in your decision, and how do you think you're going to tackle that problem with 10 years in Shenzhen?
STEVE SIMON: It definitely is something we are very aware of. We have seen attendance in the China events, events here in China, grow over this past year, especially. Clearly the China Open does very well. The Wuhan event grew this year. Tianjin had some sell-out crowds. The event in Shenzhen this year to start the year had very good crowds until the weekend when they had weather issues. So there is growth. There is still a lot of work that has to be done.
We are very excited about the opportunity I think that Shenzhen brings. With the new arena that's being built, it will be built in the downtown district, which hasn't been done. Most of the time it's on the outskirts, and now it's there.
When you have 20 million people in that downtown district plus 68 million in the entire delta region, and if we bring in the right team, which again, with the background that I have with events and some others that are coming in, we feel confident we're going to be able to fill it.
It's a huge priority. Our partners know it's a huge priority. It's something we really want to show the world, that you can do this in this marketplace.
Q. I wondered how close Manchester came, and also, the top 8 in the moment is dominated by Europeans. Was that something that you considered at all?
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, we considered all of those things. We had some very compelling bids, and the board had a very difficult decision. Sam can vouch for that, as the player council struggled with it, as well, when they went through.
Manchester put together a great opportunity for us, but the opportunities that we ended up with were just that much stronger than what we had in Manchester.
Q. This is for Sam. You're aware of increasing competition for female athletes around Australia. How important is the lure of such a significant prize money event in terms of trying to attract female players in tennis in Australia and do you think for the globe?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Well, I think that's probably you could speak globally not just here in Australia. But, you know, I don't know if too many 8-, 9-, 10-years-old are looking at the prize money of our finals and saying they want to go into tennis.
But it's certainly, you know, a huge thing for us to now have this opportunity with the prize money, with everything else that can go along with it. That's what I was more excited about is what the tour can do and how we are going to grow and get more girls and women playing tennis. I think that's really important.
I think it's a great opportunity for everybody involved. Absolutely in Australia it's obviously a competitive market now, women's sport, and whether you go down tennis or a team event, but certainly I think this can only help drive more girls to come in and play this, yeah, tennis and this sport in general.
Q. Could you talk about, evaluate the Singapore WTA tours, and what was the benefit of having Tour Finals in Asia countries, and any specific things you want to improve in the future?
STEVE SIMON: Well, I would say that Asia is a very important part of our tour. We end our year in Asia from September through the end of the year is our Asian swing. There is a couple other tournaments throughout the year, but it's primarily in this window.
And I think it solidifies our investment into this marketplace. I really believe that this event is going to complement, enhance, and support all of the events in this region and allow us to continue building them and building the ongoing introduction again of young women to the game and providing them opportunity.
Q. Steve, this is not unique to the WTA, but when the ATP and the WTA decided they were going to kind of move it around, they talked about two-, three-year move-arounds. Did that turn out to be unrealistic from the logistics of moving those events?
STEVE SIMON: I don't think it's unrealistic. I just don't think you have the chance to truly build a successful event or truly get the investment behind the event you need to get it to the success level that you wanted to. I think it becomes just an event and a little bit more exhibition tennis than truly building the event and the prestige that should be around it.
So we found that the marketplace reacted that way, as well. Look, this is a lot of money, we need time to invest and to get our return back out of it, and that takes time.
Q. Sam, when you guys were thinking about this and looking at all the proposals, can you give us an idea of any that were as close to this one?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: I mean, they were all fantastic opportunities, but, yeah, when we all kind of looked at it, I think it was pretty unanimous straight up that everyone was really interested in Shenzhen when we got told of the possibilities and the opportunities that had come from being there.
Again, it's not like some of the other ones were bad. They were all very good. No matter what, we were in a good position. But this was just so far out there, I think everybody was really, truly excited about it straightaway.
Q. Obviously the better prize money, but what other things...
SAMANTHA STOSUR: We can have a tennis-built stadium, again, in the city, in this region, to really try and grow, just the possibilities and what, you know, this financial opportunity can do for our tour as a whole. From week 1 on the calendar to the last week, you know, it's going to benefit every single player out there. I think that's what was so fantastic about it.
Q. Steve, this is obviously a big thing to do. Sort of moving forward, what will be sort of your commercial priorities from here?
STEVE SIMON: What do you mean by 'commercial priorities'?
Q. Sponsor for the tour or something like that. I assume this has been pretty time-consuming business.
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, well, we never are bored, for sure. We are always looking at our options. You know, with respect to where it goes, I do think that there is a lot of opportunity here beyond the event, and we are looking at sponsorship in a lot of different ways.
I don't know whether we want to have one big umbrella sponsor versus a smaller group of partners that work with us. But this is clearly going to be part of the mix as we go forward and discuss these things, for sure.
Q. The last time I tried to go to China to cover Wuhan, they wouldn't give me a visa because the Chinese government has issues with various newspapers at various times, and journalist freedoms are not always most welcome there. Is that something you guys are prepared to do to fight to make sure all sports writers are included?
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, I'm obviously not aware of the challenge that you personally had, but clearly, we are looking for, you know, to have full access for our media to come and cover the events. It's something we will be working on, for sure, with obviously the local authorities.
Q. I'm happy for Shenzhen, because right now we have another WTA tournament at the beginning of the year, WTA Shenzhen Open. Is it possible to keep two tournaments same year, or you will change...
STEVE SIMON: It's one of the decisions we will have to have now that the decision has been made. There certainly has been a line of thought which we may or may not do. I'm not saying we're not going to do it.
We have a great partner in Porsche that sponsors the race, and you have a start and a finish line for the race. You start the year in Shenzhen and finish. There could be a fun promotion around that, but this is something we still need to talk about and see what we do with that event.
Q. Does Singapore disappear off the circuit after '19?
STEVE SIMON: Well, Singapore was just the WTA Finals. I think it's one of the conversations we want to have. We obviously have had a great tenure there, and we owe a great sense of gratification to Singapore. When they took on this event four years ago, it will be our fifth year this year, it was with the intent and the promise they would grow the level and the value of the event. Clearly they have delivered on that process based upon this deal.
So we owe them a sincere amount of thanks and gratitude for the effort, and everyone that was behind that.
We will certainly be talking to them to see whether it makes sense to bring another WTA Tour event to the region, because the region is important. We have created a good market down there, and I would hate to see it get vacated. I don't have one to put there today, but it's something we will certainly look at.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports