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October 24, 2018

Steve Simon

Micky Lawler

Kallang, Singapore

BLAIR HENLEY: Thank you so much for joining us for our WTA year-end press conference. With us tonight we have the CEO and chairman of the WTA, Steve Simon, and the president of the WTA, Micky Lawler.

As we all know, it has been an incredible year on the WTA Tour from the start to the finish, and we're not quite to the finish yet, but we would like to direct your attention to the video screens for some of the highlights.

(Video played.)

BLAIR HENLEY: If we don't get excited after watching that, I don't know what will do it for us. As I said, still more tennis to be played this year, but I'd love to turn it over to you, Steve, for some opening remarks.

STEVE SIMON: It's great to be here and it's hard to believe the 2018 season is already coming to an end. What an exciting ending it's going to be this year with an amazing field here in Singapore.

First of all, I want to certainly thank all of you for coming, your support, and to the media, which again, we don't have the opportunity to really reflect enough is our thanks and sincere appreciation for all of the coverage and the stories and taking us around the world with you each and every year.

It's something that's critical to our sport. It's critical that our stories are shared around the world. It's something that is very important to us that you know how much we appreciate it and never take it for granted. Even if we like the story or don't like the story, it's all good, but we appreciate it very, very match.

It's great also to have Micky with us today, our president. I want her to come on up, as well, as she certainly serves as the catalyst behind the significant growth we are seeing on the business side of our business.

There isn't anyone better to share that with everybody here than Micky, because she deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the work, tremendous amount of work she's doing in this area, along with her team.

So for me I will keep it fairly short for opening so we can get to your questions, and I'm going to hit on just two topics here quickly.

The first one is the question that gets raised or sent to me on a regular basis is where is the WTA? How are you doing?

From my perspective, the WTA, at least during my time here and during the years in which I was a board member and before that as a tournament director, has never felt or seemed stronger or better than it is today.

The business is strong. It's getting stronger. We're seeing tremendous opportunity out there ahead of us. And I think we are truly positioned to be able to take advantage of it and to continue taking this business to new heights and continuing to evolve in this changing world that has moved us from being a service organization and a business-to-business organization to that of a marketing and a direct-to-consumer approach with our business. It's a very, very exciting time.

The audience of the WTA is certainly growing, which is exciting. From a broadcast in a linear perspective, this year we are projected to exceed 600 million viewership, which is certainly significant.

And as I say, as this business is changing in front of us and going to a direct-to-consumer and on the digital front, I believe that our video views this year on the digital front exceeded 300 million, which is up 20% in a year.

So it shows the great work that the team is doing there, as well as our athletes are putting into this to create the content that's being shared and viewed around the world.

I think that when I say this is strong is what's driving it and I think what's driving it is really a deep and diverse product that we have going right now. When you think about the depth of our sport and our product, we've got some amazing young athletes out there. And when you look at the depth, again this year, we had four Grand Slam winners, individuals, different, and we had four different premier mandatory winners, as well. You don't do that without tremendous depth to be at these level events and winning this.

And when you talk about the diversity of it, and I think it's where the stories come from and I think this coming year is going to be even greater with it, is when you look at it at the top of our game right now being led by Simona and Caroline, Angie, Sloane, we then mix that with the history. We have players that are going to be in the history books that are still playing and very competitive on the tour such as Serena, Venus, Maria, that creates a very compelling storyline.

And then when you look at the new, what you see is unbelievable athleticism, great players, and global reach when you have Naomi, Aryna, Qiang coming on it, it's very, very exciting, and we're not even getting into the core of the great players, of the Caroline Garcias and the Madison Keyses and all of that group, that all of these players have to get through.

So it is, I think, a really unique time, and these are really unique women that I think are creating the stories.

The second area I want to hit on is actually Singapore. It would not be right if we didn't spend some time on Singapore today, as we have had an amazing five years here in Singapore.

The question that continues to be asked, and it is the right question, is what do you feel about the legacy that the WTA is leaving here in Singapore.

And I think to answer that question is that really hits two areas. The first area is obviously the growth of the WTA Finals. There is no question that the WTA Finals and its product and its brand of an event is at a significantly higher level than it was five years ago.

I think that you can see that through this year we will have record attendance again. I believe it will exceed last year's 133,000 people. You have seen it the first few nights at the event. You have seen it in the evolution of the fans here. When I came here the first year, the opening year, I think you could have heard a pin drop in that stadium, because everybody was so polite and fun and pristine. And when you watch the matches now, there is a lot of energy, fun, enjoyment, entertainment, which I think really shows the growth.

And when you go around this city, the first couple of years it was, What is that event? What are you doing here? And now you talk about it, and they say, Oh, you're here for the tennis tournament, and all of that. So I think we have seen tremendous growth with the event.

The more important side, and I think the thing we are most proud of, and it's been shared to us from Sport Singapore and other of the governmental officials and leaders from here in Singapore, has been that this event, and in the five years it's been here, the growth and awareness of tennis has grown dramatically.

Obviously that's ultimately what everything is about. If you look at the community programs that have been put together, Sport Singapore, SportCares, the Singapore Tennis Association, the team has gone out and worked with them and created all sorts of amateur events that are leading into this event, SC Global's Tennis For Every Child program that I think reached over 15,000 kids this past year and reached out to 27 different schools, and all of the programs that are now being put together for young children.

Again, we obviously want to see opportunities for young girls, but we want to see opportunities for all young children, boys and girls, as a foundation of the WTA is about equality and having equal opportunity for everybody involved, and it's great to see that all these young kids are going to have an opportunity to play this great sport.

And then when you look at the Asia Pacific region, we made a calculated play five years ago to bring the WTA Finals and our crown jewel to Asia Pacific, and it was about to grow our sport in this region and to show this region our commitment to the investment that's being made in the WTA product here in this region.

Through the development of the team, our Future Stars program, which is set up to inspire the next generation to be WTA Tour players, Grand Slam players, this past year I believe we had over 21 countries within the Asia Pacific region that participated, and over the last few years we have seen players that have played WTA events, Grand Slam qualifying events, et cetera, which is a real tribute to the program and the growth.

So with all of this, this doesn't happen without the need and the appropriateness of a sincere thank you, but the WTA owes a sincere thank you to obviously the Singapore Tourism Board, Sport Singapore, Lagardere Sports, and Sarah Clements and the whole team, the WTA Singapore team led by Melissa Pine and been the tournament director here with Sarah the last five years, they have done an amazing job, and all the volunteers that have poured their heart and soul into this event, which is really, you can see the results of it.

The WTA is going to leave Singapore here extremely proud of what the five years have been and the legacy that it's leaving behind. We're looking forward to the celebration of the next few days of the event and seeing who is going to hold the Billie Jean King trophy for the singles and the Martina Navratilova trophy for the doubles teams. So have an exciting finish.

With that, Micky, I'll turn it over to you.

MICKY LAWLER: Thank you, Steve. My turn to be the teacher (laughter). I will keep it short.

So the Finals event, as Steve said, here in Singapore, has had such a massive impact on the WTA and its business around the whole world, but especially here in Asia.

First, you should know that the phrase "I'm so sad to be leaving Singapore" is one that we feel and that we have heard over a hundred times this week from our athletes, from all of our partners, our legends, our staff. Everybody that has been here throughout this journey has been permanently touched by Singapore.

Second, it's going to be close to impossible to replicate what has been done here in Singapore at our next destination. So I don't see them here, but I wish them good luck.

Third, we would not have the opportunity at our next destination had it not been for the hard work of everyone here in Singapore, including the Singapore Tourism Board, Sport Singapore, Lagardere Sports, BNP Paribas, SC Global, and all of the event and WTA partners and everything that everyone has done to get us to this point.

I have had the privilege of working in women's tennis for a great number of years, and the trajectory of the sport is at a new summit of success. I have to tell you that it's a huge source of happiness for me personally, being truly confident that we are moving from strength to strength.

Why such positive transformation? We heard Billie Jean King this morning at an event called Dream, and that was the predecessor of the unveiling of the Dream Monument. And she talked about pressure being a privilege and champions always adapting.

And when I listen to Billie Jean, always in such awe, I think about the road she's paved and all of the champions that have followed in her wake and the opportunity that she's created for so many of us all around the world.

And as Steve said, we are living in a world of change. I think that's always the case, but we are seeing social change that is unprecedented, and in that regard, our very own Billie Jean King is the human spirit that drove equal opportunity and diversity, not only in sports but way beyond sports. We are benefiting from all of the work that she's done.

Second, we are living in a technological revolution. And we are at the front of it because our first cousins at SAP, Dan and Francois, have done incredible things to help us use realtime data to make better decisions. They have helped us change the game and make it better. We are endlessly appreciative of the work we have done together with SAP.

SAP is not only transforming how all businesses are run, but it's changing our game. And we have only scratched the surface.

This year we launched the live upgraded media services, and in the offseason we plan to look at new technology that we hope will help dig a little bit deeper into the areas of athlete performance and health injury prevention. Together with the ATP, SAP will continue to tell the story that greatness can be achieved with more and better information.

IQiyi is another transformational partner for the WTA, and iQiyi has helped take our viewership in China from 4 million people in 2014 to 39 million people in 2017.

We don't know yet what the numbers are in '18. This year they have announced a partnership with SuperSport to aggregate and grow the sports vertical for sports consumers in China. IQiyi went public in New York on the NASDAQ this past spring, and the new partnership with SuperSport promises more growth, more influence, and even greater horizons for the WTA in China.

Our partnership with Porsche is in its second year with Simona Halep winning the Porsche Race to Singapore for the second time in a row. Soon she will start her own dealership in Romania, and you will all get a special discount (smiling).

This has been a fantastic partnership for us, as well. First and foremost, the Porsche family is made up of a bunch of great people, and they use SAP software to make the best cars on the planet. Steve drives one. He can tell you.

And Porsche also sees the female consumer segment as the fastest-growing space to the tune of an opportunity that is bigger than China and India combined. Together with Porsche, we dipped our toes in the area of fantasy this year, and you know fantasy is a growing space, so with the permission of our CEO, we hope to dive in head first in 2019.

So the theme is momentum and growth but also loyalty and sticking with us. USANA is in its 12th year of its relationship with the WTA, and for those of you who do not know USANA, shame on you, but they make the best supplements ever. We are very fortunate because our sports science and medicine team is extremely strict about what the athletes and we are able to take in terms of supplements. USANA is the brand that they selected because it's tested for purity, as well as its conformity to pass the Olympic standards.

For those of us who travel more than every captain on every Singapore Airlines, there is a specific product called Pure Rest, without which I, for one, would not feel as radiant and rested as I do. (Laughter.) I never leave home without USANA's Pure Rest. That's a promise. Not fake news.

So talking about travel, Dubai Duty Free is our longest-standing partner. We are in our 14th year together, and I can tell you that DDF, Dubai Duty Free, has done a lot for women's equality a lot throughout the year, which you may consider ironic since Dubai Duty Free is located in the biggest airport in the world and is the biggest hub from East to West. It is also in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. But they offered equal prize money at the Dubai Duty Free Open a long time ago, much before offering equal prize money was the norm on the WTA Tour. They have stood by us in good times and tougher times. They helped us bring Tennis on the Thames for the first time this year right before Wimbledon in an event which exposed over 30,000 people to tennis in London. So they are also, the group is run by fabulous people whom we love dearly and we consider part of our WTA family.

Still in travel but now in finance, Cambridge Global Payments, they have been with us for three years, and they handle all of the players' prize money. This is a huge logistical nightmare, but Cambridge has cracked the code for a perfect global payment system, which is the best in understanding foreign exchange fluctuations, which helps athletes avoid unnecessary exchange losses.

We're introducing a new partnership in 2019 with Morrocconoil. That's hair care, for the men in the room. Together, with Morrocconoil, we plan to launch a series of segments on social media that focus around content around women in leadership, women taking real women taking small and big steps to lead.

As Steve said, our digital and social platforms have grown astronomically. They continue to exceed all of our expectations, thanks to the work of our division in digital content, and on the broadcast side, we have produced 2,000 matches and we have exceeded over 600 million in viewership. Two years ago we sat here and talked about 500,000 people. So that's incredible growth in a very short time.

We will also launch a new marketing campaign next year called What It Takes. That campaign is made to capture the authenticity and uniqueness of the WTA athlete, WTA tournament, and what it takes to be on the WTA: stamina, laughter, creativity, and a lot of passion.

Thank you very much.


BLAIR HENLEY: I think we can now turn it over to some questions.

Q. It's a question for either one of you, whoever wants to take it. It was the first year for WTATV, so I wanted to know more about how that went and what kind of growth you're looking at in terms of even technology. Is there going to be an app? How will it work out? Because I know it was important for the WTA to own their own rights.
MICKY LAWLER: Yeah, WTATV was very important. We used to be combined with the ATP. We felt, for various reasons, that it was important for us to offer a direct-to-consumer platform.

It was really heartwarming to see when we didn't have it how many of our fans were truly angry. So there was even a cartoon about Steve and me, bashing us for being completely incompetent in not having WTATV.

So we launched WTATV. It's been incredibly successful and much more successful than it was when we were a combined platform. So what we are looking at is to grow it obviously and to connect directly to our fans. The fans demand it. We are the only league that is getting younger, and our average age went from 56 to 52, which is, you know, still not young enough, but we need to connect to the Millennials and the 20s and the 30s and connect to all of the people that participate in our sport. So we are very bullish about WTATV and hope to keep growing it.

Q. Players, when they are at the top, they always say I need to get better, I need to improve, always and always. I'm wondering what kind of areas you feel you need to get better on.
STEVE SIMON: Well, you know, I think that I have always had a position and a philosophy that you have to continue to evolve in every aspect. There isn't anything that you're doing today that you can't do better.

If you don't evolve as a business, you're going backwards. The world is going to leave you behind.

And we do have a team that we are very, very proud of everybody here that I think embraces that idea of how do we take it to the next level.

I think that our challenge is, and where the success is helping us, is we are now having the ability to invest behind the visions and the areas in which the staff is saying I can take this to the new level. And to have that effort is something that allows you, as you say, to get better.

But it makes you be honest with yourself. And as Micky said before, you take for granted out there, with respect to something like WTATV, and when we went through the break and we knew there would be a six-month lag when we'd be up and running when we did it, it was a strategic decision. But that, when you begin to hear from the fans, you begin to realize and you begin to appreciate how many people are actually following and care about this sport.

So I think that we look across and there isn't anything that we can't do better.

Q. Prognosticators out there are predicting very soon Naomi Osaka will be the richest athlete in the world from her endorsements and sponsors and everything. I'm wondering how the both of you feel that will impact women's tennis and maybe Naomi, but the positives and if there is any negatives on that?
STEVE SIMON: Well, I'm going to let Micky speak a little bit about what she thinks it can bring to the business side, but whenever you have somebody such as Naomi, she begins transcending regions of the world. They become global stars. Kim Clijsters, who is here with us today, fit that role when she was playing and she still does today.

The key is, obviously Naomi has a tremendous opportunity ahead of her. The key will be, for her, is if she can sustain the success and the level that she's achieved here in the last part of this year and if she can sustain that. If she can and figure out how to balance it and everything else, she has tremendous star power.

And when you have star power such as that and you have icons and brands that are out there -- and the unique thing about tennis, I think through a lot of sports, is that everybody knows our players and our product by their first names, which I think is very, very strong. And when you do that, that is what businesses and corporate brands and broadcasters want to align with.

So I think it's something that's very, very important for all of us, and I think it's also important that we are there to support Naomi as she goes through this and help her get through it and help guide her and be there as a support mechanism for her as she learns and carves her way through there.

MICKY LAWLER: Well, I would say that the toughest job and the biggest opportunity is in a country like Japan, every athlete of the stature of Kim and when Kim was playing Justine in Belgium, both the French and the Flemish sides at the same time, that was very unique, it drove a huge amount of business, and you hope that the athlete captures a lot, because, yes, the ground was fertilized for her, but she did what she had to do. And she's the one out there day in and day out sweating and sacrificing, working hard for what she's earned.

The biggest challenge is to balance that intelligently and to enable her to live in a space in which she's comfortable and she's happy, first and foremost, because it can be easy to say, Naomi, there is this opportunity and that opportunity. You know, you can spend your life at photo shoots. But that's going to come at a price. It's not only the price of tennis, but it's the price of feeling like you're living a balanced life.

So far, since I have been in women's tennis and when I started in women's tennis, only the top five athletes made enough money to actually make a living in tennis. Now that's very different, and I have been very fortunate to have witnessed and lived the growth. So have you, Sandy, and it's been phenomenal because it's been about so much more. But it's that balance of let's make this work fairly and productively.

Q. I have a couple of questions. The first one is there has been news out there that there is potentially a title sponsor coming in for the tour. I was wondering, is that actually happening, or is that even important for you guys to do? That's my first question.
MICKY LAWLER: So, yes, we have been working very hard in this regard. We hope it happens. It's never a done deal until it is a done deal. So I can tell you that we have worked really, really hard with a potential partner on both sides.

But it's never easy, because the tennis phase has a lot of sponsors, a lot of partners. So you need to work through every single tournament, every single player. Will it work for the partner? Because it's a massive investment.

We hope that we get to a point of a decision soon. If the decision is positive, that we can use the partnership as we have -- or "use" is a horrendously wrong word, to channel this partnership to continue to invest in the sport. Because one of the things, you know, when you asked, what would you change, when the athletes, they want to get better and better, and obviously we are the same, because we carry the responsibility of following in the footsteps and supporting what the athletes have done.

So one of the things that we would say is integrating every connecting dot of the business so that the amplification of the business is maximized, but even more importantly is the health of the athletes.

This tour is very demanding. You have to travel every week. You have to cross many time zones multiple times. We go around the world four times or, you know, you can go around the world four times in a season. It's just crazy. You know, the NBA, NFL, FIFA guys, they have no idea what this takes. Maybe they never said they didn't, I'm not trying to minimize their effort, but everything that we can do to support them from a health perspective is important. That's our big thing is what can we do to support their health.

Q. That brings me to my next question. It's about sports psychology. I feel that in this day and age it's more important than ever. It's always been important. I'm wondering, I know that Kathy Martin works hard and I know of the work she does. In the sense that there is always a trainer on the court, is there any thought of bringing in sports psychologists to actually be on the tour to help the players maintain a healthy life?
MICKY LAWLER: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we are already growing Kathy's team. Yes, sports health, mental health is very important.

First and foremost, the athletes need it, but they're young. The two of us need it (smiling) very urgently, especially him. Just kidding.

But this is a very serious subject. So absolutely we do need to focus on it, and you know what? It is the topic that as a mother worries me the most. Even more than physical injuries. And in the age of social media when the image is so important and to, you know, perhaps lose authenticity because you have all these filters on social media, it's a big deal.

Our athletes sometimes are not there because they chose this path; somebody else chose this path for them. We have to be extremely alert and sensitive and we have to be their extended family.

Q. A question for Steve. The WTA Finals will be held in Shenzhen the next 10 years, so what qualities does WTA see in Shenzhen to choose that city and during that 10 years' duration? Maybe also it's easier for Chinese journalists because it's close to our home, but it might become from Asian swing to China swing because you have Wuhan and China Open, and also next year Zhuhai and then Shenzhen. How does the WTA to keep, both media and players, to keep that level of excitement?
STEVE SIMON: Well, I think that obviously Shenzhen is going to be a great opportunity for this event, and the reason we have the opportunity in Shenzhen is what happened here in Singapore.

Keeping the Finals here in the Asia Pacific region, again, as I said before, reflects the commitment that we have to the business, but it's also, as we talked about earlier, and we are talking about player health and flow and all of those elements, we now have complete geographic flow. We have our athletes that have flown and are finishing the year here in Asia, and the calendar is being set up with some adjustments to it that will allow for a very easy flow into the Finals now in Shenzhen.

So I think it's actually going to be very, very positive.

Q. There has been a lot of discussion over the past few days about on-court coaching. I'm wondering, is the WTA considering making any changes with regard to on-court coaching at future WTA events?
STEVE SIMON: Yeah, there has been a lot of talk about coaching. It's a very polarizing position. If you go through our players, you'll find a great divide amongst the players. If you go through the coaches, you'll find a great divide. If you go through broadcast, you'll find a great divide. It's a divided topic.

Coaching, from my perspective, is here to stay as a part of the WTA. I would say, as again as we evolve, coaching will probably evolve. Is the on-court coaching approach that we have today the right one? Or should it be evolving to a different level of coaching? That's something that we are certainly looking at and we will continue to look at.

Coaching is a part of sport. It's an integral part of the sport of tennis. It's an integral part of the story of tennis. We, as a sport, from my perspective, cannot say that coaching doesn't happen and just look the other way. I think we have to support it and support it in a responsible way.

I think the WTA has done that. We have actually had some good success with it. But like with anything else, I think it also needs to evolve, and we're looking at how it may want to evolve.

What I'm hoping for is that we, as a sport, which is something we need a lot more of, of being aligned, is that as coaching is utilized throughout the sport, there is an alignment with respect to when coaching is allowed, that it's at least consistent across the board so that everybody knows what to do with it.

And the great part about coaching is it's up to the athletes and the coach how to deal with it. An athlete doesn't have to take coaching. It doesn't take anything away from a coach's approach that says I need to get my player prepared to be independent on the court. These are all decisions they can make based upon what works for them.

But I do think we have to facilitate it and not be looking the other way and says it's not happening when it does, and we intend to continue supporting it.

Q. Following up on the previous question, I would like to know what do you think was the reason the four most important body of the professional tennis, WTA, ATP, ITF, and the four Grand Slams, you cannot sit down together to one table and discuss all the rules and standardize all the rules regarding coaching and all those things? Do you see any chance in the future something like this happening?
STEVE SIMON: I absolutely do. The sports sat down here together in Singapore and discussed a number of different topics together.

Obviously there are seven stakeholders in this sport, primary ones, between the four Grand Slams, the ITF and then ATP, WTA. I don't think that the sport gets enough credit for the amount they do try to do together. I think it's improving all the time.

We have a unique place right now where I think within the leadership of the sport there is a lot of respect amongst the leadership, so we are sitting down and having some of these discussions.

There is a lot of history. There is a lot of ego. There is a lot of things that have to happen to do. But I think that if you look at what happened this past summer with the introduction of the serve clock that got introduced at the US Open, that was an effort where, for the first time as a sport, we got together, came up with one set of protocols, did testing together in the summer leading into a Grand Slam, got the players prepared as to what it would be, educated, everything, and I do think it's possible.

And I think we need to do more of it. We need to be more aligned, as a sport, and we are better as a sport when we do work together than individually.

Q. On the on-court coaching and Daria Kasatkina's coach brought it up, and Lindsay Davenport, as well, the other day, that some players can't afford to have a coach with them. So they are at a disadvantage, like Ons Jabeur was in Moscow. Do you think there would be a possibility somewheres down the line that the WTA might have a team of coaches at tournaments that would be available if a player said, "I'm going to need a coach to watch my match," or, "Help me," that, you know, would maybe take that role, just a few people they can help out?
STEVE SIMON: Well, it's actually something I haven't given much thought to as far as a team of WTA coaches. It has been done out there through some of the manufacturers have had coaches that coached the team, adidas team coach, et cetera. And I think there is some merit to thinking about it, because we have developed a pretty good coaching program that the team has put together and is growing, and that could help.

You know, that's one of the arguments in that people are coming up with, and I call them excuses and reasons to push it down the road and not address it. When you talk about the things about equality or the fairness factor of coaches, et cetera, there is already an inherent unfairness, if you wish, with respect to players who can afford a coach, a physio, a nutritionist, sports psychologist, a secretary to plan their deals and their whole team, and then others that are coming up.

We already have that. We have inequity in our sport with respect to the conditions players play under, meaning you have Hawk-Eye and line calling on certain courts, you don't on the others, and certain players never have to deal with the bad call that you can't go to Hawk-Eye on to get fixed and other players always have that resource to them.

So there is natural differentiations there. I will say over the ten years that we have had on-court coaching in place, I have not ever heard somebody come and complain that it was unfair because I didn't have a coach and someone was there. I think more and more of them all have a coach of some kind at this point in time.

But the idea that you brought up certainly makes a lot of sense and may be something we should look at.

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