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August 13, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Please welcome Stacey Allaster, who is the chairman and CEO of the WTA. Stacey is the former tournament director of the Canadian Open and a former vice president of Tennis Canada. For her accomplishments and contribution to the growth of tennis in Canada, she will be inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame later tonight.
Questions for Stacey, please.
Q. When you first come back here, what are some of the memories that come to you?
STACEY ALLASTER: I have a lot of fond memories. Sitting in this seat, it brings back memories of the power outage or some of the torrential whether that we had. But it really is a proud moment for me to come home and to be here with everyone and some mixed emotions, because I miss it.
Q. Last time I saw you, you were inducting Peachy Kellmeyer into the Tennis Hall of Fame.
STACEY ALLASTER: Yeah.
Q. I don't know if you're stalking Andre or Andre is stalking you.
STACEY ALLASTER: Andre is stalking us. Within the last six weeks, he's riding on the coattails of women's tennis.
Q. If you could just talk about, you know, what the history of the sport means to you and what it means to be a part of it.
STACEY ALLASTER: Well, look, you'll hear in my remarks on court tonight. I'm a Canadian kid who played the sport. When I was a teenager, I used to drive to York University and watch Chris Evert and Tracy Austin and Borg and McEnroe. I used to hang out at the practice courts.
I then worked here, I grew up here, and now I come back here as the chairman and CEO of the WTA, and it is -- it's incredible. I'm living quite an incredible dream.
Q. Congratulations for all you have done for all the years. A lot of memories. One thing I wanted to say and I wanted your comments on, and I think the toughest thing, as someone that's known you for a long time, it had to be a very difficult transition when this tournament lost Imperial Tobacco and you dealt at the time that they mainly did it, like the WTA, because cigarette couldn't advertise. And at that time, Rogers wasn't Rogers; the Internet wasn't the Internet. There had to be a time, I imagine, that when the cigarette sponsor was lost, all you guys must have been wondering if the tournament could have grown. Was that the, would you say, the watershed point of your career when you had to go from Imperial Tobacco into getting AT&T and later on Rogers as your main sponsors?
STACEY ALLASTER: No doubt. The transition from a sponsorship tobacco to a new title sponsor was a defining moment in my career. Many said we would never replace our previous partner, and we replaced it with two.
At that time AT&T Canada was building their business here, and it was AT&T Canada who convinced Rogers to come on and be the co-title sponsor.
So at that time we called it Rogers-AT&T, because they were partners in business, and we co-branded them as a tournament.
Then AT&T Canada's business changed, and I can remember definitively it was 2001 at Wimbledon where I was hosting Nadir Mohamed. He had just become the COO of Rogers, and I can remember him distinctly saying to me, I'm not sure about this tennis thing.
Because now all of it was riding on Rogers because AT&T couldn't meet their commitments. I said to him then, Give us a chance. Give us a chance to prove that Canadian tennis and this incredible women's event at the time can deliver enormous return on investment for Rogers.
And I can tell you last week while I was vacationing up north in Muskoka, it was a dream for us to watch Rogers baseball, and during that broadcast came a commercial for the Rogers Cup. Then came a commercial for Quick Start tennis to get kids to play. Then I was on The Fan.
It all came together that Rogers not only would give Canadian tennis this financial support but would give it a promotional platform, which really makes it a winning combination. And really, you know, I'm very proud of this relationship that's lasted now for 10 years.
Q. Your other role, more recent role, obviously you're aware, like the rest of us, that the wild swings of Wall Street have been even more erratic than the top seeds this week at the Rogers Cup. But what I want to know is this: This is something we discuss, and I want to know, given the kind of global economy that we have -- and I always know that women's tennis has been a grow sport -- are you finally affected by this global economy? Does it affect where women's tennis could expand or the fundamental financial aspects of the game? If you could comment on that.
STACEY ALLASTER: Sure. Well, as the world economy has gone backwards, women's tennis has actually gone forwards. It's remarkable, but between 2010 to 2011 our sponsorship revenues have increased 60%. We secured Sony Ericsson, we renewed them, and we have signed six new sponsorship contracts all in the last 15 months.
Our attendance is up across our premier events. I'm in the midst of negotiating a new broadcast agreement. I'm very confident we're going to double our net revenues.
So we're very fortunate on a global basis to be able to drive the business forward. We're not immune to the economic challenges that all companies face, but overall right now, we really are winning the race.
Q. As you doubtless know, there was some small controversy here about the tag line and inclusion of the men. You have a unique position, as you understand this tournament. Now you're the boss of women's tennis. Does it bother you at all the idea that the men here might upstage the women, the actual event?
STACEY ALLASTER: Well, the men certainly aren't going to upstage the women. I'm not worried about that in the least. And anything that can add value for fans is good for business, and it's good for women's tennis.
You know, I think it happens at each event where promoters are looking for ways to add value. Our industry is no different than Rogers or a car company that's looking to add value to the main proposition.
Concerts happen. We even have music out here on-site. Fashion, food and beverage, these events are entertainment extravaganzas, and they include so much more than just tennis. And really, who wouldn't want to see the great Andre Agassi or Johnny Mac or Courier/Chang?
So I think it's good for business, and I once again applaud Tennis Canada for pushing it and driving revenues.
Q. Is it conceivable to you that it could work the other way around, that we'd see Martina Navratilova and...
STACEY ALLASTER: I'd love to have our legends here. We don't have that many that are playing regularly, like the guys, but we have a current generation that does want to play a little bit more. Martina Hingis, Lindsay was playing, but now she's going to have another child. Iva Majoli, I spoke to her at the French. Martina is still playing great ball.
So it would be cool to, in fact, have maybe mixed doubles or have some of our previous legends actually on the court.
Q. There are some top players at the moment who seem pretty involved in kinda the running of the tour. I think Wozniacki...
STACEY ALLASTER: Yes, Venus and Serena.
Q. What are you hearing from them in terms of what they want the focus of the tour to be and their priorities?
STACEY ALLASTER: I think our collective priorities are to ultimately deliver to the fans and deliver to the sponsors. We have been on a long journey to change our circuit structure and have a healthier calendar so that top players on a regular basis could attend events like the Rogers Cup. So that's been our primary focus.
And second of all, we have renewed Sony Ericsson. We want to keep them. And now with these new partners, we're all collectively focused on how we can retain those partners and how we can grow the business in other parts of the world like China.
Q. On the previous question, you know, despite the growth of the WTA, it's still true that the men draw more spectators and broadcast ratings and even more media, you know, this week. Do you ever feel like you're in a competition with the ATP?
STACEY ALLASTER: Well, we're great partners. 40% of our events are combined, and we're in the sport of tennis.
There's no doubt that we're friendly competitors. But again, tennis fans are tennis fans. If you're a fan of men's tennis, I'm pretty sure you're gonna be a fan of women's tennis.
So anything that's good for the sport, you know, a great event in Montreal is gonna be great for women's tennis next year when Rogers Cup goes there.
You know, I'm born and bred tennis. I could never think of men's tennis as a true competitor.
Q. We might have a pretty loud semifinal here tonight.
STACEY ALLASTER: I think we will.
Q. Is the issue of grunting on your radar at all?
STACEY ALLASTER: It's on the radar, yes. We have a hindrance rule. We have a rule.
It's such that the chair umpire has the authority that if she thinks something is happening from one of the competitors where they're interfering with competition, they can implement that rule.
The reality of it is the athletes themselves are not coming to me, saying, We have an issue.
Where it sort of piques is always during Wimbledon. I don't know why, but Wimbledon seems to be that -- you know, maybe that's where we tot "Quiet, Please" from. They don't like perhaps louder noise. Plus I also think the broadcasters have done a terrific job with technology to animate the stadium so it is amplified slightly.
Q. So it doesn't seem to be a concern of the players. But with the TV viewers, it seems to be more of an issue.
STACEY ALLASTER: I think it's something that I can say to you that we are looking at. I think I'm very fan-centric, and if there is a number of fans who are communicating with us that it's an issue, then it's something that we need to look at.
The collective challenge is it's very difficult to change the existing athletes, because this is how they've trained, prepared for their entire lives.
But I think where we potentially could make collective changes as a sport together with federations like Tennis Canada, with the ITF, is work at the junior level and working coaching to train the athletes slightly differently and be mindful of it.
But I watch a lot of tennis now, it's a good part of my job, and there's grunting happening in men's tennis, as well. Unfortunately it's just our decibels are a little bit higher. Our DNA is different.
Q. A long time ago when you were the tournament director, you always felt that tennis was really part of a larger structure, much like, you know, where I am now, Sony Ericsson Open in Miami where music, entertainment is part of the mix with growing celebrities. I realize you're not Karl Hale, you're not running this tournament, but I know you fairly well, and if you knew that there was a Black Creek Summer Music Festival in Toronto at Rexall Centre, you probably would have integrated the music entertainment with the tennis. And I just wanted to know if you had any comments, because there are so many big acts in town, and the promotion wasn't really integrated, that if you bought a musical act you get a discount on the tennis or the other way around, is that something that you would like Toronto to do in the future to integrate the Black Creek Music Festival, because they have a 15-year contract, with Tennis Canada's Rogers Cup in Toronto?
STACEY ALLASTER: Well, I can't really comment specifically, because I'm not that familiar with the Black Creek Music Festival, but what I can tell you is that Tennis Canada has always been innovative, is always pushing the envelope with entertainment, and there's been a band here all week adding musical entertainment.
I can remember, we brought music to the Rexall Centre and had a bit of a problem. It was a little too loud because it interfered with play. So it's finding the right balance. You know, it's world-class tennis featuring the world's best athletes with a multitude of entertainment experiences.
Q. This might be a little bit of a Grand Slam issue as well as the WTA Tour issue, but obviously there have been a lot of comeback stories on the tour over the last few years, Clijsters and now Serena. The rankings take a little bit of time to sort of catch up with their form, and often what happens in the meantime is we get a lot of draws in which you see a lot of the top favorites meeting very early. Has there been any talk about maybe adjusting seeding so that this doesn't happen, some sort of formula or something?
STACEY ALLASTER: What I could say is if I were to change the rankings, I wouldn't sit here. Rankings are sacrosanct with the athletes, and that's what they play for.
So at the moment, all of the athletes understand that if you have really bad luck and you get injured, it's the way it is. You compete and you, like Serena is, you're gonna drive yourself back into the rankings.
So it is unfortunate in those first couple of weeks, couple of tournaments, where you might have Serena and we could have had Venus meeting each other here early on. That's just sport and competition. Obviously the Grand Slams are separate. They have their own rules, and they make their own decisions as it relates to seeding.
Q. With the Olympics next year, and the last Olympics season kind of affected, you know, the rest of the tour, is there a plan in place to address that?
STACEY ALLASTER: Yeah, there is a plan, a great plan. So the Olympic Games, the calendar, we go Wimbledon and then we have Stanford, San Diego, then you have a transition week for the athletes to get back to London. The opening ceremonies is on that Friday night. Olympic competition will start the next day and will run through for eight days. The women's gold medal match will be on the Saturday.
We have worked with Tennis Canada where they will have a smaller draw. They will have a 48 draw instead of a 56 and a Tuesday start. So instead of starting Monday with a 56, we will start Tuesday with a 48. If you're a seeded player, that will then mean you potentially might not have to play until Thursday.
So that gives the athletes, if you're in the gold medal match, from, you know, Saturday night to Thursday to be able to travel and transition and go from grass to hard.
I will give a really short speech on court tonight, but there are a few people I would like to thank I will not thank on court.
You've heard of Charlie's Angels. Well, Stacey, I've had my own angels and they were Bob Moffat, Jim Fleck, and Derek Strang. If you've read my story and you know the facts, just getting employed at Tennis Canada was a bit of a challenge. They turned me down three times.
It was Bob who, you know, saw this persistent young woman who wasn't going away that said, I'll give you a chance. There was no job. I was called the special projects coordinator, and it was a three-month contract.
At that time I was hustling for a new job and I found one. I was going to go work for the Blue Jays. I was going to be a manager for the Blue Jays.
I'm not sure where my destiny would have been had that happened. I remember definitively telling who I was working for, reporting to, that, you know, I've got a job with the Blue Jays. It's full-time. I'm out of college. Gotta go, unless you'd like to make this full-time. He said, Good luck to you.
Out of respect to Bob, I went to his office and said, I just want you to know that I'm going to accept this job from the Blue Jays.
He said, Give me one hour.
Fifteen years later, I know I spent 15 years at Tennis Canada very much thanks to Bob for seeing the potential in me.
Then another historical moment came in 1995 when John Beddington, who had been the tournament director of the event for 17 years, he was also the commercial driver of the tournament for so many years, and I was 32 years old, still 5-foot-1-nothing, and was the board gonna hand over commercial for this organization for this tournament? I can remember George Gross -- I'm in his media room -- when John left, it was $100 million man leaving Tennis Canada. What's gonna happen?
Tennis Canada said, We're gonna give it to Allaster. And Jim Fleck was the chair of the board at that time. It was thanks to Jim for having the leadership in the boardroom at that time to give a 32-year-old young woman the opportunity to lead Tennis Canada on the commercial front.
Jim's been a great supporter of mine ever since. He even was involved in helping me become the chairman and CEO of the WTA. He's been a great angel.
And last, but not least, Derek Strang who worked with me for 15 years, is a great friend and is a great mentor, and certainly without Derek I would not have achieved all of the success.
Thank you for my personal moment. I appreciate you all. You've all been great for many, many years supporting me and Canadian tennis, and I appreciate everything you've done for our sport.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports