The WTA released its Roadmap report for the third quarter of 2012 on Wednesday, revealing increases in player participation and prize money, and a decrease in overall withdrawals from events. The Roadmap was designed four years ago, shortening the season and attempting to cut down the number of players who would pull out of big events, enabling fans to know who they would be watching and when, giving them better value for money.
Helped by increases in prize money and a bonus pool, it has been a success. Prize money at WTA events (not including grand slams) has risen by 51 percent in the past year. The WTA says overall withdrawals are down 15 percent on the year. But – and this is crucial to fan satisfaction – retirements and walkovers in main draw events have actually risen 18 percent. (Withdrawals in qualifying are down 22 percent but they are not so relevant in terms of fan satisfaction, which is important to the Tour).
Meanwhile, the WTA also revealed this week the latest segment of its Strong is Beautiful marketing campaign, this time adding the word “celebrity” into the mix. Aretha Franklin, Susan Sarandon, Sir Richard Branson and Rory McIlroy have all added a bit of glitz and glamour.
Now, anything that promotes the Tour in a positive way is a good thing – the original Strong is Beautiful campaign used the players alone to promote a positive image for women and was well-received. This time, “real-estate mogul” Donald Trump is also involved. Trump’s love for tennis – and his backing of it – is well known and he counts John McEnroe among his friends. But is it really a good image for the WTA to use a man who owns the Miss Universe Organisation (now a joint venture with NBC), which is renowned for its beauty pageants, to promote women’s tennis?
More importantly, Trump is also well known for his development of casinos and involvement in gambling, a word that makes tennis officials squirm uneasily in their seats. Trump was even elected into the “Gaming Hall of Fame” in 1995 for his services to the industry. But while tennis is trying to rid itself of claims of match fixing and gambling cartels, they are treading a fine line.
Stacey Allaster, the chairman and CEO of the WTA Tour, says the campaign is aimed at “tapping into these celebrities’ fan bases and powerful personal brands to help stretch the boundaries of the sport even further and attract a new generation of fans to women’s tennis”.
The question is: is it really necessary? And is it actually putting the women in a good light? It is perhaps no coincidence that these initiatives come so soon after this year’s Wimbledon Championships, where the likes of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova – two truly global sports stars – had to answer questions about whether they deserved equal prize money (thanks to France’s Gilles Simon raising the thorny issue in public).
The topic of “grunting” in the women’s game is also never far from the headlines. Fans and television companies don’t like it and Allaster has shown her willingness to listen to both, announcing plans to educate juniors that excessive grunting is both unnecessary and unfair to opponents.
According to the latest Roadmap release, in the past 24 months, the WTA has secured $160 million in sponsorship, television and WTA Championships revenues and achieved new milestones in global tournament attendance and television viewership.
It – and Allaster – are clearly doing a lot of things right. It will be interesting to see how the new marketing campaign works out.