Fix ATP Player Absences with Cash, Not More New Balls
by Richard Vach | November 2nd, 2006, 5:46 pm
  • 34 Comments

   New ATP President Etienne de Villiers took a wrong turn this week at the Masters Series-Paris.But that’s OK.

   de Villiers has made a number of positive, bold moves since taking over the reins of the ATP, and he’s been on a steep learning 
   curve, immersing himself over the last couple years in a sport he didn’t know a whole lot about. He’s still learning.

   At Disney, de Villiers could throw out an idea and five different divisions leapt into action. In tennis, de Villers throws out an idea
   via the ATP and the four Grand Slams and the International Tennis Federation goes “Eh. You go ahead and play with your doubles scoring. We won’t be doing that.”

The men’s tour continued what has become an annual affair when a tired Roger Federer and an injured Rafael Nadal left one of the ATP’s biggest events high and dry, pulling out of the last event of the regular season, the MS-Paris. In fact five of the Top 6 players pulled out, seeking to heal injuries or get an extra week of rest before the Masters Cup in that sports Mecca of Shanghai.

“Some injures are serious, but some are maybe not as serious,” MS-Paris Tournament Co-Director Alain Riou told the media.

de Villiers, responding to the angry tournament director and fans, reached back and unveiled his new plan for marketing success in the men’s game — the old stand-by — “creating more characters.”

“We need to tell a better story of tennis,” de Villiers announced in Paris. “We need to build tournaments that tell a better story. We need more characters, players who people care about…What we’ve never done in tennis is give the fans what they want, so we’re doing a lot of research now. As a sport we have done a lousy job of developing characters. It was easier in the past to be a character, but now it’s a lot harder to get some awareness like (Jimmy) Connors and (John) McEnroe…We need to identify 12-15 guys and say: ‘How are we going to manage them?”

Say it isn’t so Etienne. Please, please give this a second thought. Whichever ATP marketing or communications head, still there since the 1990s, whichever one whispered this in your ear, please give it a second thought.

You don’t need to be picking out a handful of players and making videos with Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” blaring (remember that one? Brilliant!), or another “New Balls” campaign. You don’t need to create characters. You need to control the characters you have. And if you haven’t already picked out a top crop of players to promote/manage — well that’s another blog in itself.

John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors lit up tennis in the U.S. because they were John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. The ATP marketing efforts have been abysmal, Etienne, you said so yourself. Your marketing boys aren’t going to be able to turn Nikolay Davydenko into John McEnroe, or Tommy Robredo into Jimmy Connors. Save a few million and put a stop to the idea of “creating characters.”

You have characters. Federer (cool character). Nadal (musclely character). Andy Roddick (spastic chest-thumping character). Marat Safin (if only you could clone him and keep him uninjured).

What you need is CASH.

CASH will save tennis. You know those cartoons where there’s a warm apple pie with the scent trail wafting through the air, and someone smells the scent trail, then their body floats through the air with the scent trail towards he pie? Well the guy smelling the pie is the player, and the pie is CASH, and the players always gravitate toward cash.

Why do Roger Federer or Maria Sharapova suddenly pick up and fly to Dubai or Asia to play an exhibition? Why does Federer play a smaller event like Tokyo, or Basel, then skip the MS-Paris? CASH.

The Masters Series events can’t offer players appearance fees, because all the players are “required” to play, as opposed to other smaller events that are allowed to offer “under-the-table” monies. But what used to balance this out, even for the MS events, was CASH, as in a year-end bonus pool.

For the uninitiated, this was when the ATP used to hold out, say, $10 million or so until then end of the year, when the pool of monies would be split among the top players depending on how well they met their commitments (say, attended Masters Series events). The bonus pool went bottom-up around 2001 when the ATP’s marketing deal with ISL imploded. So for the past five years or so, there has been no CASH to lead the top players around.

If the bonus pool still existed, Roger Federer would be playing in Paris this week –  instead of skipping one of the ATP’s biggest tournaments because he chose to play the little Basel event last week and is now “exhausted.”

If the bonus pool was in effect, Roger would tell the ATP, ‘I’m too tired fellas, I won’t be showing up in Paris.’

Then the ATP would remind him, ‘But Roger, you’ve met all your commitments up to this point in the year, and skipping Paris will drop your year-end Bonus Pool check, as the No. 1 player, from $4 million to $2 million.’

Then Roger would think ‘Damn, $2 mil, that’s a lot to throw away to sit on the couch watching TV for a week. Maybe I’ll go to Paris after all.’

That’s what CASH does.

Now you hear a couple frantic people shrieking, ‘But that will only encourage tanking! Players will show up at tournaments and just tank so they can go home!’

Maybe. That used to happen too. But know what? That happens right now, believe it or not. But after a settling-in period, the Bonus Pool will have players restructuring their schedules. You’ll have less of players competing at small tournaments because they pocket big appearance fees, then the next week pulling out of Masters Series events complaining ‘I’m too tired!’ — they will schedule around the Masters Series events, like they do the Slams.

The priority for the ATP needs to be spending money in the right places: re-instituting the Bonus Pool, getting tennis on TV, experimenting with outside-the-box initiatives like round robin play and Monday-night prime time finals. Not on trying to get kids to put Nikolay Davydenko posters on their walls. Not on trying to popularize a Tommy Robredo Halloween costume.

The game already has plenty of “characters.” Take Federer and Nadal and Roddick and Safin and Marcos Baghdatis and Andy Murray and run with them. And like other sports, tell them where you want them to play, and reward them with giant wheelbarrels full of cash for meeting those commitments.

CASH. As the credit card commercial goes, “It’s everywhere you want to be.” For pro tennis players, it dictates everywhere you want them to be.


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34 Comments for Fix ATP Player Absences with Cash, Not More New Balls

AG Says:

money is always good incentive. But winning majors and staying healthy for them is most imp for most top starts. 9 masters series is bit too much. 4 tourneys like Miami are enough to go with 4 majors, Davis/Fed cup and Year end champs. These 10 events should be the “show case” ones and must be mandatory. Then rest of the calendar can be filled with small/medium level tourneys.


Vik Says:

I don’t understand why everyone is suddenly “blaming” federer for not showing up in Paris. Give the guy a break, he has played 92 matches this season, more than ANYONE else, more than even Davydenko, who plays 35 tournaments a year. If at all someone should be reprimanded, its some of the other players, who have played 50/60/70 matches.

the ATP need to correct this “consecutive tournament” schedule. How can some one play in 3 tournaments in 3 consecutive weeks, if he reaches the final everytime?

I think “general fatigue” should be accepted as a valid reason if someone has played 80+ matches in the past 12 months. Very few people will fall into this category – those that do, will deserve it.

More importantly, the tournament schedule needs to be revamped – fewer tournaments, more spacing, more prize money.


gabos Says:

monday night prime-time finals!
that would be sweet.


Yours_is_a_dirty_word Says:

It is absolutely ridiculous for the golf and tennis establishments to whine when players don’t show up at events these executive directors have designated as “top-tier” because they’re schmoozing some sponsors who help pay their outsized salaries. I imagine the 6 tourneys most important to Roger Federer are the 4 Slams, Basel, and the Masters Cup. To insist that 9 others should be equally important because Etienne or some other jackass in a suit says so is laughable.


skorocel Says:

Hm, very interesting view… Anyway, it’s true that the biggest problem lies in the players and their tournament scheduling (unfortunately, it’s not exactly the same with the women). Even Federer once said that nowadays you have so many tourneys – it’s up to you which ones you’re gonna attend… And I can only agree with him…

But you know, I still doubt he would skip Basel in order to play Paris – that’s a nonsense! And I doubt even more he would need some “buck motivation” from the Basel organizers to play in his home tournament as well…

Anyway, paying the top players an additional cash for playing all 9 MS events sounds VERY interesting, but in my opinion, that’s only one side of a coin… There simply must be at least 1 week between each of those 9 MS events (also between a MS event and a Slam) if you want the top players not only to show up, but also to play… I’m still convinced that, even if the Bonus Pool was in effect this year, both Nadal and Federer would’ve tanked their matches in Hamburg after that exhausting final in Rome…

But assessing Shanghai ironically as “sports Mecca” – that sounds very insulting to me… Come on, do you still want to have more tourneys in the US? 3 MS events (+ one in Canada), 1 Slam – isn’t that enough already? It’s not the lack of tournaments which is responsible for the low TV ratings in the US during the tennis matches – it’s the current US players themselves! Asia is a very promising market when we’re talking about “selling the product”, which in this case is tennis (I don’t like this phrase at all, but de Villiers often says it)…

It’s sure that the players’ tournament scheduling is the big reason for all these withdrawals, but to be honest, ATP also needs to get rid of all those 200 000 or so bucks tourneys and try (preferably as fairly as it gets) to allocate the tournaments to all existing continents, save Antarctica, of course… I guess it’s still better to have 30 or 40 tournaments, from which 90 % would be filled with the top players, than to have 70 events (as it is now) and pray for the top players to show up – even at MS events… Yes, each continent should have had its fair share of tournaments, but if you haven’t enough money, then sorry – that’s it…

Seriously, what will advertise the sport better – to let Nadal play in a third class clay-court tourney (forgive me, that’s only an example) and be seen by a bunch of tennis enthusiasts, or to let him play in Paris in front of 15 000 spectators, + another millions sitting in front of TV? Yes, all these smaller tournaments pay a yearly fee to the ATP (which is a LOT), but if you want the top players to show up, you must accept some compromises, Mr. de Villiers. Once again, I’m not trying to insult any of these smaller tournaments, but if you don’t have enough money and spectators, please don’t do it! Asia (and China particularly) does have both…

P.S. The reason for applying the RR format only because “the fans will see their heroes more than once” is ridiculous… With some exceptions, the top players usually always survive till the later stages of the tournament, don’t they? Yes, it’s nice to see a guy ranked around 50th place to play more than once, but it surely won’t sell the sport better than to see Baghdatis or Roddick in action, especially when both of those guys usually play AT LEAST 2-3 matches per each tourney…


TejuZ Says:

Dunno if this Author has a grudge on Federer or somethin… in every article he writes he tries to put down Federer with some remarks. Sean Randall makes more sense.

Comon.. Fed earns a lot already(apart from his prize money).. few extra dollars doesnt matter to him.. why do u think he doesnt play the US Open Series tournaments, where if he wins he gets double the money earned in US Open. ??????

If he was after money.. he wud have played those as well.. comon… give that guy a break.

90 matches isnt a joke… especially after playing 11 matches in 2 weeks, with 2 best of 5 finals.. and virtually no rest between Paris and Shanghai. Blame the calender rather than the players..


Harry Says:

as some one said earlier if roger was this crazy guy behind money he would hve played the entire US open series .but he dfinitely did not .
the problem is atp should cut down the tour length and should end the year in october itself so tht the players can hve atleast 2 months as an off season .there should be adequate gap between tournament’s and the players should get atleast a week off between the two events they play .
well mr Vach money cannot make an injured player play a tournament because the only thing tht could happen is his career would get ruined further and no player would like to do tht..
i hope u get my point ..


dude Says:

solution to all these problems is 3 set maximums.


mpp Says:

steve,
you finally write something that partly makes sense.


Olivier van Bogaert Says:

Vach is a well-known Federer basher. But he should at least know the guy a little bit better. To think that Federer is motivated by money above all is ridiculous, this is a very American way of seeing things. If Federer plays Basel it is because Basel is his home tournament – and until this year he had never won it. He even said after the finals that he would have plaid this tournament until 65 so long he had not won it. Federer is motivated by new challenges more than by money: winning in new countries (his choice of Tokyo), breaking records, etc. As he is winning almost everything right now, money is coming along anyway. And how much do you think he is doing besides prize money? He is already one of the richest tennis players ever. In addition, he is not a greedy character at all, he is actually happy with quite simple things. He lives in the Basle suburb, in a nice area, but nothing like a palace, he has not moved to Monaco to avoid paying taxes, he is giving priority to his charity over personal fancies, he is even playing exhibitions for free in Switzerland, etc. To solve the ATP problems, you need to completely rework the calendar and especially put more time between master series. More prize money would be a bonus but it is not the main poriority.


Cash it is! Says:

I agree with everything except the implication that Federer would have skipped Basel for Paris. It’s a prestige thing for him to win his hometown event and he wouldn’t have missed the chance to win it.

Cash is where the ATP is at fault, in general. There seems to be hugely retrogressive thinking on how to sell Tennis. As Vach pointed out here once the cash dispensing mechanism is sorted out, everything else will fall into place.

The administrators need to rethink how to correlate the two things crucial for sell the game: (a.)cash dispensing and (b.)popularising Tennis. What we have now is not optimal; you have players going to Dubai for the money, but there are not many people getting to see them there or on TV. Put the money where the fans are and the players will come to the fans willingly and Tennis will not suffer.


funches Says:

Vach is not a Federer basher. Why do fans of certain players always believe they are being dissed by the media?


GopiB Says:

See the following from BBC Sports about Tiger Woods not playing the season-ending Tour Championship. Imagine the up-roar if Federer were to skip Shanghai, for the the same very good reasons, “to recharge batteries” and be fresh and injury free for 2007 to entertain fans worldwide with their charges at grandslams/majors.

———
Woods to miss Tour Championship

Woods has won his last six strokeplay events
World number one Tiger Woods will not play in next week’s season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta.
It will the first time in Woods’ career that he misses the event.

“Playing seven out of nine weeks with an additional trip to Ireland for Ryder Cup practice was taxing mentally and physically,” Woods told his website.

“I feel like I need another week away from competitive golf. I’m confident this extended break will help recharge my batteries for the 2007 season.”

The Tour Championship begins at the East Lake club in Atlanta on 2 November.


Hrishikesh Says:

Mr Vach,
You are terribly disgusting. In every writeup of yours, you have always accused Federer of something or the other. I wonder if you have some personal vendetta against the guy. He earns so much anyways-do you really think he centers his decisions on money? As Tejuz pointed out and rightly so, if that were indeed the case, he would have played through the entire US Open series tournaments and we all know that wasn’t the case at all.Honestly, I am getting sick of your comments and it’s not about being a fed fan.


SERAPHIM Says:

Why do ceratin people of certain fans of certain players always believe they are NOT being dissed by the media Funches?

Vach, a Fed basher? No.

He just likes to use him as an example of the negative most of the time is all.

The media are NOT the most trustworthy, honest, professional of businesses and employees.

I think that’s why, Funches, that some whom have already posted clearly saw Vach using Fed as the picture of this promblematic issue within the ATP, and all you saw was plainly the opposite in some “fans of certain players always believing they are being dissed by the media”.

I know Vach mentioned the others, but it was just to save face just incase we “fans of certain players” negatively respond. The man knows what he’s doing. He also has rent/mortage to pay and food to put on his table and some part of a business to maintain, and needs both sides to respond. Either to negate what he has said or was implying, or to defend what he has said.

You chose DEFEND.

So here’s my final question.

Why do ceratin fans of other players choose to defend the media? I mean it’s not as if we REALLY know Fed anymore than you would REALLY know Vach, right?

p.s. Please, PLEASE save the “I’m a HUGE, GREAT fan of Federer and LOVE to see him play his MAGNIFICENT tennis, BUT just wish he would die already” response syndrome.


qs Says:

1. The ATP only has itself to blame for tournament failures. Cash won’t fix it, suspension won’t fix it. The idea of giving more cash or suspending the stars sounds ridiculous.

2. You can NEVER blame it on the players. If the stars are in bad form or injured, it is BAD for the ATP.

3. The ATP need to protect its stars, and its players in general. Fans don’t want to see injured guyes.

4. Perhaps the ATP can change schedule for tourneys like Hamburg and Paris. Make playing these tourneys helpful for playing larger tourneys, otherwise don’t blame them for no shows.

5. I don’t think the players should be required to commit themselves to anything. If the top players don’t want to show in big ones, then more stars will be created.

6. The bottom line is there are too many “big” event that the ATP wanted to showcase, so you just have too much to ask from the players, the top palyer in particular.


vel Says:

Hi,

It is absolutely messy thing done by ATP.. Federer wants more money then he might have played Paris instead of Basel …. (Offcourse Paris has more prize money than the Basel.) Federer is playing for passion not for money…


GopiB Says:

Vach,

Even you could not be much farther off trom reality – suggesting that Federer would have skipped Basel and played Paris if there were more money.

If money was his motivation, Federer would have skipped Basel and played Paris this week, even without your foolhardy suggestion to increase money.

Why did he not?

He wanted to win his home tournament for the first time. Something wrong with that? He already has the second most master’s wins in histroy. What you should be focusing is on players who had a golden chance to pick up a master’s shield – Nadal, Roddick, Nalbandian, and others. You should leave Federer for a moment and get on other’s cases.

You should read and follow a bit of what Tiger Woods does. He steadfastedly sticks to a schedule that will keep him healthy, motivated, and fresh. Vijay Singh plays 30 tournaments a year, Tiger plays 20. Why don’t you get on Tiger’s case and feel the wrath of his growl for a change.

You seem to not only to harbor thoughts of Federer getting injured, but advocating so many creative ways that it may actually become reality. Why in the world would you harp on Federer not playing more after he has played almost the most matches on the ATP tour already?

I am sorry to come across like this, but your well crafted tirade against anything Federer does or doesn’t- him out of all players in the world – seems some thing is terribly wrong.


Mike Says:

Federer played Basel because it’s his home country tourament. He would not have played a smaller ATP event between two MS events if it were not Basel. I agree with the other posts, cut the calendar and stop blaming the players! Throwing more money at the big guns is not going to solve the problem – e.g. it wouldn’t have mattered how much money the Hamburg MS tournament directors would have thrown at Nadal and Federer back in May after they played the 5+ hour Rome MS final the day before the staert of the event, especialy with RG right around the corner.


kups Says:

stupid and angry. that’s how we should characterize the author. yes, the atp has a problem and they somehow have to fix it but even the atp president didn’t go as far as blame the players (it’s the system stupid). but this author went further. no, he wasn’t using federer as an example by any means even if other’s post insist in his defense. i would not repeat the what others already said before me, but for one post entry, defending the media in this case is an insult to the readers’ intelligence. also, i don’t have time myself but if i did, i’d probably look at the statistics when the pool was in place in the 90s. if the author posted those stats here and his claim is true, then it’s probably agreeable, albeit not technically true in this context. all the hypothesis is great but as mies van der rohe said, god is in the details.


John Messenger Says:

Richard, I actually liked your article. I also enjoyed many of the reader comments. What I found missing from the discussion, is that it’s not just cash that attracts players, but points too.

Looking at the top 10, it’s interesting to focus on the first digit for each player: Federer 8xxx, Nadal 4xxx, two through ten are all 2xxx. For most, if not all of the players on tour, when they chose one tournament over another, it’s not just the money, it’s also the points.

Now I know it’s structured so that points and money go together, but some players can wind up with more points and more match play at a lesser tournament. Especially, if they think they will lose in the first round.


John Messenger Says:

Typo: that should have been “three through ten”


lee Says:

are you jocking.

fed playing for money????!!!!!!!!!!

what did you smoke befor you worte this.

fed played tokyo because he could there isnt any problem there.

he played basel because its his home turment, no mater how many paaris would have given him he wouldnt have played there.

so paris as more money why didnt he play there???? or the us open series?????

and i want you to tell me how many exbishions fed does for many, non????????

not like nadal, roddick etc

the only 1 he did was for charty.

I witt tell you a secret about fed and how he like he schdel:

fed doesnt like to play a turment a week befor a slam, he wont play no mater how much money is involved.

he doesnt like to play back to back weeks unless the atp shcdele makes him,
he likes to come to a turments early to get used to the condsions.

so that is why he doesnt like to play, tornto-cincy and only wins 1 or the other.

he wont play 2 weak in a row.

bad luck basel is after madrid so he had no choise as he love basal and have to play 2 week but he wont to it 3 week no way.

the only way fed was playing paris if it was 2 or 3 waaks after basel and 2 weeks befor master cup.

you get it no money is involved here.

now read nadal comments about rr and the franch and the sunday start how he wanted more money if there is sunday start and you tell me who is after money.

I dont belive nadal is injerd, he sow the draw he knew he has no chance to win paris didnt want another lose espechlly no safin and wanted to get ready to the master cup.

so if you want to use ex of player how are motveted by money nadal and roddick is your ex not fed.

get it.

I cant blive with you so much “tennis knoelege” you dont know how fed schdle is turements, I gauss you really dont know about tennis and the player.


TejuZ Says:

Dont call the author knowledge-able… atleast he isnt so in Tennis i guess.

Am sure Fed would have surely played Paris had he lost in early rounds at Basel or Madrid… 10 matches in 2 weeks(15 in 4 weeks) is certainly a lot. Look at what happened to Gonzo.. he played the same number of matches as Fed in Madrid and Basel.. what happened, he just lost in 1st round at Paris..he ran out of gas for sure. But he dint quit Paris just because he was stil in contention for MC.

Dunno why new rules are being brought into Tennis.. Tennis is not dying by any means.. infact its more popular nowadays than it was during the late 90′s or early 00′s


tequilaandchili Says:

Obviously you are thinking of Roger Federer and other players as a prostitutes or gold diggers. However, there are players, like Roger, that have enough dignity to give to his nationals the pleasure of watching him at home and lifting the champion’s trophy instead of going after the money of Paris. Would you do that? Would you be valiant enough to skip money to give happiness and enjoyment to your own people? I’m glad that Roger does not have your mind set about piling up money for your own “benefit”. Roger cares more about his own health which is more valuable than money. Thus, wether you like it or not he has decided the best for himself.
PS, Even if you want to make in a subtle way, your dislike tour Roger is very noticeable.


sup Says:

i agree with Jan and the web that she gave because i’ve already rad it.
Mr.Richards and Monsieur De Villiers you both are disgusting, moron and idiot esp monsieur de villier. i think the one who only think of money is YOU! idiot…
roger played 92 matches more than anyone and he played in every final except cincy.
before writing to show your stupid idea, think carefully mr. richards.
and don’t forget to read all comments and look at yourself in the mirror and ask loudly ‘Why am I so stupid, i don’t want to break when i feel tired?
Did you see the trophy ceremony in madrid master series? the chairman said to roger ‘You are the great and brilliant on and off court’ try to find out this video and see how superb and awesome roger is! that’ll make you more clever than donkey and accept how great federer is for tennis itself and every good opponents love him.
like roddick said ‘i’d like to hate him but he’s too good’! are you a jealous guy?
i’d like to comment with difficult words to show my idea but i’m thai so i can write just this.
sure! i know mr. richards you can understand all.


TejuZ Says:

Hey.. Nadal seems to be pullin out of Masters Cup for second year in succession… Hez just 20 dammit.. and has played 25 matches less than Fed this year. I guess he just wants to avoid playin the Top 10 players cuz he knows hez not gonna win much on hard courts.


ATPSucks Says:

The tennis community in Paris should only be so lucky. Not only do they get a Grand Slam, but they also get a Master Series tournament. And unlike tournament directors for Basel or Japan, they don’t have to fight to get players to play in their tournaments. No, Federer, Nadal, Roddick are all automatically entered into this tournament.


Pete Brown Says:

I walked in on Maria Sharapova when she was on the toilet taking a crap!! I can tell you, that Maria’s dumps are huge and they stink like a NUCLEAR FART BOMB!!!


JC Says:

Why should a bonus pool work now? It never got Agassi and Sampras to play more than 5-6 masters events a year. Federer has lots of money. He’s going to play when he wants to play.

Question: up until the mid-80′s, many players skipped the French and Australian opens. What changed to encouraged them to change the pattern. I know they changed the schedule of the Australian, but what about the French?


Carin Alberts Says:

I despise your comments about cash. Federer has enough in the bank not to be dictated by money any longer, although of course it will be one of the factors in his decision to play or not. Why do you belittle a tournament like Basel? He played there because of emotional / human / fair reasons. And the reason he was tired (or anyone else in his position would be), was because he played all three previous tournaments right to the very end. If you loose in the first or second round, you will never be tired. Get a life Richard Vach!


qs Says:

Tourneys want to have Federer, and a winning performance from him (not losing first or second round). That’s what he has done so far twice more than any other. Trying to squeeze more out of him is despicable.


Zola Says:

I, too, think that the players have too many requirements. How can they play 4 back to back tournamets and then go to Shanghai fit and not tired? By the way, they can skip two tournaments and no one has done anything wrong. I think ATP should spread out the tournaments, instead of treating the players like money-chasing dogs. These guys are not crazy. They know they might win $2 million bonus this year, but it might cost them millions with the injuries and forces absenses in the future…Just spread the tournaments out, reduce the requirements….

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