The names conjure up the biggest championships in sports: The Super Bowl, The World Cup, The World Series, The Stanley Cup, golf’s The Masters.
In tennis, the year-end championship is more like a quiz show even hardcore fans struggle to keep up with.
The man-on-the-street quiz:
Q: What is men’s tennis’ year-end championship called?
You see, every few years the NFL DOESN’T get together and say, ‘Let’s change the name of the Super Bowl. How about NFL Super Championship? The World Finale? Super World Finale? Super Football World Spectacular?’
No. It’s the Super Bowl. Usually with a roman numeral behind it, and million-dollar sponsors lining up to support it. Because they built the brand.
Men’s tennis’ year-end championship changes every few years at the whim of a new sponsor, CEO or ATP marketing ‘think tank.’ On Tuesday during another slow rainy news day at Wimbledon, the ATP announced the good — that in 2009 the year-end championship would be moving from Shanghai to London — and the bad — that it would be renamed the ‘ATP World Tour Final.’
This, for the uninitiated, is a 180-turn from a few years ago when the ATP marketing machine was adamant that “tennis” and “masters” needed to be in the title of the year-end championship — “masters” to tie the event to the early days when the event was simply known as “The Masters,” and “tennis” because, well, say so that the part-time golf-writer-covering-tennis wouldn’t confuse it with the golf Masters. Thus the “Tennis Masters Cup” was born.
Now roughly seven years later there has been another turn-over at the ATP, and the new marketing crew needed to put their new brand on the product. “Tennis” is out. “Masters” is out. “World” is in.
Relatively-new ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers used to be a head honcho at Disney — like Disney “World,” DisneyLand, etc. Reportedly ATP officials wanted to stress to fans that the men’s circuit is a “world” tour. Was that ever an issue? Geniuses? I guess better “World” than “Land,” since we could have easily ended up with “ATP TennisLand World Tour Championship.” Perhaps we can hold out hope for another five years down the road when they change the name again.
In 2006 de Villiers let slip to the media that Shanghai probably wasn’t the best place for the year-end championship, and began lobbying for London, where he had set up the unofficial ATP Headquarters, pulling most of the resources and manpower out of the “official headquarters” in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
London is a major hub and a natural location to host the year-end championships, just as New York City was when the event was known as “The Masters.” Good location change, but why another name change?
It is analogous to the local school systems in the U.S., where every few years a new superintendent will come in and change absolutely everything, introducing new programs and such that teachers end up ignoring with a ‘This too shall pass’ attitude. But in tennis’ case it’s the media and fans that turn off another “marketing strategy,” another name change, another u-turn in an already-hard-to-follow sport.
So to review, tennis’ “Super Bowl” is no longer The Masters, or the Masters Cup, or the Tennis Masters Cup, or the ATP World Championship, but the ATP World Tour Final. Tennis fans and players will still likely refer to it as “The Masters,” and casual sports fans will refer to it as “The wha?” Also hilarious from a marketing standpoint is that “Tour” is back in the title, a couple years after the ATP dropped the title “ATP Tour,” educating the media that they are “no longer just a tour” but run all of tennis.
Even upon the press announcement, the event’s honchos took the easy “year-end championships/finale” road.
“The O2 Arena is a world class venue designed to host world class music and sports events and we’re thrilled it’s the new home for the ATP’s end of season finale,” said Philip Beard, Chief Executive of The O2 Arena. Or, he could have added, ’Whatever the hell they’ve renamed it now.’
World No. 1 Roger Federer also wasn’t too clear on the new title jumble.
“I love coming to London for The Championships each summer, so I am delighted that the end of season championships will be moving to one of my favorite cities in the world,” said the Swiss.
Stuart Smith, President of the LTA, also took the safe road: “The LTA is delighted to play a part in this great event.”
Perhaps that’s the best name another five years down the road when a new group of marketing execs change the name again, “The ATP This Great Event.”
To add to the confusion (possible?), every time the ATP “re-brands” an event, they treat it like it didn’t exist previously. Men’s tennis has had a year-end championship since 1970, but the ATP says of the ATP World Tour Final: “Now in its 8th year, the event currently brings together the eight best singles and doubles teams, based on their ATP ranking.”
C’mon. For the sake of tennis, let’s embrace all tennis history and not just the year’s when one organization re-names an event. You’re the ATP, you guys control tennis, there’s no need to pretend the Super Bowl of tennis is 8 years old when it has nearly 40 years of history.
Regardless, let’s raise a glass to the year-end-whatever championship being back in a major media market, hopefully with a shot at getting back on the major media radar — before another name change comes into effect.
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