Who is Adam Helfant? Why did he leave Nike? What’s he going to do for tennis? And will he take a pay cut to do it?
By now it’s not breaking news that Adam Helfant, who’s been on the short-list to fill the ATP CEO slot since the fall, will be offered the post.
Though the contract is not finalized, and the ATP Comms shop isn’t confirming (nor are they denying, actually), it’s a safe bet that the deal is happening.
What is unclear, however, is why Helfant departed Nike in 2007. Helfant was suddenly replaced in September of 2007 by John Slusher, son of legendary sports agent Howard Slusher. The press release never bodes well when it doesn’t say anything about where the incumbent is headed. And when it’s got ‘no comment’ plastered all over it, it can’t be good, can it? (I’m just asking….)
FTR, he also dumped about 5k shares of Nike stock a few months earlier, though there’s no telling if one had anything to do with the other.
A lot of speculation has been swirling around about the ATP CEO post and the notion of kicking it to a tennis outsider. Granted, unlike his predecessor, Helfant was the head of marketing for a major sports brand. But does that mean he knows anything about the tennis community en masse, or, well, even care? That is rather a sticking point given the chilly reception of outgoing executive chairman and president Etienne de Villiers, who had been cast upon with a suspicious eye due to his lack of experience in the sport. Or in his case, any sport. Add to this the geographic areas of global growth tennis has been experiencing, and it seems somewhat odd that an American would be hired.
A bigger question is compensation, and whether Helfant’s going to stick with the salary trend introduced by de Villiers. During his rocky 3½-year tenure, one of the most impressive things “Mr. Disney” did was simultaneously increase revenues for the ATP, and cut his own salary.
This was a bold move for any growing business, and to many, it showed his dedication to the sport as a sign of good faith.
According to their IRS 990 filings, under the leadership of Mark Miles, ATP CEO compensation was $931,770 for 2004 and 2005 with revenue at $33.6M and $37.5M respectively. De Villiers dropped the salary figure down to $763,966 in 2006, while pulling in an estimated $53M in ’06 — roughly a 40% revenue increase over one fiscal year.
In 2007, de Villiers bumped his salary to $1M, when revenue for the year rose to $60.3 million. It should be noted that total expenses for the Tour rose to $61.3M in 2007 from $47.6M in 2006, which is due in large part to the $18M in legal fees accrued through the trial with the Hamburg tournament.
I should point out that I’m not saying de Villiers shouldn’t have exited. Both players and fans alike had good beefs to pick with de Villier-era legacy items like the round robin format, the loss of the Mercedes sponsorship; changes in the calendar, rankings system and tournament branding; not to mention the Hamburg trial (still ongoing). I do think most of us in the tennis world think he had only good intentions, but “ATP World Tour Masters 1000″ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor does it seem logical that the officials didn’t even know the rules and had to wake him up in the middle of the night to find out what they were.
The SEC 8-K for Helfant reports that his earnings for 2007 included a base of $900k, plus bonuses and options. Had the departure not be so hasty, he would have had his base bumped to a $1M in 2008.
Given a downturn due to the global economic crisis it’s not unimaginable that revenues will be undercut this year. Will Helfant take a tip from his predecessor and leverage his earnings based on performance?
This new guy has a incredibly tough row to hoe, and this isn’t a job for everyone. Tennis has a very unique challenge mending fences within itself, and has seen capricious growth, but faces a tough competitive environment, and a global recession. Sports that have much more reach than tennis are hurting badly, and entertainment entities never fare well when the economy sours.
Interestingly, Bonnie Ford over at ESPN.com started off her column on this today noting how Helfant, like the incoming President of the United States, attended Harvard Law.
What she didn’t mention is that this guy could carry just about the same flavor of hopefulness for a brighter future and change that Mr. Obama does.
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