ATP Marketing Geniuses Again Change Tennis Finale
by Richard Vach | July 3rd, 2007, 10:35 am

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?
A: “Ummm…wha?”

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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10 Comments for ATP Marketing Geniuses Again Change Tennis Finale

beerme Says:

i though “tennis masters” was the best it was going to get, why keep changing it? dumbasses.

paula Says:

the best change the atp can make would be to fire their current marketing team, they’re completely hopeless. the move to london is a great one, but the name change is beyond stupid. what was wrong with the good old tennis masters cup they had going, i thought it did a pretty good job of spelling out exactly what it was.

john barnes Says:

good stuff richie

Christopher Says:


Your post was spot on! The year end finale is a yawner. Only hard core tennis fans care who wins it anyways. The 2005 finale in China was a disaster. There were so many withdrawls from top players for a variety of reasons. I wonder if the top players really care at all about this event? I know the casual tennis fan doesn’t. It should be the 5th major but it isn’t. To be honest, I don’t know or care what it is. To me the events that count are the four grand slams and perhaps the 9 masters series events. They have historical tennis importance. This masters/cup/world/tennis/year end/championship (what ever combination of things you want to call it) is not exciting because it does not have historical importance. Fifty years from now no one will care who won this event. So in the end, does it really matter what they call it anyways? Just a thought.

Alice Says:

The change to London is great, but the name change is ridiculous! So what are they going to call each tournament in the series now, “One of the Finales”? a “Pre-Finale”?

It IS the Tennis Masters Finale, for goodness sake! Leave it alone!

I spent years in advertising, you want to grow a “brand” you don’t change the name! Look at how well the US Open Series label has worked out! Take that as an example!

C’mon guys, just admit you were wrong and change it back before you do any harm!

Skorocel Says:

Agree. When I firstly learned of the news, I’ve thought they just renamed that Blackrock Senior Tour or whatever that is. Hilarious!

Kevin Says:

Brilliant article, Richard, and a good lesson in brand marketing 101. Why haven’t you been nominated to run the ATP?

Christopher, I see your point about the ATP Mas… uh, that thing at the end of the year where the top 8 guys play… not having the historical importance of the slams however, consider that:

– a lot of ranking points are up for grabs. Those contribute to ranking and the possible year end #1 status, which are of historical significance and seeding for tourneys and majors.

– not so long ago before Federer’s dominance, the MC often determined who finish the year atop the rankings:

*In 2000, Guga took the race from Safin when the former beat Agassi in the final.

*In 2001, Hewitt won after Guga lost all three of his round-robin matches, and Hewitt won the whole shebang.

*In 2002, Hewitt finally secured the #1 ranking over Agassi at the MC.

*In 2003, heading into the MC it was still possible for either Roddick, Ferrero or Federer to finish #1, leading to an exciting finish.

And I think there’s the prestige for players of wanting to be among the elite of their peers by earning entry to the MC. Not to mention a chance to earn some extra cash and ranking points to boot!

I like the round-robin format of it, too. It’s the only time of year we get to see that, unless the ATP experiments with that again during regular season, which doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.

funches Says:

Very good article. TennisLand crack is a great line.

I’ve always loved the year-end event, and it’s nice to see it get out of China.

rjnick Says:

What they really need to do is —

1) It needs to be a combined event with the men and women.

2) Call it what it is — a World Championship. It features only the top 8 male and top 8 female players, (plus the top doubles) and they need to qualify over the course of the year.

3) Like most other World Championships, it needs to move every year. Cities would bid so that certain countries that don’t have the chance to host Slams or Masters events have an opportunity to host a big tennis event. It helps promote the sport in big venues all over the world because all the big names attend.

And by giving different cities a chance to host it every year, it adds to the uniqueness of the event, setting it apart from not only Slams, but every other event on the calendar.

4) Reverse Global Warming. My understanding is that it’s easier than actually making significant change in tennis.

Skorocel Says:

The same actually can be said about the rankings – on the official ATP site, they don’t call Entry and Champions Race, but only “ATP Ranking” and “ATP Race”… Sick!

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