“Just wondering…..am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?” – Roger Federer
When the GOAT speaks, the tennis world invariably listens. Merging the mens & womens tennis tours has been an idea floated for several decades now. And with significant time spent off court due to COVID-19, attention has been once again focused on a potential merger and the pro’s and con’s that this would entail.
Why They Should Merge
On paper, the tours should merge. In an age where female tennis athletes are the leading earners in women’s sport worldwide, merging the tours would be a significant step forward in the growing trend of equality in sport. The bargaining power is also greater when men and women offer a unified product. The tours’ business models are essentially the same, which means it would be easy to streamline the data, officiating, streaming of events and sponsorshops. One of the best attributes of the grand slams and some tour events is when men and women play alongside each other, something that should be looked to capitilise on more.
Merging the tours is also a great hedge, with the prospect of 4 of the greatest tennis players of all time likely to retire in the coming years (Federer, Serena, Djokovic & Nadal). The loss of these larger-than-life titans of the sport will be signficiant, and the sharing of commercially viable players among both tours will mean both tours see more success.
The real issue comes down to the execution. The ATP tour is in a far stronger financial position, consistently draws more viewers and better attendance, has better sponsorship deals and is the bluechip part of tennis. On the other hand, the WTA tour is in real trouble if the Asian swing doesn’t end up happening later this year. The ATP tour is economically much stronger, and would therefore need to take on the comparably instable nature of the WTA tour.
Despite generating significantly more revenue across the board, are the male players going to be willing to divide the prize money equally? The prize money at grand slams has been the same for roughly 2 decades despite a similar situation, so I think that this is still able to be accomodated for. There is also the question of both tours surrendering power to a combined commisioner of both tours. This, along with many other challenges, represent signficant roadblocks to the merging of the tours.
It’s Worth The Risk
But ultimately, tennis needs to capitilise on the position it holds as the most popular women’s sport in the world, and take the risk of merging the tours in order to see the progression of the sport in the coming decades.
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