Q & A | Peter Johnston
Major tennis tournaments have traditionally only flirted with India, but this time it looks serious. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour is starting a new WTA Challenger series with $125,000 (or Rs67.2 lakh) prize money this year. One of its two events will be played in India—possibly in Mumbai or Pune—in November. Four of the top 50 ranked players (though not from the top 10) are expected to take part. Peter Johnston, managing director for the Asia-Pacific region, WTA, who was in Mumbai to make these announcements last week, tells us what to expect. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How will you attract capacity crowds to an event that will not have any player from the top 10?
It is the promoter’s (Netsurf Communications Pvt. Ltd’s) responsibility to maximize the impact of the event. I am here to ensure that we partner with the right promoter. We are suggesting to—and trying to work with—them to create a festive atmosphere. We do that in some of our best events across the world. Like in the Australian Open, in the second week we have junior events, wheelchair events, and so on. We are in the entertainment business. So this has to be a week of entertainment, both for the TV audiences and those who come to watch the play live.
Here we come: Peter Johnston.
The WTA events in Hyderabad and Bangalore (held between 2003-07) have been discontinued. What lessons have you learnt?
We did a whole revamp of our tour in 2009 and made the road map. We wanted to reinvent the tennis calendar. We wanted to have only a certain number of events at only certain times in a year to enable our players to stay healthy all year long. That has enabled us to raise prize money, get better commitment from players to participate in them, (and) thereby greater TV ratings.
The Bangalore and Hyderabad events are not part of the new calendar. But it is always our desire to be in key markets. Now that we have the road map, we have identified countries where there could be new playing opportunities.
Compared with 10 years ago, there are a lot of events, both men’s and women’s, played across Asia today. Is that because there is money in Asian economies that can, among other things, drive tennis events?
The WTA tour is a global tour and it is important that we remain a global tour. We have observed that tennis markets in America and Europe are, while I wouldn’t say saturated but, matured. Whereas there is a real appetite for tennis in this region (Asia), so we have to recognize that. Besides, the WTA tour is a membership organization where we represent the players as well as tournaments. So if we have big tournaments where there is good money, we can get big players. That itself stimulates the economic business of conducting a tournament; there is always an economic story behind an event. We can’t afford to ignore that.
In China, the number of courts is growing by 15% every year. That is a big number. If there are similar stories in other Asian countries, we can’t ignore that either.
Is it true that more top-ranked players are willing to travel to newer countries, as opposed to about 20 years ago?
Yes, absolutely. The players regard the world as a smaller place now. We try to create a good calendar flow so that they are not criss-crossing. Some of the sponsors of the Asia-Pacific are playing a bigger role on the tour. If the inventory is here (in Asia-Pacific) and the tournaments as well, there’s bound to be players travelling here.