With the WTA’s Year Ending Championships in Doha this week, it seems a fine time to take a look at how the tour’s hyped-up “Roadmap” is working out. If you remember, the Roadmap was implemented by ex-WTA CEO Larry Scott at the beginning of this season to address the rampant injury problems and tournament pull-outs that were plaguing the tour. Changes included increasing prize money (by 39% from 2006) and the length of the off-season (from 7 to 9 weeks) while decreasing the tournament commitments for the top players (from 13 tournaments to 10.) It also instituted the much-loathed on-court coaching rule. Click here to find the WTA’s press release, which goes into more detail.
So did the Roadmap get us anywhere? Larry Scott’s replacement (and former employee), Stacey Allaster, says she “couldn’t be more pleased,” reporting that the number of player pull-outs and injuries have significantly decreased. Here are some of her comments from a recent piece in the New York Times:
Q. How do you view the first year of your restructured calendar, the so-called road map?
Allaster: I really couldn’t be more pleased. I think overall what we tried to achieve was for our players to deliver to fans and sponsors, and they did that. We made player commitment at 80 percent of our events. If we dial it back to 2007, we didn’t make player commitment at one of our commitment events. That was a big part of what we were trying to reform — bringing credibility to the Sony Ericsson W.T.A. Tour — and our players have stepped up and delivered.
I think some of the other metrics relate to the business aspect of the road map. In this economy, there was a 34 percent increase in prize money, which was incredible.
For the first time in many years, all top-10 players who were part of the bonus pool in 2009 will all receive a bonus pool payout. That hasn’t happened since 2004, and that’s all tied to their delivery of commitment. And Jelena Jankovic will receive a million-dollar bonus-pool payout.
Of course, Jankovic complained recently about the Roadmap’s restriction of top players’ participation in lower-tier International-level tournaments. J.J., just take your pool money and hit the beach, already.
Here are Allaster’s casualty numbers:
Q. Do you have injury numbers for the season?
Allaster: Withdrawals as a whole are down 30 percent. To give you context, the number of first-round retirements in 2009 is 17, compared with 36 in 2008. And total retirements and walkovers are at 58 in 2009, compared to 71 in 2008.
Allaster also addressed the $88 million dollar question. With mega-sponsor Sony Ericsson renewed only through next season – Allaster says she’ll know by the end of this year if the company will extend through 2011 – are the players doing what they can to keep sponsors happy?
Q. Are your players aware of doing more for the business in a tough economy?
Allaster: Many of them talk to me in those terms, even the younger ones. They understand it. Obviously they live in a world where they’re not affected by the economy, but they’re in touch enough to know what is happening around them.
Players like Venus Williams — you could not ask for a better player leader. She’s been incredibly supportive inside the Player Council, and I can tell you she’s been actively engaged with helping with the Sony Ericsson renewal. She recently participated in a meeting in New York with me with Sony Ericsson along with Billie Jean King and Melanie Oudin. I think we know the story there: the past, present and future all understand the importance of our sponsorship partners.
It took literally a nanosecond for all three of them to say, “If my schedule is clear, I’ll be there.”
Issues of the economy (and Jelena Jankovic’s scheduling) aside, I’d say the Roadmap is doing more good than harm. At least for the first couple of rounds, most of the big names showed up to play at the tournaments this year. The issues for 2009 – see Indian Wells or the US Open as examples – seemed to be a lack of consistency and confidence amongst many in the top stars. Or we could spin it WTA-style and rack up the rash of early round upsets to a new depth of field. But I think we can all agree that we’d rather watch Venus or Safina be upset in the third round than not see them at all.
I’m already looking forward to 2010, when the tour has both Belgians back from retirement, a (hopefully) healthy Sharapova, two motivated Williams sisters and a maturing crop of up-and-comers (Oudin, Wozniacki, Azarenka, Lisicki et. al.) ready to fight for Major titles. Bottom line – I want to watch the best players playing high-quality matches on the biggest stages. That’s where fans want to be, and we don’t really care how we get there.
Click here to read the entire New York Times piece.