Tennis’ Grand Slams premium tour plan: More money, equal pay, fewer tournaments

After months of playing shots off the back foot, the four Grand Slam tournaments have gone on the offensive in the battle for the future of the tennis

In meetings with representatives of the men’s ATP and women’s WTA tours last week in London, and with players and agents this week in Madrid, leaders of the Grand Slams have presented their strongest plan yet to reform the current structure of professional tennis. It consists of a premium tour anchored in the four Grand Slams and more top-level combined events, featuring the best players from the ATP and WTA circuits.

According to a person briefed on the proposal from the Grand Slams and the ensuing meetings, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect relationships, the details include the following:

  • Doubling the prize money for the top 300 men.
  • ⁠Almost quadrupling the prize money for the top 300 women.
  • Using a portion of their own media rights to finance these changes.
  • Equal pay, from inception, for men and women at all the events on the premium tour, instead of making women wait until 2027 to receive the same pay as men at some of the biggest tournaments.
  • A schedule that includes the four Grand Slams, plus 10 other mixed top-level tournaments, with locations and dates to be determined, and a team event.
  • The tour would end in time to allow for an off-season of six to eight weeks.

The plan would capitalize on the lucrative media rights of the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, alongside Wimbledon, and those of the other top Masters tournaments, to create a premium tour — various versions of which have been at the core of their previous proposals, but with little meat on the bones beyond that. ESPN’s 11-year-deal for the U.S. Open is worth almost $800 million (£647.7m), and it is estimated that media rights account for over half of the annual revenue for the All England Tennis Club, which stages Wimbledon, year in, year out.

The Slams say the plans will vastly increase pay for men and women more quickly than the ATP and WTA can achieve, focus the season around 15 events in a premium tour and extend an off-season that has shrunk to just a few weeks for the top players.

Leaders of the Grand Slams and the tours were not immediately available for comment. 



How to fix tennis

The Grand Slams’ plans would accelerate equal pay proposals (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Leaders of the ATP and the WTA, who have long viewed the collective plan from Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian Opens as a threat to their relevance and perhaps their existence, are not enthusiastic about this latest idea, according to the person briefed on the plan and the meetings.

Discussions between the tours and the Grand Slams have become less fraught in recent weeks, according to reporting from the BBC. While one official recently described “productive discussions” among the parties of late, this latest move could jeopardize any hint of detente that may have started to develop in the past few months.

It shows that even as the tours moved to firm up their control of the sport, the Grand Slams continued to work toward wresting it from them, something they have been pushing for since last summer.

The leaders of the two tours have long sought guarantees that they will have significant roles in governing the sport, and this iteration of a premium tour would relegate most of their tournaments to a lesser status which top players would have much less incentive to participate in. 

Now, the tours’ lack of enthusiasm might be moot, because by bringing the players into the discussion for the first time, the Grand Slams are playing a significant card.

It is their strongest move yet to curry favor with the people who have proven time and again to hold the most power in tennis — the stars of the sport, who attract the fans to buy tickets and to watch the matches at home.

They are now promising to give those players many of the things they have been seeking for years, including accelerating the closing of the gap in prize money that endures at several mixed 1000-level events and, overall, including greater financial rewards for a less demanding schedule than the current 11-month slog that incentivizes players to risk their health and wellbeing by playing in as many tournaments as possible.

The Grand Slams’ leaders have pushed for months to use existing 250 and 500-level tournaments to create a qualifying tour for players outside roughly the top 100. Top players could potentially participate in those events but not earn rankings points from them.

Nobody involved in the process expects any changes to occur before 2026, and the tenuous and combative nature of the talks between the Grand Slam officials and the tours could prevent any change from occurring at all.

Most importantly, to help finance this premium tour, the Grand Slams have committed for the first time to include a portion of their media and sponsorship rights, which are the most expensive in the sport and that they have long kept largely for themselves.

For months, the Grand Slams had held back on such a commitment as they negotiated among themselves about how much of their resources they wanted to invest in an effort that would make them major financial partners in the future of the professional level of tennis, rather than independent entities that hold annual competitions — even if they are the sport’s biggest annual competitions of all.

However, during the past year, the tours have made a series of moves that the Grand Slams have viewed as a threat to their primacy, including potentially disrupting a schedule that climaxes four times a year with the Grand Slams.

Leaders of the organizations that control the Grand Slams have decided that the only way to ensure that they maintain their strength is through further investment in the overall management of the sport.

Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. Opens want to invest more directly into tennis (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

In meetings, and in a presentation at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in March, top tennis leaders were still waiting for a premium tour plan that the Grand Slams had purportedly been fleshing out for months — to the extent that the proposed presentation had slipped from last November, at the ATP Finals in the Italian city of Turin. Four months later, no framework for the integration of media rights and other commercial partnerships was in place.

Now, another month on, the Slams have made their move.

The latest move comes after Andrea Gaudenzi, the leader of the ATP, pushed for the tours to invest in a plan that would bring in roughly $1billion of investment in tennis from Saudi Arabia. Most of that money would come from the sale of a new tournament, a 10th Masters 1000 event. 

A bid process for the event is ongoing, also involving Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, fellow Gulf state Qatar’s capital Doha and Australia, with most people involved in the process expecting the Saudis to prevail, adding the tournament to its three-year deals for the season-ending WTA Tour Finals in Riyadh, in November, and for the Next Gen Finals the following month.

Inside Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in sport

While a portion of the infusion of cash from Saudi Arabia would eventually filter down to the players, it comes with costs to the schedule that players already say is far too long, including adding another top-level, mandatory tournament, possibly at the very start of the calendar after the already-shrunken off-season. It’s also not yet clear what opportunities for additional growth would be available after the money from the additional tournament is spent.

The Grand Slams are operating on the principle that, in contrast, a premium tour that can pool its media rights and sell them as a singular, elite, exclusive package to sponsors and media companies — in the fashion of Formula 1 — could bring to the market the kind of focused tennis product that the fractured sport has been trying in vain to come up with for decades. 

The battle moves on.

(Top photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP)

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