Gaudenzi Pursues Long-Term Vision, Manages Immediate COVID-19 Challenges

ATP Chairman sees silver lining in pandemic as tennis' stakeholders rally together

As a player, Andrea Gaudenzi won three ATP Tour titles and reached a career-high FedEx ATP Ranking of 18. After his playing days, the Italian earned a law degree and an MBA before launching a successful business career in entertainment, data, technology and media.

Now the 46-year-old, who began serving as ATP Chairman on 1 Janaury, is focussed on unlocking tennis' potential while also leading the Tour during its most challenging period.

Below are excerpts from Gaudenzi's recent interview with ATP Tennis Radio's Seb Lauzier.

Q: You are facing a challenging first year as ATP Chairman as the world is gripped by the coronavirus. But are there also hidden opportunities?
Managing the current scenario is extremely complex, especially because of the nature of our calendar, the nature of our business. But I’m an optimist, in general, by nature. I try to see the positive side, which has been a tremendous collaboration with the other Grand Slams, the WTA and the ITF.

All of the bodies coming together and discussing the calendar, a way forward, player relief and many, many other topics. That could be the positive outcome of this. Finally, the governing bodies of tennis and the Grand Slams are getting together and working collaboratively on the long-term future of the sport.

Q: Circumstances have not allowed you to ease into the role as ATP Chairman, have they?
It's definitely different from what I expected. Crisis management is part of the job, I totally understand that. It gets slightly difficult to move forward [with the] implementation of the plan and vision.

First and foremost, I think we should also keep in mind that there are people who are actually going through very distressing situations and they are in trouble. [I want to give] big thanks to all the nurses and doctors out there. Overall, our hearts should go to the people who have actually been impacted.

Our job is somehow to put a smile on people’s faces. We want to go back on tour as soon as possible, so we can entertain the people at home and we are going to try to do that. But we should keep in mind that health and safety [comes] first for our players, for our members, but for everybody around the world really. Anyone who is actually not staying home and going somewhere is potentially affecting someone else.

[TENNIS AT HOME]

Q: You've spoken about fragmentation holding back tennis and that having stakeholders align in areas like broadcast, data, streaming and digital is important. Can you elaborate?
There is so much potential by centralising all those functions and starting to focus on competing against the other sports. But not only [sports], because the reality is, in today’s world, you compete against any other entertainment platform.

If you sit down and watch TV any time of the day, you have an option to watch a series on Netflix, listen to music, watch another sport or maybe a game of tennis. We need to step up and increase the level of how professionally we manage the business and the rights in order to compete, especially given the changes that are ahead of us.

Q: Your business career has also taught you to pay close attention to fans and consumers, right?
I have always been of the belief that we should put the fans at the centre of everything that we do, which is sort of what I have learned throughout my business career, which is a sort of customer-centric approach. The client is always right.

Q: What is your vision for the sport?
Where I see the sport in the future is one sport, basically providing a better fan experience, focusing on the fan first. We have to deliver a better experience, especially in terms of media and data distribution. We do a great job on-site, on the events. But the second part, the most difficult, is actually to align the stakeholders. Players and tournaments currently, in the past, have been spending most of their time trying to solve internal conflicts. That is where most of the time, energy and resources were spent, while in reality, our competition lays outside.

We compete with other sports, we compete with other entertainment platforms. The technology is evolving rapidly, so we need to invest in people, human capital. We need to invest in technology and we need to work more closely with the other organisations, specifically the WTA, the ITF and the other Grand Slams because together, combined, we can invest more in technology and innovation and we can provide a better experience to the fans, which is key here.

Q: Does the future also see a better product for broadcasters?
It is a great story. We are lucky, because we could be delivering around six months of premium content where we have the top players playing many matches throughout the day, in different time zones. So it is a great product for the broadcasters and I do believe that in the future we will see more companies starting to acquire sports rights, the likes of Apple and Netflix. Amazon has already started.

Q: Do you see the ATP and WTA Tours working more closely together?
It is extremely important and I think it is one of our biggest advantages towards our competitors. Not only do we have a great women’s product, but also our audience is fairly split among women and men. A combined event, I strongly believe, is a better event both on site and [through the] media. It is just great. The variety is great. Our fans, they love both. We have strong combined tournaments within the ATP and the WTA and the Grand Slams are combined.

It is really a no-brainer and actually, we are lucky to be at the forefront in that regard. Other sports should be looking at what we have done so far. It is really important and it is a huge opportunity because it becomes very appealing content for the broadcasters.

Q: Is ATP considering financial relief for players impacted by the Tour suspension?
Our guys are at home, obviously unable to play, unable to earn money and financially struggling, so we will try to help. The difficult part of it is also being conscious that the ATP reserves and resources are not infinite. We depend on the tournaments to be played and we don’t know when we will go back on court. One of the large revenue streams of the ATP is actually the [Nitto ATP] Finals.

It is a bit difficult to actually go in full, without exactly knowing how deep the hole is. We will try to do something to help those players who need it the most. Honestly, I’ve been quite touched by the top players who reached out, the big names expressing their desire of helping the lower-ranked players and putting those players first.

We are also talking with the Grand Slams about it. They may want to join in the effort. I think it would be a great message for the sport.

Q: Why were you drawn to tennis?
I did not really have a choice, to be honest. My Dad was a decent player, my uncle was a good player; he played in Davis Cup. My Grandfather was the founder of the tennis club in my hometown in Faenza, a very small town, so I grew up in a house full of tennis racquets.

I started playing when I was three years old and then I started competing in all the tournaments, under 12, 14, juniors etc. etc. My father was my first coach and it was my love and passion for my entire life. I’ve got three boys now, 13, 11 and 9, and they all play tennis here in England in the LTA program, so I find myself travelling to tournaments on the weekends, coaching them and teaching them. My wife was a tennis player; she has been a coach, so it is all about tennis.

If you come in my house at any time of the day, 80 per cent of the time Tennis TV is on and we are watching a tennis game. That is what it is. It is just in my blood since a very early age.

Q: What motivated you to become a business entrepreneur after your playing days?
I developed this passion for technology, media and many other things that gave me a chance to have the motivation and drive to get an education, do an MBA and then move out of tennis after my playing career. I stopped when I was around 30 years old, [which is] fairly early considering where today’s players are. Then I started that path, first corporate, in gaming and then start-ups, again being an entrepreneur in different sectors from financial services to gaming, [before] the last three or four years in the music industry.

I have learned a lot of things, it has been an enormous experience and a few years ago I started collaborating with ATP Media which is sort of the business arm, managing the media and broadcasting rights of the ATP as a board director, non-executive. I got the chance to come closer to the world of tennis four, five times a year after 15 years of basically being out. It doesn’t mean I didn’t observe tennis, I was just watching on TV, not dealing with the business of tennis and I simply saw an amazing opportunity.

I just saw this untapped potential in our sport, due to the fragmentation, due to the many different factors and problems that we are facing. But where the world is going, where the media distribution, where the technology opportunities are, I just said, ‘Yes, there is so much we can do’. If we compare ourselves to other sports like golf, soccer and basketball, we can do better in terms of fan experience.

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