Andrea Gaudenzi: 'We Have Huge Upside For The Future'
New ATP Chairman says that while tennis is enjoying a golden era, 'the best is yet to come'
Andrea Gaudenzi has a track record of success on the court and in the boardroom.
As a player, he peaked at No. 18 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and won three ATP Tour singles titles. Shortly after Gaudenzi ended his 13-year playing career, he earned an MBA and seamlessly transitioned into the business world.
Gaudenzi now starts his next chapter as ATP Chairman and began his four-year term on 1 January 2020. He recently spoke about his journey into the new role and the impact he hopes to have on the ATP Tour.
What does this prestigious position as ATP Chairman mean to you?
It means a lot to me. I started playing tennis when I was three years old and played professionally until I was 30, then I moved into different business roles. It means giving back to the sport and being able to bring back to tennis what I have learned over the years, both as a player and a businessman. I’m really honoured and excited.
When you were playing, did you think that one day you would ever head up the ATP?
In all honesty, not as a player. But I was always pretty conscious of the future, mostly thanks to my parents. Even though I was Junior World Champion at 17, my parents always pushed me to keep going to school and University because hopefully life is long and there was a career after tennis. I knew I didn't like coaching, so I knew I wanted to do something else.
Tell us the impact tennis has had on your life and your views on sport generally?
There is something about sport that taught me the basic rule of working hard to achieve an objective and having the discipline to work day in and day out to reach that objective. Appreciating the sacrifice, and then the happiness and joy of reaching that objective is definitely a good school in life, and I applied that rule in business and in my later career.
Tell us about your business ventures, your law degree and your MBA.
I always had a passion for technology from an early age, and I was traveling around and connecting my PC and coding. I was always very curious. Even though I was studying law, my passion was business and technology.
I started a ten-year sports marketing career, mainly working with large sporting companies, but my true desire was to become an entrepreneur. I really wanted to have an impact on the things I did day in and day out - to have an idea, pitch it to investors. That’s a very challenging process and that was my dream. Eventually, I ended up doing that three times over the course of the past 15 years in different industries - gaming, financial services and music.
And now related to tennis, we have to understand that we are in the entertainment business. With my background in technology, I look forward to looking at this area as being at the core of the growth opportunity for tennis in the future. I look forward to being able to share some of that experience, bring some of that knowledge into the tennis world and hopefully have an impact.
Tell us about your connection with London and if you plan to continue to be based there.
I moved the family here in 2016. My kids go to school here. I really love the city - a fantastic, multicultural city.
The way the ATP is structured with a 50-50 partnership is quite unique in sport. Do you think this structure is a positive thing and is it an advantage for the ATP?
I think it's an advantage in the long term if we have the right rules and the right governance in place. And mostly if we have the right people. In the end, we need both players and tournaments for the growth of the sport. We need the Grand Slams as well as the other governing bodies, ITF and WTA, because, in the end, we are one sport. And for the end consumer, for the fan, we are seen as one sport.
I think the end product is the game of tennis. And we are in a very good place because tennis is a great, entertaining product. We just need to fine tune and improve a few things, and work closer with the other governing bodies and the other tournaments. But I think we have a huge upside for the future.
How do you assess the health of the ATP and the sport in general?
It’s doing very well. We are always doing very well. We are probably at the greatest time in terms of the players and the talent. We’ve got three of the best players of all time still playing at the top, even at their age. In terms of media in general, the technology and media distribution is allowing a wider reach to consumers. And, of course, linear broadcast remains critical as well, but now with the digital distribution also reaching a younger audience there is a huge opportunity, with social media as well. So we are in the right place, but I think the best is yet to come and we have some work to do to take on the opportunities of the future.
Are there any particular growth opportunities you would like to focus on at the early stage?
Certainly I think there is a big opportunity in media and data, especially if the sport is able to work together better and bundle up our rights, as well as optimising our CRM. I think we have a great product which we can package better, and some of the media and technology giants will have a big appetite for our content. There are other areas as well, such as virtual advertising that can allow different sponsors to reach different audiences in different markets, which will be important for the future. Those are just some specific items in the short term, but in a more general sense, I look forward to working and collaborating with the sport as a whole to ensure that it’s maximising its potential.
There's been much innovation at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. What are your thoughts on that event and in particular, bringing in those innovations into the tournament?
I like the Next Gen ATP Finals. I like the idea of having a ‘research and development’ event where we can test different ideas for the future. We should have an open mind to innovation. I think we should also look at data before making some of the changes because analytics and data need to play a part in helping us understand consumer behavior. Especially with digital platforms, we can get a lot of information so that we’re not making decisions based on subjective opinions but based on data.
Speaking of Italian tennis, it's a wonderful moment for many players. How much of a surprise is that for you and why is Italian tennis flourishing so much?
Well why it's flourishing now, that’s a very good question. It’s difficult to tell. But no question it's a great time - Jannik Sinner is an incredible player with a huge future, and both Fabio Fognini and Matteo Berrettini had great seasons, especially with Matteo in the Nitto ATP Finals and Fabio also ranked No. 12 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. It's amazing.
Staying with Italian tennis, the Nitto ATP Finals moves to Turin in 2021. How excited about that are you and how do you see the event developing there?
I'm very excited about that as an Italian, but also that it's a great opportunity to move to a different city and give the opportunity to another country to host our showpiece event. It is the pinnacle of the Tour with the Top 8 players competing in the final week of the season.
The stadium will be great. We’ve got the team who are very experienced in organising Rome and the Next Gen so it's not the first time they have run a tennis event, so there is some additional comfort there. And also If we get lucky, the event could have a couple of Italian players competing, which could be very exciting for the fans in Italy.
There’s a big change with the start of the season this year with the ATP Cup. What are your thoughts on that event and your hopes for that tournament?
As a player, I loved to play team events. Tennis is a pretty lonely sport. You travel all around by yourself, you're alone in a hotel room. You've got your team, but basically it's yourself against everyone. So playing in a team for a couple of weeks a year, you get that sense of team play and playing for your country is something special, so I think it's going to be a great event.
You spoke about the Big Three, so how do you see life for tennis once those guys retire?
Honestly, I think the game of tennis is a great product, so eventually the events and the sport will create new stars. Their longevity is incredible though, and of course they will be missed whenever they decide to retire. If you look back, the sport has always generated amazing rivalries — when I played in the years of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in the ‘90s, and before that it was Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, and so on.
When I quit tennis, I said to myself, “No one ever will win more than 14 Slams like Sampras did and it's going to be very difficult to match the rivalry between Sampras and Agassi.” Both of these assumptions were actually passed because now we have Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal competing for record Slams. So who knows what happens in the future and maybe greater things await us in the future.