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PE firm CVC Capital proposes to buy out ATP, WTA tennis tours

It'll invest $600 million for a 15% stake; rejuvenating the sport & managing broadcast rights.

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MUMBAI: Changes may be afoot as far as broadcasting rights of professional male and female tennis calendars are concerned if reports emerging over the past two days are to be believed. Sky News first reported that Luxembourg headquartered private equity firm CVC Capital Partners is in unconfirmed talks with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to buy a 15 per cent stake into a new entity One Tennis which will combine their two itineraries. It is willing to serve a cool $600 million for the privilege of managing the broadcasting rights to the two tours, as well as selling data rights to gambling companies.

CVC Capital has discussed leaving the running of the two sports to the two associations; all it wants is that the women and men’s tournaments should have a unified calendar (meaning female and male tennis players should play at the same competitions) – just like they do in the Grand Slam championships – Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open, and the French Open. The latter four contests are ruled by a different governing body.

The private equity firm believes it can extract greater value than both ATP and WTA are doing currently by glamourising the tours, upping prize money, improving broadcast production quality, and setting up a global digital platform for tennis fans.

Reuters reported on 8 June that the two associations had issued a joint statement which said that they are "continually looking for ways to bring the sport closer together to provide an enhanced experience for fans, players and tournaments.”

CVC Capital is no stranger to managing sports; it had been the owner of the F1 from 2006 to 2017 when it sold it to John Malone’s Liberty Media. Over that period, it squeezed out billions of dollars in revenue from the racing sport; in the process, it helped turn around its fortunes. CVC Capital has recently invested in the six nations Rugby and the International Volleyball Federation.

CVC is proposing that ATP Media (ATP’s existing sales and broadcasting arm) will be absorbed into the new entity with the former’s CEO Mark Webster leading One Tennis. Most of the broadcast rights to the ATP Tours for India lie with the ATP’s tennistv.com, with rights to the ATP 250s being shared by it with Discovery. Prior to Discovery, Sony Pictures Sports Network was the rights holder from 2015 to 2020. Hardcore tennis fans can watch matches online at tennistv.com with the annual subscription package running at $119.9.

But apparently, a lot more could be done to popularise tennis and the tours among younger audiences, commentators and critics have averred. Tennis has alienated young tennis buffs as they have been drawn to other sports that have more excitement and entertainment. Statistics have shown that the tennis fan is beginning to age and to get back in the game, the sports need a rejuvenation.

The ATP and WTA boards are expected to meet later this month on the proposal. Their decision will make it clear whether they believe that CVC Capital can be that white knight – who will inject some life into the sport.

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