Q&A with Adam Helfant
ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford sat down with ATP executive chairman and president Adam Helfant in the players' lounge at Roland Garros to discuss a variety of topics, including the controversial Wayne Odesnik human growth hormone case, the tour's financial health and his relationship with the top players. The following are excerpts from that conversation.
Q: Have you concluded your inquiry into the Wayne Odesnik case and are you considering any sanctions in addition to what the ITF has already done (a two-year suspension)?
A: We had started a major offense investigation, but stayed that when Odesnik accepted the provisional suspension. We think that was helpful. As far as we're concerned, the case is concluded and he's received the maximum suspension that he would get for a doping-related offense.
Q: Do you see the "conduct detrimental" clause in your code as not being the right tool to sanction for an anti-doping offense?
A: I think we would look at it case by case. In this instance I think it was at least partly instrumental in him accepting this provisional suspension.
Q: It was obviously the worst-case scenario for everyone to have him plead guilty and then play the next week. If this ever were to happen again, a similar set of circumstances, do you feel there's any way for you, either in conjunction with the ITF or on your own, to stop that from happening?
A: We're looking at that. We're going to work with the ITF on recommendations to change the rules, so in the unlikely event that it would play out quite this way, we would not be in the same situation.
Q: You announced the Corona (title sponsorship) deal in February and you just announced that Ricoh had extended last month. Where are you now in terms of where you expected to be or wanted to be in terms of your sponsorship base?
A: I came in at the beginning of last year, and the world economic situation was not exactly cooperating in terms of trying to move the sport forward from a commercial standpoint. We're thrilled to have Corona on board and thrilled to have Ricoh, it's an extension but it's also an expansion of the partnership for the remaining years. We're working on a few other sponsorship opportunities, and I'm hoping one or two of them will pan out. To go from the beginning of last year where it was very difficult to even get meetings with potential sponsors to then concluding some pretty important deals is a testimony I think to the popularity of the sport.
Q: Does it surprise you that attendance [tour-wide] set a record, given the economy?
A: You pick up the newspapers and you read about other sports being happy to be down a little bit, or flat. We had 4.4 million fans show up at just ATP World Tour events, up 7 percent from the year before, in a very soft corporate hospitality market. This year we're hopeful we'll equal or better that. We've already seen attendance records in Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and Madrid. With television, we're at the beginning of this cycle of [right-holders'] renewals from 2011 on, and the early signs are that we're going to see double-digit increases in revenue and distribution. So all that is very positive for the sport, and it's because of what's going on on court. The top players are delivering terrific entertainment to fans.
Q: Are you planning to take a position on the most recent discussion of the Davis Cup format? Some of your top players have come out in favor of a competing proposal. It seems like a subject that's never closed.
A: If I have any suggestions on the Davis Cup, I would just take them up directly with the ITF. That's the better way to address that matter.
Q: How much has it helped you as a new CEO to have the top players on the players' council?
A: It's invaluable. I attend all the player council meetings, I have met privately with Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal) and Novak [Djokovic] and Fernando Gonzalez, who was not on the council when I started but has since joined, but I also talk to a wide variety of other players in the top 10 and top 20 and well beyond, singles and doubles. I try to get a sense for what concerns them, the same way I talk to the tournament owners and operators to make sure I understand their issues as well. Having those guys whose day job is to win tennis tournaments so involved in the governance of our sport is a huge plus.
Q: The last time we talked at the U.S. Open, you were talking about a couple of interesting proposals from a promotional standpoint, a [season] launch event idea, an All-Star competition. Where are those on the timeline?
A: We're still talking about them. We'll see how they develop. There's nothing more important to our tour than for our players to have an opportunity to rest at the end of the season and work on their fitness and work on their games. If our current offseason doesn't allow them to do that as well as they should, I would like to look at whether we can find a meaningful way to change that situation. The demand for our product is so high that everywhere I go, if someone doesn't have a tournament, they want one, or if they have a 250, they want a 500, if they have a 500 they want a Masters 1000. I think there is an opportunity to do a launch event and an All-Star event. The lens that we're going to look through in evaluating changes to our calendar is, what does it really mean to the length of our offseason?
Q: Players are playing exhibitions during the short offseason and even during the season. Are you going to get to a point where you feel like you need to intervene, or set a policy or at least have a chat and say, "Hey, guys, we're trying to hold ground here so that you stay healthy." If you create more space, some players are going to create more events for themselves to play.
A: We already have some rules when it comes to exhibitions or special events. I expect that to be a continuing topic of conversation.
Q: What else is tops on your wish list?
A: I'd like to try to find ways to broaden our fan base and interact with our fans in more meaningful ways and use social media and digital content to do that and maximize commercial opportunities. We have a wonderful opportunity right now given how popular the sport is.
Q: Does that mean you're going to start tweeting?
A: I would not count on that. [Laughs] I'm aware that others do that, but I would doubt that.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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