The men’s and women’s elite tennis tours have taken the first steps towards combining their businesses in a strategy being pushed by CVC Capital Partners and designed to head off the threat of a Saudi breakaway.
Chiefs from the ATP and WTA Tours and leading tournaments met in London earlier this week to discuss the move, which would see them pool media and sponsorship revenue for Masters 1000 events and sell the rights centrally.
There is confidence that a collective approach could increase returns for all parties and it is understood that they have resolved to produce a firm proposal for further discussion early next year. Any change would likely take effect in 2027.
“I think there is genuinely a will to do it and commercially it makes sense,” one source close to the talks told City A.M. “But can you get over the distribution, control and governance issues?”
An increase in revenue would allow the circuits and Masters organisers to raise prize money for players, a move that could persuade them to reject any overtures from Saudi Arabia, which has disrupted golf and is actively exploring investing further in tennis.
Speculation about a full merger between the ATP and WTA Tours is believed to be wide of the mark, however, with the talks on Monday and Tuesday focusing solely on commercial cooperation around the handful of Masters 1000 events.
The move is being driven by the women’s WTA Tour, which stands to benefit most. While the way that revenue would be shared is one of many details to be ironed out, any increase would have more impact on the WTA given its lower base.
CVC, which invested $150m (£124m) in a joint venture with the WTA, presented the proposal alongside officials from the tour at this week’s meeting, which was attended by ATP chief executive Andrea Gaudenzi and WTA counterpart Steve Simon.
The private equity firm, which has various investments in rugby and previously owned Formula 1, also stands to gain from any deal which increases the value of its tennis assets. There is understood to be reluctance to work with CVC in some quarters, however.
Pooling rights would make particular sense for the six Masters events which involve men’s and women’s players, cutting production costs. But it remains unclear to what extent organisers are ready to relinquish control of their tournaments.
The WTA’s current media deals run until the end of 2026, so any major commercial changes would be unlikely to take effect before then. More talks are planned for the first quarter of next year, with a vote possible before the summer.