The International Tennis Federation is in talks with private investors over a major new partnership to revamp the Billie Jean King Cup just weeks after the embarrassing demise of a similar deal for the Davis Cup, City A.M. can reveal.
And the move has sparked serious concerns, with some insiders demanding greater transparency and scrutiny around any investment in the Billie Jean King Cup – formerly the Fed Cup – before contracts are signed.
There are also calls for ITF president David Haggerty to step aside and allow an investigation into the signing and premature dissolution of the $3bn Davis Cup deal with Kosmos, the investment vehicle of former footballer Gerard Pique.
“Let’s scrutinise and be very careful with the upcoming Fed Cup deal,” an individual with knowledge of the confidential talks told City A.M. “There is no free lunch.”
The deal being discussed for the Billie Jean King Cup, the women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup, is understood to be with a US investor.
That proposal is believed to be for the ITF to receive a large cash advance in the form of a loan which would be repaid at an interest rate of around five per cent.
The tennis body, whose international team competitions are among its biggest cash generators, would retain a majority shareholding of around 60 per cent in the competition’s commercial rights, with the investors taking the remainder.
But some senior figures at the ITF fear that the cash-strapped organisation could be about to repeat the mistakes of the Kosmos deal, which was heralded as a 25-year contract but abandoned after less than five years earlier this month.
They feel that the ITF leadership should have allowed its member nations greater opportunity to review the terms of the arrangement with Pique and Kosmos, which was backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, the chairman of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten.
Sources point out that, in a significant development just months earlier, the ITF amended its statutes to give the board the power to make key decisions about the Davis Cup and Fed Cup, as it was then known, without an AGM.
Kosmos was contracted to pay the ITF $120m a year but that was reduced during the pandemic and recent attempts to renegotiate the terms resulted in the deal’s termination. Questions still surround this year’s competition.
The fiasco has raised questions for Haggerty, who was elected president of the ITF in 2015 and is expected to stand for re-election this year. He also presided over a failed attempt to take over the running of fast-growing racquet sport padel last year.
German Tennis Association chief Dietloff von Arnim, who is set to stand against Haggerty in September, said last week: “There are so many questions for all associations worldwide that we are not being answered at the moment.”
The ITF said it couldn’t comment on speculation around the Billie Jean King Cup talks but defended its record on governance and transparency.
“The ITF operates on behalf of its 213 national members and is governed by an ITF Board of Directors. When making any decision in its remit, the Board has regard to stakeholder views, as well as internal and external professional analysis,” said a spokesperson.
“We have well-established routes of consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including national and regional associations, ITF Committees and Commissions formed of a Board member and relevant experts, the professional tours and players, as necessary according to the topic.
“The ITF is committed to transparency as part of good governance and publishes its financial statements and annual reports online.”