Started from the Bottom: How the ATP can strengthen Challenger Tour

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May 5, 2014 by Parveer Mann

As both tours descend on the revitalized Mutua Madrid Open this week, full of its over-the-top facilities and increased purse, the ATP has turned their attention to more shaky ground: fixing the ATP Challenger Tour.

According to this recent Bloomberg article, ATP chief Chris Kermode has made it clear that the tour needs to increase payouts and other efforts to make the Challenger Tour more viable for players long-term. As the cost of professional tennis continues to rise, the Challenger Tour pool has only risen 31 percent in the last 10 years to $9 million in 2013. However, with over 150 Challenger tournaments that money is spread very thin compared to the PGA’s Web.com tour where purses are between $500K and $1 million for far fewer events. This growing money concern is only magnified by the current state of the game where it can take players many years before they are established in the more financially secure ATP World tour.

Prize Money comparison between ATP World Tour and Challenger Tour (excluding Grand Slams)*
ATP World Tour $86 million over 61 events (2013 average per event: $1.4 million)

$9 million over 151 events (2013 average per event: $59K)

ATP Challenger Tour

*According to figures in Bloomberg article.

To address the issue, the ATP has assigned a five-man group to review the Challenger Tour and they hope to reach a new working schedule for the tour by the US Open. There are already promising ideas being floated around on how to raise the bottom-line, I thought I’d chime in with my favourite suggestions:

1. Run parallel challenger events.  This is an idea suggested by some ATP execs to use bigger ATP events (think Masters Series) and have them host a parallel challenger event in that city. It would provide guaranteed exposure and use of facilities and it will lower player costs as eliminated qualifiers would not have to travel to the next challenger. Ideally, it would also eliminate many of the more scattered events and create a leaner schedule that closely resembles the ATP World Tour.

2. Have challenger events build toward Grand Slams. This idea exists to a certain degree within the USTA as they used three Challenger events to determine who would get the US wild card into Roland Garros this year. Now imagine, if the other governing tennis associations and Grand Slams could do something similar and make a cluster of Challenger events that would ultimately serve to reward positions into the main draw of each slam. It would help make the traditionally mysterious wild-card selections more transparent and give local fans more meaningful tennis action to consume.

30-year ols Robby Ginepri earned his wild-card to the French Open this year after finishing first in a USTA Challenger tournament. (Image available on http://tennis-pronostics.com/)

30-year old Robby Ginepri earned his wild-card to the French Open this year after finishing first in a USTA Challenger tournament. (Image available on http://tennis-pronostics.com/)

3. Limit access to the Challenger Tour. If the ultimate concern is losing tennis players because they can no longer afford the rigors of the tour then there should be a restriction on who can make money at challenger tournaments. These events sometimes attract Top 75 players who are looking for an easier way to build ranking points with little concern for financial gain. If the ATP can devise a plan where higher earning players (based on a twelve month period) would be allowed to compete for ranking  points but prize money is reallocated to a players’ pool, I think it could help far more players in need.

Feel free to add in your suggestions on how to help the ATP’s challenger tour problem.

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