SINGAPORE - During the annual WTA Year-End press conference at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, WTA CEO Steve Simon was effusive in his assessment of where things stood after a year of growth for the tour.
“From my perspective, the WTA, at least during my time here and during the years in which I was a board member and before that as a tournament director, has never felt or seemed stronger or better than it is today,” he opened on Wednesday evening.
Sitting alongside WTA President Micky Lawler, Simon noted projected a broadcast viewership of 600 million, and digital viewership of 300 million, “up 20% from last year.”
“I think what's driving it is really a deep and diverse product that we have going right now. When you think about the depth of our sport and our product, we've got some amazing young athletes out there.
"When you look at the depth, again this year, we had four Grand Slam winners, individuals, different, and we had four different Premier Mandatory winners, as well. You don't do that without tremendous depth to be at these level events and winning this.”
Leading the WTA tour since 2016, Simon went on to discuss the WTA Finals’ last year in Singapore before it moves to its new home in Shenzhen.
“There is no question that the WTA Finals and its product and its brand of an event is at a significantly higher level than it was five years ago.
“I think that you can see that through this year we will have record attendance again. I believe it will exceed last year's 133,000 people. You have seen it the first few nights at the event. You have seen it in the evolution of the fans here.
"When I came here the first year, the opening year, I think you could have heard a pin drop in that stadium, because everybody was so polite and pristine. When you watch the matches now, there is a lot of energy, fun, enjoyment, entertainment, which I think really shows the growth.”
Seeing the WTA Finals’ continued presence in Asia as a testament to the tour’s dedication to the region, Lawler reported impressive numbers from Chinese broadcast partners iQiyi, who have increased viewership in China “from four million people in 2014 to 39 million people in 2017.”
The floor was then opened to questions, where Simon and Lawler addressed media concerns ranging from the evolution of on-court coaching to mental health maintenance.
“Coaching, from my perspective, is here to stay as a part of the WTA,” said Simon. “I would say, as we evolve, coaching will probably evolve. Is the on-court coaching approach that we have today the right one? Or should it be evolving to a different level of coaching? That's something that we are certainly looking at and we will continue to look at.”
“[Mental health] is the topic that as a mother worries me the most,” Lawler added. “Even more than physical injuries. In the age of social media when the image is so important and to perhaps lose authenticity because you have all these filters on social media, it's a big deal.
“Our athletes sometimes are not there because they chose this path; somebody else chose this path for them. We have to be extremely alert and sensitive and we have to be their extended family.”
Watch the full press conference on the WTA's official Facebook page.