WTA CEO Steve Simon sat down with WTA Insider during the off-season to look back on the what the 2010 decade meant to the tour and the opportunities and challenges ahead as a new season begins.
WTA Insider: You'll be going into your fifth year in 2020. For you, what was the 2010 decade for the WTA and what were the trends that defined it.
Simon: I think that the 2010 decade has been one of a lot of progress and evolution within the tour. If you think about it, this decade has included a complete revamping of the circuit structure, which is the current one that we know today. It's reflected in more evolution and change as we're entering the 2020 decade, which is exciting.
We've been able to celebrate both the excellence of some tremendous players that are going to be in history forever. Serena, Venus, Maria, a lot of those players are going to be very special, remembered for many, many years. But as always, we also now have seen the coming out of new stars now, with Ash, Bianca, Coco coming in, and the more established stars, like Simona. It's really been fun to watch the progression through this decade on both how the game has been structured, how it's being presented, the great stories around the champions of our game.
As we go into a new decade with the emergence of the stars we saw this past year in 2019 going into 2020, the new decade ahead looks to be very, very exciting. I think the WTA and our product and our sport is in very good hands with these new champions who are beginning to exert themselves and bring themselves to the forefront.
WTA Insider: Serena dominated the first six years of the 2010s before her pregnancy. The last four years, which would be your tenure, there were a lot of questions about what was going to happen after the game's greats - Serena, Roger, Rafa - leave the game. It sounds like you're a lot more confident now than three or four years ago.
Simon: Well, three years ago, I don't think we that we necessarily knew. I think all sport goes through this and it especially goes through it when you have champions such as Serena, and Roger, and Rafa, and all of them. We can go through other sports too. Michael Jordan and basketball. You see that in football with Tom Brady. There's always a wonder, well, who's going to be next?
There always will be a next and I think that we began to see this past year what the next looks like and I think the next looks like something very exciting.
The exciting part for us is we still have Serena and as competitive as ever. I mean, all she did last year was get to the finals of Grand Slams. She didn't quite get across the line and get to hold the trophy, but she was there and was a major force. So I think we're very, very lucky in that we can continue the story and get to cherish and enjoy the excellence of Serena and everything she brings.
And yet we're also now getting to see what the future looks like. Look at Ash, Bianca, Simona, and you look at Coco. It's just not fair to put her there yet because she's still 15 and has a ways to go, but certainly there's some talent there. You have to think that things are going to be very, very bright for us and some great stories going forward. They'll carry the mantle proudly, I'm sure.
WTA Insider: Four or five years ago, the tour was looking very European dominant. After the 2019 season, there's been a true global expansion of talent. Where do you think that sets up the tour for the next decade?
Simon: I think we're aligning very strongly. It is a global tour and what's great is that we truly have a good mix of global stars.
Obviously, the strength of Asia Pacific with Ash and Naomi, but we also have some very strong young Chinese players coming through that may pop through here very soon.
Our sport is very strong when you have US depth and currently the strength of the US right now is very strong. It was a question for a long time and now it's as strong as ever and as deep as ever. So that's exciting. And of course, what they're doing in Canada, Bianca is just one of the players. They still have a series of other young players that are coming up as well.
I'm very confident that the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Ukraine, these countries that have been producing a lot of great champions are also going to be putting out some more.
So I think it's really, really exciting to see. As good as they are and as exciting as they are, I'm also very excited about the people they are and the stories that will follow them and how they will represent the sport. Because it really is a special group of young women. They get it.
I think we're going to have a lot of fun with them in the years ahead.
WTA Insider: Where do you see the business opportunities and challenges for the tour? What are the big issues going into the next decade?
Simon: Our focus for the next decade, as is most businesses, is going to be revenue generation because as the more revenues we grow and generate, the more we can invest back into our sport.
The WTA is very fortunate. It's clearly the leading women's professional sport property. I don't think there's anyone close to us at this point in time, especially with the opportunity and the earning capacities of our athletes. But we still have a long way to go.
We have to continue fighting the challenges of getting people to actually invest and invest at the same level that they do for the male properties. A lot of progress has been made. A lot of people are talking the talk. Now we need them to get to walk the walk a little bit and truly begin investing in it.
I think we're making progress. I think with the growth of the Women's World Cup, which was great, the Olympics coming up, I think we're starting to see some of that growth and hopefully we continue to see more and more investment into women's properties.
We'd love to see a lot of it coming to the WTA, but I'd also like to see it across the board and to the women's sport properties because it is important. They are quality products and they deserve it. We need to see that change continue to happen.
Hopefully this next decade we can begin to see more and more of that and people actually stop talking about it, but actually start writing the checks and investing into these properties, which will open up so many opportunities for women, which I think is very important.
WTA Insider: In terms of bridging the gap between the talk and the checkbook, why do you think it's been difficult not just for the tour but for women's sports in general.
Simon: It's business and they look at metrics. They look at all of those elements and we have to deliver the audiences. So we're working very hard and we have some significant audience numbers, maybe more than most, which is why we're able to enjoy a little bit more success than some of the others. But it is about us delivering the metrics that are needed to justify the investment.
But also, it is a mindset change that there is as much value in investing behind a women's sports property as there isn't a men's sports property. We need to still change that mentality in the corporate space. It's one of the issues that's out there. It's not just sports. It's in many of the women's issues out there.
We have to change that thought process and we need some industry leaders to step up and say, we believe in this, we're going to do it, and we're going to invest and help build it to the levels that it needs to be at so that it can be a little bit more of an equal playing field out there.