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Australian Open 2023: Billionaires, firms, players in battle to fix tennis

Walking the grounds of Melbourne Park last week, when the Australian Open was in full swing, one could easily believe that all is well and peaceful in tennis. Behind the scenes, though, over the past 18 months a coterie of billionaires, deep pocketed companies and star players have been engaged in a high-stakes battle to lead what they view as a once-in a-generation opportunity for disruption in a sport long known for its dysfunctional management and disparate power structure.

The figures include Bill Ackman , a billionaire hedge fund manager and tennis hobbyist. Ackman is funding a fledgling players’ organisation led by Serbian star Novak Djokovic. The group is searching for ways to grow the sport’s financial pie and t he si ze of t he players’ slice.

There is also CVC Capital Partners, the Luxem bourgbased private equity firm that has been working for months to close a $150-million equity investment in the WTA Tour that it views as a first step to becoming a prime player in tennis. Then there is Sinclair Broadcast Group, t h e American media conglomerate, which wants to expand globally.

Changing with the times Tennis executives estimate that the sport collects roughly $ 2 .5 billion i n total revenues each year. However, it collects far less revenue per fan than other sports. Tennis players also receive a much smaller percentage of those revenues, and they have to pay for their coaches, training and travel.

The established cast of power players who run tennis acknowledge that tennis has to change with the times. “The status quo is not an option,” said Stacey Allaster, the tournament director of the US Open.

Ackman said much of the manoeuvring he has seen represents old-world thinking. That is partly why he aligned with the players, who have the most incentive to push for change. They are the stars of the show but receive roughly 15 per cent to 25 per cent of the revenues — about half of what athletes in other sports receive.

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