Is the Professional Tennis Players Association Here to Stay?
Image via Associated Press
In the 1950s and 1960s, after decades of failed attempts, players from the four major sports leagues successfully founded the players associations that unionized American professional sports. In doing so, the players guaranteed themselves some bargaining power in the wildly lucrative world of sports. With the players associations came collective bargaining agreements, leading to revenue sharing. The players in the four major sports leagues are now entitled to large portions of their league’s revenues: 48.5% in the NFL, 49-51% in the NBA, 48.5-51.5% in the MLB, and 50% in the NHL.
Professional tennis’ governing body, the ATP, is not as well-developed. At the top of the ranks are a few of the highest paid athletes in the world. However, some players have been less satisfied during the last few years. In 2019, the players received just 17.5% of the $2.2 billion in revenue generated from the Grand Slams and the larger ATP and WTA events. Comparing that percentage to the major sports is a bit off-putting, and while several players are pushing back, the ATP pushes forward.
Founded in 1972, the ATP was founded by a top player in the world with the goal of protecting the players. It has since grown into the world’s main tour. In 2019, world #1 Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil, a Canadian player, founded the Professional Tennis Players Association. They created the PTPA with a goal that is ironically aligned with that of the players in 1972: to protect the players. Djokovic has repeatedly voiced concerns about the conflicts of interest within the governance of the ATP. Currently, ATP policy changes need a majority vote of the seven voting board members: three player representatives, three tournament representatives, and the ATP Chairman. A PTPA objective is to bring the players out of the minority.
Though the PTPA was founded in 2019, it made its most prominent headlines this past summer. The ATP introduced their “30-Year Plan” which, beginning in 2023, would lock in media deals, prize money distribution, and tour structure until the 2050s. Djokovic and Pospisil displayed public outrage with the ATP Chairman, and the PTPA publicly launched their “Delay the Vote” campaign. The PTPA argued that the ATP had formed a backroom deal, trying to streamline a deal that would put players’ concerns in the backseat if the decades-long deal were voted in.
The PTPA website outlines the organization’s disagreement with the ATP’s 30-year plan, and how the lack of transparency within the plan’s details is not benefiting the players. It seemed suspicious that the ATP would not release all the plan’s details, and the ATP actually stated that “the plan will inevitably benefit some more than others” at the beginning. Eventually, the “Delay the Vote” campaign ended successfully for the PTPA and its 500+ members, announced by Pospisil on July 2.
Though the dust has settled for now on the disagreements from the summer, future disputes between the two organizations create an interesting thought. Up until now, discussions have been run by the players and advisory board that the PTPA put together and the ATP board. However, if legal battles were to ensue, the venue is quite unclear. The PTPA is a Canadian non-profit, and the ATP is headquartered in London. If the new organization were to seek help from the NLRB—which has issued injunctions against the MLB, NFL, and other minor league teams for undermining collective bargaining agreements—it would be interesting to see if the NLRB could establish jurisdiction over the ATP, or if they would even try to. To check all the boxes, the PTPA put together a team of board members and directors with expertise in American as well as EU sports law.
Part of growth of the PTPA is the formation of their management team. Adam Larry, the Executive Director of the PTPA, has consulted for or negotiated the collective bargaining agreements for the NBA, NHL, and CFL. Notable members on the PTPA advisory board include Dr. Katarina Pijeltovic, a sports law expert in the EU, and Michael Hirshfeld, the head of the NHL Coaches’ Association who also manages international relations for the Association. So, while the PTPA seems to have a big hill to climb in terms of its goals, the team it has put together has the experience, and the Association is clearly trying to get a seat at the table for a very long period of time.
Carson Howard. Current 2L and Masters of Sports Law and Business student at Arizona State University. Undergraduate degree in Finance from the University of Oklahoma. Can be reached at email@example.com or on LinkedIn.
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