Adam Helfant, the outgoing president of the ATP World Tour, said commercial revenue rose 80 percent during his three years at the governing body of men’s tennis, boosted by new sponsorships.
Reserves have increased more than 1,400 percent, Helfant, who is also executive chairman, said in an interview at London’s O2 arena, where Roger Federer won a record sixth title at the year-end ATP World Tour Finals yesterday by beating France’s Jo- Wilfried Tsonga. The ATP declined to provide further details on the Tour’s finances.
“We went into 2009 without a main sponsor,” Helfant said. “The last three years have been all about growth for us. Growth both at the top line and at the bottom line, and that’s quite an accomplishment for the ATP.”
Harvard-educated Helfant, a former Nike Inc. (NKE) vice president, joined the ATP at the start of 2009, a month after a 12-year contract with its main title sponsor, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, had expired. His appointment came as tennis and other sports including Major League Baseball, Formula One, soccer and golf struggled to keep sponsors and find new ones during the economic crisis.
He said the ATP’s reserves had been “drained” by “a very expensive anti-trust lawsuit” over a tournament in Hamburg and exposure to an alleged Ponzi scheme run by R. Allen Stanford that tied up “what little free cash we had.”
“We had maintained a brokerage account and some of the assets were frozen,” Helfant said. “They’ve since been unfrozen. And we had some certificates of deposit exposure and we’ve had to write that off.”
Texas financier Stanford was indicted for fraud by a U.S. grand jury in Houston in June 2009. The former principal of Houston-based Stanford Group Co. has been in federal custody since then and has pleaded not guilty.
Although Helfant didn’t give an exact figure, he said the exposure to the alleged Ponzi scheme was “not insignificant” and that the ATP is a creditor.
When Hamburg was downgraded in a re-shuffle from hosting a top-tier tournament to a lesser one, it filed an anti-trust suit in 2007. In August 2009, a U.S. jury ruled that the downgrading of the Hamburg Masters didn’t violate laws against monopolies. The German federation had sought about $76 million in damages.
In the past three years, the ATP has signed at least five new sponsorships, including with Grupo Modelo SAB’s (GPMCY) Corona Extra beer brand, FedEx Corp., champagne brand Moet & Chandon, Johnson & Johnson’s Compeed and a tourism agreement with Rio de Janeiro. It also extended a deal with office equipment maker Ricoh Co.
“Being a global sport with popularity at an all-time high, we’re able to present a compelling package and that’s why we’ve been successful, in particular in the past two years, in landing new sponsors,” Helfant said.
“We are a member organization, we are not-for-profit,” he said. “But our members have been able to benefit from that growth. The tournaments have received more in sponsorship money from us than ever before.”
The American, who leaves the ATP at the end of the year, said he doesn’t know what he’ll do next. The Tour has yet to announce a successor.
“I’ve had a wonderful three years, but my decision not to continue was about looking forward and I need some time to figure that out,” Helfant said.
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