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ATP Tennis Chief Helfant Says He’ll Leave Tour at End of Year

Adam Helfant will quit as executive chairman of the ATP World Tour at the end of the year after increasing the revenue and reserves of men’s tennis during his three-year stay.

The 46-year-old said he’s leaving for “professional reasons” without giving details. The tour’s commercial revenue will have risen by around 65 percent during Helfant’s time, the ATP said today in a statement. Its reserves are forecast to have increased by more than 1,100 percent in the period.

“We’re in the midst of a golden age now in terms of the action on court,” Helfant said in a phone interview from Riverside, Connecticut. “We plan on trying to take advantage of that from a business perspective. With a little luck, we’ll have an announcement or two by the end of the year.”

Harvard-educated Helfant, a former Nike Inc. vice president, joined the ATP at the start of 2009. He succeeded Etienne de Villiers, a former Walt Disney Co. executive who had joined the ATP in June 2005.

The appointment of Helfant 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. Helfant joined the organization, which has 63 tournaments in 32 countries, a month after a 12-year contract with its main title sponsor, Mercedes-Benz, had expired.

The ATP in 2010 signed Grupo Modelo SAB’s Corona Extra beer brand as a global sponsor through 2015, extended its deal with Japanese office equipment maker Ricoh Co. and added a three-year worldwide deal with FedEx Corp., operator of the world’s biggest cargo airline.

Shortened Season

Helfant also shortened the men’s tennis season, which had been a key focus of his leadership. From the end of 2012, the offseason will be extended to seven weeks from five weeks to give players more time to rest and recuperate. Top-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain was critical of the duration of the campaign, which runs from January until the end of November and is one of the longest in professional sports.

Roger Federer, president of the ATP Player Council and a 16-time Grand Slam champion, thanked Helfant “for his excellent leadership and contributions during his time at the ATP.”

“We achieved a lot together and will be sorry to see him go at the end of the year,” the Swiss player said in an e-mailed ATP statement. “The sport is in great shape and we look forward to helping to identify a new leader for this important position.”

Reports on Salary

Recent reports by publications including Sports Business Journal and World Tennis Magazine, suggesting that he might leave because the board would not meet his financial demands, were “wrong,” Helfant said. The ATP confirmed in an e-mailed statement Helfant had not asked for any pay increase.

“I was made an offer, and never countered, never made any demands, never threatened to resign, and never specified terms that are required to stay longer-term,” Helfant said. “The board asked me to stay, and made me an offer. I considered it, thanked them for it, and declined it.”

Gavin Forbes, an ATP board member, said in the statement that Helfant had done a “terrific job” and that the board is “disappointed he will not be returning next year, but we respect his decision and wish him all the best. The Tour is in a fantastic position and well-placed to continue on the same exciting path.”

Helfant, who is flying to London today for meetings of the ATP board at the end of the week, said he’s unsure what he’ll do next.

“I don’t know,” he said. “And I’m not in any rush to figure it out. I’m looking forward to considering other opportunities, and I’m excited about that, but I really do not know what will be next for me.”

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