The men’s and women’s professional tennis tours have appointed separate financial advisers to help thrash out a merger of their commercial arms that would be backed by a capital injection from the former owner of Formula One racing.
Sky News has learnt that the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), whose star players include Novak Djokovic and the US Open champion, Daniil Medvedev, has hired Rothschild to advise it on the potential tie-up.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which saw Britain’s Emma Raducanu emerge this year to win the US Open, has drafted in Allen & Company – a US-based firm best-known in financial circles for its star-studded annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
The bankers have been hired to help the ATP and WTA to evaluate the terms of a proposal to create ONE Tennis, a new commercial venture developed by the governing bodies alongside CVC Capital Partners, the private equity investor.
Sky News revealed in June that the parties were in discussions about establishing the new entity, with talks understood to have intensified since then.
Under the plans, CVC would invest about $600m into ONE Tennis, which would oversee a combined men’s and women’s global tennis calendar and seek to improve the sport’s commercial strategy.
Tennis’s governance is more fragmented than some other global sports because its four Grand Slam tournaments are all organised independently, with the International Tennis Federation also playing a significant role.
In recent weeks, women’s tennis in particular has come under scrutiny over its handling of the apparent disappearance of Peng Shuai, a former doubles player who alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government official.
Last week, the WTA announced that it was suspending all competitions in China, including in Hong Kong, as a result of its concerns.
Like other sports, tennis has seen its finances hit by the pandemic, although most of the sport’s most prestigious tournaments took place with spectators in attendance this year.
The organisers of next month’s Australian Open have said that only fully vaccinated players will be allowed to take part, which had raised questions over the participation of Mr Djokovic, the world number one.
A CVC-backed merger of the men’s and women’s commercial operations is not certain to happen, but has won backing from several key stakeholders.
Such a tie-up has been a long-held ambition of executives throughout the sport.
In June, the ATP and WTA issued a joint statement saying: “The WTA and ATP are continually looking for ways to bring the sport closer together in order to provide an enhanced experience for fans, players and tournaments.
“By working together, we believe there may be significant opportunities ahead and we are exploring all options.
“These are preliminary stages and any opportunities will be assessed in close consultation with our respective stakeholders.”
If the plans do get the go-ahead, Mark Webster, the chief executive of ATP Media, would hold the same role at One Tennis, according to insiders.
CVC is understood to believe that there is significant potential in combining the men’s and women’s tennis tours in order to accelerate the sport’s recovery from the pandemic.
The investment firm is likely to target greater investment in tournaments and player prize money, improved broadcast production capabilities and an enhanced global digital platform for the sport’s fans.
Last year, Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since the Second World War, and most of the elite tournaments on the calendar were either cancelled, played behind closed doors or had few spectators in attendance.
CVC’s plans for ONE Tennis represent its latest attempt to reshape a major sport at its most elite level.
It has bought stakes in the Six Nations Rugby championship, Premiership Rugby and Pro14, and is negotiating to buy a stake in the South African equivalent.
CVC’s ownership of F1, which ended several years ago, was one of its most lucrative investments, and it is now seeking a stake in the commercial rights to La Liga, Spain’s equivalent of the Premier League.
It has also purchased an interest in the International Volleyball Federation’s commercial rights, while it is also examining deals in the US’s NBA basketball league and women’s football in England.
Private equity firms have identified the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to deploy capital, while also utilising their expertise in areas such as media and broadcast rights and data.
CVC declined to comment on Wednesday.