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WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster is credited with helping the women’s game grow financially and internationally. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster is credited with helping the women’s game grow financially and internationally. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Rachel Brady

Advantage, Allaster: How this Canadian rose to the top Add to ...

Hefty jobs awaited – finding new sponsors and getting a better stadium in Toronto, which had an old facility with wooden bleachers, a far cry from those being renovated for tournaments in Miami, Madrid and Montreal. She helped work with now-Rogers Communications Inc. CEO Nadir Mohamed to enlist Rogers as a national sponsor and, along with Tennis Canada chief operating officer Derek Strang, made the new stadium at York University a reality, despite criticism that perhaps they should move the tournament and all Tennis Canada operations to Montreal.

“She has a great marketing sense for selling and is very sensitive about every detail of the fan experience,” Strang said. “She was, at one period of time, the only female tournament director, and she earned incredible respect from around the table. If there were 10,000 people coming onto the grounds at a given time, she always thought of it like 10,000 people coming into her home for dinner. Everything had to be perfect.”

In 2005, the WTA hired her as its COO and in 2009, she was promoted to CEO and chair when Larry Scott left the position to become commissioner of the U.S. NCAA Pacific-10 Conference (now the Pac-12). The WTA interviewed 21 international candidates before giving her the job, as a group of Canadian business people helped coach her on the skills needed to be a CEO.

She also got, as she calls it, “the Billie Jean rocket juice,” a boost of confidence from King, who told Allaster she was the right one for the job.

Tough economic times presented immediate challenges.

“Sony [Corp.] was up for renewal, we had issues with our championships in Turkey, had issues with our broadcast partner Eurosport, it was 2009, and 50 per cent of our net operating revenues were unsecured for 2012,” Allaster said. “They said to me, ‘Why do you want this job?’”

Under her watch, the WTA renewed Sony as a sponsor, signed broadcast partner Perform to a record TV deal, and got a record deal to take the WTA Championships to Singapore for 2014-18. They have enlisted six new sponsors in the past three years, most recently Xerox Corp., with more than $200-million in new contracted revenues.

She has implemented a plan to bump up prize money for women. She has introduced fan-friendly innovations such as electronic line-calling and on-court coaching, and is working on a plan, through coaching young players, to gradually get the grunting out of women’s tennis, due to growing criticism by fans and media.

Each time she meets with players, she shows them photos of King and the early days of the WTA, when there was little money, respect or media attention.

“Stacey has a great sense of history, and a lot of people don’t have that, but she’s focused on continuing the legacy of what we started but growing it substantially,” King said. “She’s a terrific businesswoman, she can secure dollars, and people listen to her. The tennis business is tough work, and this is a tough economic landscape. She knows the future is Asia, and I agree. We had no money and now they are playing for millions. It’s a very big, very global job and there is still a lot of work to be done.”

The WTA will open an office in Singapore and hire a CEO of Asia Pacific to help capitalize on the growth opportunities in the area. In 2014, eight WTA events will be in China, up from two in 2008, when the WTA opened an office in Beijing.

“The growth of the business in Asia Pacific will be part of my legacy – it’s a huge opportunity for a quantum level of growth,” Allaster said. “I feel we need to be more fan-centric. Working at Tennis Canada, I know what it is to sell one ticket. Every ticket matters and I’m always thinking what the fans would want. I want the WTA to be the most inspiring sports and entertainment property on earth.”

In the future, she plans to teach sports marketing in universities, work with charities who give sporting opportunities to children in need and spend lots more time with her husband, John, and children, Jack, 11, and Alexandra, 9. Her work with the WTA is far from over.

“I’m hitting my stride now and I absolutely love this opportunity,” Allaster said, before she dashed off to host a panel of top female business leaders at the Rogers Cup. “Everything in my life has come from tennis. I now lead the organization that my hero founded and I get to give back to the sport that has given me everything.”

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