WTA launches new digital platform to appeal to fans and commercial partners
By Simon Ward
The WTA, the organiser of the top women’s tennis tour, has unveiled WTA Networks, a new dedicated digital media and marketing division that aims to enhance the sport’s online offering, and attract fans and sponsors in the process.
The “transformational” platform is set to launch on 1 January, 2017, coinciding with the start of a new media rights cycle and a long-term deal with Perform, the international sports content and media group.
The platform will feature news and content, including real-time highlights, behind-the-scenes features on top players, press conferences and archive material.
The WTA has teamed up The Social Channel, a New York-based digital marketing, sales and content development company founded by Mike McGraw and Rob Dwek, to revamp the wtatennis.com website and its branded social channels as part of the venture. The content will also be available via a mobile app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.
The platform is being developed with the backing of prominent technology companies including Ooyala, Microsoft, Greenfly and Domo, and will have its own logo and the tagline of ‘The Pulse of Women’s Tennis’.
In a ‘State of the Tour’ media conference at the WTA Finals in Singapore on Wednesday, WTA chief executive Steve Simon said: “Today, the WTA is a major sports league and we see this step in our digital and social evolution as transformational, for all involved, especially tennis fans, and are hugely committed to this venture financially.
“We have dedicated a great amount of resources to ensure that the content on the WTA Networks is exceptional and delivers for our players, our partners and our fans. Our goal is simple – take our fans on tour with us and experience the WTA like never before.”
McGraw added: “Our aim is to revolutionise the way women’s tennis is consumed, distributed and monetised and through this relationship with the WTA, we are sure we will do just that.
“Our deep understanding of the content that builds audiences for major US networks and having worked with some of the biggest names in tennis, we know the sport, the business of tennis, the fans and how brands benefit from leveraging tennis. We are thrilled to be working with the WTA and are certain WTA Networks will be the go-to digital channel for women’s tennis and an ideal partner for brands looking to engage the same target.”
Dwek said that the demand for rich online content was reflected in statistics for the first five days of the WTA Finals, which showed video views up 1,551.9 per cent, new users up 20.23 per cent, mobile users up 28.87 per cent, engagement of posts up 239.94 per cent and referrals from social up 65.29 per cent. In addition, the new videos account for 11 of the 15 most-viewed ever on any WTA digital channel.
The WTA believes that the new proposition will help to attract more sponsors seeking to reach a global audience, of which a significant proportion is female.
Responding to a question from Sportcal, Micky Lawler, the president of the WTA, said: "We do think that this is instrumental in building the business case for what I hate to call sponsors as they’re not sponsors any longer. The concept is pretty obsolete. It’s all about partnerships and building the partner and the WTA together."
She added: "We’re the only league in the world that speaks to female athletes that touch on travel, finance, health and beauty. We provide a vehicle that directly speaks to women who have buying power of over $23 trillion and women who today decide what car they’re going to drive and how they want to invest their money to make their families financially secure.
“When we speak to a potential partner, whether it’s a global partner or a regional partner, we need to show that partner that their dollar when invested is going to turn into two dollars, and that we could not do without pushing things on the media side.
“You know traditional advertising is dead because every viewer has control of what they view, how they view it and when they view it so the conversation has to be compelling in a different direction and this is for us is an opportunity that we have never seen.
“We’re talking to a lot of potential new partners – global, regional, local… We are happy to speak to them and really offer a very compelling case.”
In recent years, the WTA has been targeting a lead global partner, while also considering top-tier regional sponsors as an alternative.
The organisation has been without a standalone elite sponsor since Sony Ericsson, the former joint venture consumer electronics giant, decided not to renew its deal at the end of the 2012 season.
At present the WTA has four ‘global premier partners’ in Dubai Duty Free, SAP, USANA Health Sciences and iQiyi, the Chinese digital video platform owned by internet search engine Baidu, a ‘regional premier partner’ in Chinese sportswear brand Peak and two ‘global official suppliers’ in Tennis Warehouse and Western Union business solutions.
Record TV reach Next year marks the start of a 10-year international media rights and production deal with Perform worth $525 million.
The partnership builds on a four-year partnership that came into effect in 2013 and covered the media rights sales for all territories outside North America for the top-tier Premier tournaments.
WTA Media, the joint venture set up by WTA and Perform, has already concluded deals for 2017 onwards with various prominent broadcasters, including BT Sport in the UK, BeIN in over 30 territories (including USA, Australia, France, Spain, the Middle East and North Africa), TVA Sports in Canada and Sony Pictures Television in Latin America.
There is also a new 10-year exclusive rights contract worth over $100 million with iQiyi in China.
WTA events will reach a record 913.4 million television households worldwide in 2017, according to projections from SMG Insights.
This includes 479.1 million in Asia-Pacific and 186.2 million in Europe, while the Sony agreement in Latin America will more than double the reach in that market.
Future of WTA Finals Simon, who succeeded Stacy Allaster as WTA chief executive last year, is eager that the tour matches up well against the top male sports properties, saying: “Our goal is to be competitive with all the major sports leagues, regardless of gender.”
He admitted that there remain challenges with the calendar but that there is a commitment to devise a schedule that is truly global, but healthier for the players, with more balance.
Simon acknowledged that it would be better for the WTA Finals, which involve the top eight singles players and top eight doubles teams of the year, to be held after the second-tier WTA Elite Trophy, which takes place in Zhuhai, China next week, saying: “The WTA Finals should be the last [WTA] event of the year.”
He added: “There are issues with the Fed Cup final [which takes place in November] and players who are getting in to the off-season… but there is a solution there.”
Singapore is in the third year of a five-year contract to stage the previously nomadic WTA Finals, and Simon said he would be happy for the event to remain there beyond 2018, possibly indefinitely.
He said: “This event has grown and improved each and every year; great credit to the team. No decisions have been made for the future, we’re beginning to look at that. We certainly have had conversations with the local government and the supporting parties here and have indicated that we’d love to talk about a longer future here in Singapore as we also evaluate what all of our options are.
“I would certainly like at some point for these WTA Finals to find a more permanent home where we can truly build the event, build the traditions and make the investments we need to. Singapore is certainly a very dynamic, vibrant, beautiful city and we’d be proud to call [it] home, and hopefully we’ll have more conversations and see where they go.”