The Women's Tennis Association (WTA), the organizer of top-tier women’s professional tennis, has today (March 7) announced a strategic partnership with private equity investment firm CVC Capital Partners.
The company, which has become heavily involved in sports in recent years, is understood to have purchased a stake of around 20% in the WTA’s commercial rights for $150 million.
The agreement had been mooted last summer and was widely expected to be confirmed at the end of last year.
The WTA said the objective of the partnership will be to “further elevate the profile of women’s tennis and to accelerate commercial growth for the benefit of the fans, players, tournaments, and other stakeholders in the game.”
The tie-up will see CVC become WTA’s commercial partner, “investing capital indirectly via its managed funds and acting as a catalyst to drive growth of the sport.”
Key focus areas include providing fans with more access to the sport, investing behind the tour brands, building player and tournament profiles, and investing in digital platforms and commercial capabilities.
The WTA will continue to own the majority interest in the partnership and retain full regulatory and sporting responsibility for the women’s game.
This partnership has the backing of the players and tournaments, with “critical changes” to the tour calendar planned.
The parties said their ambition is to materially grow women’s tennis, including its profile, value, and prize money.
CVC had competition for the WTA stake with the likes of Sinclair Group, owners of The Tennis Channel streaming service, and an investment group led by Arnon Milchan, the Israeli businessman and film producer married to former tennis player Amanda Coetzer, understood to have been interested.
In June 2021, it was reported CVC was in talks over a potential $600-million deal to merge the WTA with its male counterpart the ATP. However, the ATP’s ‘OneVision’ strategic plan, which was announced in June 2022 and excludes deals with private equity firms.
ATP’s OneVision plan includes a 50/50 profit-sharing formula, with audited tournament financials providing full transparency to players on the economics of events. The tour hopes the move will reduce fragmentation, align interests between players and tournaments, and motivate all stakeholders to grow the game.
The WTA was advised on the CVC deal by private investment bank Allen and Company and international law firm Proskauer Rose, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer advised CVC.
The agreement marks CVC’s first entry into tennis and expands its growing sports portfolio.
Most recently, in March 2022, the private equity group acquired a 13% stake worth €1.5 billion ($1.59 billion) in a media rights subsidiary set up by the LFP, French soccer’s professional governing body, which will see the investment firm take a minority stake in the company that will market the TV and online broadcast rights of the top-tier Ligue 1 competition.
In 2021, the company entered into a similar strategic partnership with Spain’s LaLiga, where it will invest just under €2 billion in the league and its clubs in return for an 8% stake in a new commercial entity.
CVC was also close to concluding a similar deal with Italy’s Serie A in 2020 but the proposed tie-up fell through, prompting it to seek out other leagues.
The firm additionally has stakes in multiple rugby union competitions including the Six Nations, England’s top-tier Premiership Rugby, and the United Rugby Championship.
The WTA is strategically seeking to boost its income, which has taken a hit by the coronavirus pandemic and its suspension of events in China amid fears for the safety of Chinese player Peng Shuai after she accused a former official of sexual assault.
The tour struck a lucrative 10-year deal in 2018 to host its year-end finals in China through 2028, offering a $14-million prize purse when it was last played in 2019. The country hasn’t hosted WTA tournaments since 2020 due to Covid-19-related restrictions.
Steve Simon, WTA chairman and chief executive, said: “I am excited for the next chapter of the WTA whose future will continue to push the growth of women’s professional tennis.
“It is truly fitting that we are celebrating 50 years of the WTA alongside the introduction of this landmark and historic opportunity. This partnership with CVC brings experience, a network, and capital to move our sport to the next level, embracing the ambition of our founding members, urging women’s tennis beyond its barriers, and pioneering new standards for a more equitable and valuable sport.”
Gemma Wright, senior managing director in the media and entertainment team at CVC, added: “Tennis is the number one professional women’s sport in the world, with a huge fan base and commercial opportunity.
“WTA and CVC will work together to innovate, grow fan engagement, and the revenues of the WTA, which we can then reinvest back into the game.
“We could not be more excited to be supporting women’s tennis and look forward to working closely together with the WTA to grow the sport globally, in collaboration with the players, tournaments, and other stakeholders in the sport.”