The deal

The ATP, the organizer of the top men’s tennis tour, recently announced a major new partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The deal sees the PIF become the title sponsor of several ATP Tour events, most notably its season-ending ATP Finals and the youth category Next Gen ATP Finals, which will be staged in the Saudi city of Jeddah until 2027.

Alongside the finals, PIF will put its name to a host of prominent ATP Masters 1000 events including the Indian Wells Open, Miami Open, and Madrid Open, as well as the ATP 500 China Open in Beijing.

Why it matters

The ATP’s sponsorship deal with the PIF could potentially open the door for the Saudi wealth fund to invest in the men’s tennis body itself.

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In a recent interview with Sportcal (GlobalData Sport), ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi confirmed that he held talks with the PIF about possible co-investments into the tour’s infrastructure, technology, and events (in new markets).

However, Gaudenzi insisted the top men’s tennis tour is in a healthy financial position and will only seek to raise capital if it provides a “clear plan for growth.”

Saudi has succeeded in initially getting its foot through the door with the ATP after Jeddah began its five-year hosting deal for the Next Gen ATP Finals last December.

This made it the first official professional tennis event to take place in Saudi Arabia, and as such, the kingdom's first expansion into tennis, after having gradually increased its presence in multiple other sports such as soccer and boxing in recent years.

The ATP Tour has had a presence in the wider Middle East for more than 30 years, through hosting events in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi is making a concerted effort to become a major player in the sports scene and most notably shook up the golfing world by creating the breakaway LIV Golf circuit (also backed by the PIF), poaching many of the world’s best players from the US' PGA Tour.

Following a bitter dispute for several years, which spilled into the courts, LIV and the PGA Tour announced a shock merger last year. It was the biggest indication that golf’s most established tour had conceded defeat in its battle with the controversial Saudi-backed circuit and its riches.

As an individual sport, tennis was considered to potentially be a future target for the Saudis and this tie-up with the ATP could lead to a wider collaboration between the two parties.

The country is also reportedly in discussions over potentially hosting the women's WTA Finals and in addition, recently announced an exhibition tournament to take place in October featuring half a dozen of the world’s top male tennis players.

The likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will participate in the Six Kings Slam event, which will be staged during a busy month in the ATP Tour season and form part of the Saudi cultural and entertainment festival Riyadh Season.

The details

The ATP deal, reportedly set for an initial five-year contract, also sees the PIF become the naming partner of the men’s player rankings, which had previously been sponsored by market trading platform Pepperstone since 2022.

The addition of the ATP Tour to the PIF’s sponsorship portfolio is a large one for the investment group which has prioritized sports as its preferred investment vehicle.

Research by GlobalData shows that the PIF’s total spending across its five main sports of soccer, golf, motor racing, horse racing, and boxing has so far exceeded $7.68 billion, primarily through the group’s purchase of soccer club Newcastle United, and LIV Golf.

Allegations of sportswashing have been repeatedly leveled against the PIF over this time, with many claiming that the company is using its investments to shield the kingdom from public criticism of its environmental and human rights record.

Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis and consulting at Sportcal (GlobalData Sport), has said: “The PIF's investment into the ATP gives Saudi Arabia another seat at the table in terms of the governance of international sport, with a presence already firmly established in soccer, F1, and golf.

“While Saudi Arabia is looking to diversify its economy and sees sport as a crucial means of achieving this, the accusations of sportswashing are never far away and will remain while questions continue to be asked of the kingdom's approach to human rights.

“For the athletes in question, this can only mean more money with prize pots likely to increase, but if the hope was for a less demanding schedule, this is unlikely to happen as the PIF will want to ensure a greater presence for the kingdom in the international tennis calendar.”

More reading:

ATP sees brighter future with OneVision

Gaudenzi: ATP will consider investment if it supports growth plans

Jeddah to host ATP Next Gen Finals from 2023-2027

Saudi to hold high-profile exhibition event during ATP season