The ATP Tour scored a major victory in court yesterday when a jury shot down objections by the German Tennis Federation over the tour’s restructuring plan.
The jury unaminously rejected claims that the tour was engaging in “collusion” in announcing restructuring plans that would essential downgrade the the Hamburg clay court event, which has historically been one of the more prestigious French Open warm-ups.
German tennis officials were upset that the ATP Tour moved the tournament from May to July, thus eliminating its association with the French Open, and said the new tour schedule would essentially ensure that top players would not come to Hamburg.
Under the tournament reorganization, known as “Brave New World,” top-ranked ATP players would be required to play in each of eight Master Series 1000 tournaments, which represent the top-tier events on tour. Top tour players would also be required to play four of 11 tournaments in the second-tier Master Series 500. The restructuring is designed to encourage stronger fields in certain tournaments and generate greater interest from sponsors and broadcasters.
ATP Tour attorney Brad Ruskin said in an interview the ruling was “a validation” of the tour’s stance that it has the right to set its own rules and determine what is best for the sport.
“This is a great day for tennis, its fans, its tournaments and the players,” Ruskin said.
ATP Executive Chairman Ettiene de Villiers said the judge and jury in the case “have recognized and upheld our fundamental right to set and make changes to the ATP Tour calendar, changes that are necessary if we are to unlock the full potential of our sport.
“These are exciting times for men’s professional tennis with the ATP set to unveil the largest set of changes to the Tour since its inception in 1990,” The 2009 ATP World Tour will deliver record prize money to players, provide unprecedented amounts of investment into new and existing stadia, vastly increase the promotion of the sport, and see increased support from existing and new sponsors. Finally we will have the world class Tour our players, tournaments and fans deserve.”
This case was being watched closely by sports industry insiders who said an opposite verdict could have had an impact on other individual-based sports like golf and figure skating.
For a legal analysis of the ruling, check out Rick Karcher, the director of the Center for Law and Sports at Florida Coastal University, at the very good Sports Law Blog.