Time for Change

Apr 15, 2019
Shelby Talcott / WTA Player

“There is a better way.”

This is a sentence that has been uttered constantly among players, coaches, parents, federations, and more since the International Tennis Federation (ITF) came out with their new format for the professional circuit in 2019.

Chief among these voices is Dave Miley, who has been nominated by Tennis Ireland to run for ITF President. He’s been outspoken and openly disappointed about the changes that the ITF has made even before they were officially implemented, stating time and time again that they would not work and would be detrimental to the game. As voices like Miley’s continue to be ignored, it’s clear that change is necessary at the very top portions of the ITF ladder.

Miley can make a difference, and here’s why.

First and foremost, here’s a little background on Miley. Coming from a tennis family (his grandfather competed at Wimbledon, among other things) Miley has spent his entire life in the tennis business. After playing tennis at University in the United States and on the professional satellite tour, Miley spent 25 years working for the ITF as an executive, including a 17-year stint running the biggest department in the ITF (which included junior, senior, wheelchair, technical, anti-doping, developmental programs, and player training). He’s worked closely with players, the WTA, and the ATP, and after resigning from his position at the ITF, he began to work with Asian Tennis.

This matters because those running tennis should be involved in tennis. Currently, five of the twelve (previously thirteen) ITF Board Member’s have no history of tennis, with two others being mentioned only as having coached in the past (with no explanation towards what level of coaching or for how long.)

How could non-tennis players have come up with the restructuring of the ITF?

The new rules were implemented largely based on statistics. The problem with this, noted Miley, is that there aren’t enough tennis expertise voices around current ITF President David Haggerty, so most of the decisions were based on these statistics. As tennis players know, you can’t possibly see what works and what doesn’t work without being heavily involved in the game. The ITF team is made up of a fair amount of people that have no direct knowledge of tennis, and that’s a problem.

“The two rankings don’t work.” Miley agreed. “Statisticians thought it work, but it didn’t. You can’t have people driving the thing that haven’t played tennis.”

Statistics only tell a very limited and sheltered view of tennis as a whole. Sometimes, of course, statistics are great. However, it’s clear that there isn’t enough tennis knowledge at the top of the ITF.

David Haggerty does have tennis expertise (he played college tennis in the United States and was on the satellite tour, among other things.) However, perhaps he hasn’t been on the ground enough at tennis events – or maybe his ideas simply don’t work for something like the ITF Tour. Either way, it’s clear that Haggerty and the board’s ideas are failing, and they haven’t been willing to simply admit that they messed up and work to make major improvements. Whatever the case, it seems obvious that the time for a new leader is now.

So, what is Dave Miley’s platform all about? It’s pretty simple, and revolves around two things:

First, tennis. Miley wants what is good for tennis – not just what’s good for the ITF. The second focus is ITF nations/shareholders. He also wants what is good for these groups. Miley noted that although the ITF owns properties such as Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and Olympic Tennis Events, they are, in the end, “custodians of the sport.”

“The ITF should be able to lead but respect the ATP, WTA, Grand Slams and all of the different constituents including the players, because the players deserve to be listened to and respected.” Miley noted. “They can’t run the show, but they need to be listened to and respected.”

Dave Miley’s vision is simple. He wants the ITF to be leading tennis, and to be promoting and doing things that are good for tennis, good for the shareholders, and good for the member nations.

He’s always had this vision – ever since 2012, when the ITF coaches commission first raised the issue that the breakeven for players was only around 130 in the world, and that players 200-300 were losing money on tour. The idea of this new tour began because of these issues raised back in 2012, and was meant to have four objectives:

  • Improve the pathway
  • Have more players breakeven
  • Reduce organizing costs
  • Reduce integrity risks

In Miley’s eyes, this new tour has failed in all four objectives. The pathway, he stated, certainly hasn’t been improved, as there are reduced qualifying draws. As a result, players who are ranked 300 are struggling to get into tournaments – clearly, the pathway is not better.

In terms of players making more money, the tour has failed as well. Prize money is the same (with an added entry fee for men) and draw sizes haven’t increased, so there’s no way that this pathway would result in more players breaking even.

Because of the shortened tournament week, it appears at first that organizers would save about $500 a week, Miley stated. However, they lose income from qualifying, so they end up costing organizers about the same as in previous years.

And, of course, the huge issue of integrity – one of the main reasons that the ITF stated they wanted to reduce the numbers of professionals. However, there are still the same number of matches being sold and bet on in 2019 as in 2018. Perhaps, Miley said, if more players were breaking even, it would create less temptation for those competing to break integrity rules. This is a really important section that must be figured out, and Miley has precise suggestions on how to improve these issues.

“None of the objectives are being achieved,” stated Miley. (A fact which seems clear to players and coaches, but has escaped the ITF thus far.)

Miley has a lot of plans to improve the pathway if he is to be elected President. He’d like to potentially implement regional tours to reduce costs and find more ways for players ranked 300-700 to make more money. All of these concerns are addressed in his platform, which includes a complete restructure of the ITF to finally achieve the original four objectives.

Specifically, there are seven pillars to Miley’s manifesto, and start with what he plans to do with professional tennis – including Davis Cup, of which Miley stated that the changes were “too far and too fast.” For him, Davis Cup is not a seven-day event, and believes that finding a format that respects the traditions while generating the same or more income is essential. The manifesto will also discuss what his plans are for generating income, developing the game, and more. A big part of Miley’s plans are to make things more user-friendly at the junior and professional level. He’d…
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