Stacey Allaster is the new chairman and CEO of the WTA Tour, and it's interesting to contrast her selection with that of Adam Helfant, the relatively new head of the partner-rival ATP Tour. The two decisions underscore the two contrasting and mutually exclusive philosophies driving the appointment of top tennis executives.
Helfant was an outsider to professional tennis, although he had worked in his previous post in a parallel universe as a global marketing specialist for Nike. The idea was to recruit someone with sufficiently broad experience that could be transplanted to tennis -- a sport he also might view with a fresh eye and lead with fresh new ideas.
Personally, I am more assured of the existence of bigfoot than of Adam Helfant, who's turning out to be the invisible CEO. I think he may have walked by me at the entrance to the Wimbledon media center about two weeks ago, but I couldn't be sure. Sometimes, well-groomed guys in sharp suits are hard to tell apart. If the ATP wanted an outsider, they sure got one. Maybe tomorrow Helfant will announce that the tour is adopting a "super tiebreaker" format for all events, and going back to the "challenge round" idea, with the champion at any event sitting out the action until a winner emerges from the draw to play him in the final.
Somehow, though, I doubt that will happen. I imagine the real spadework Helfant is doing has to do with complex and, frankly, not very interesting issues -- like how to squeeze the most television revenue out of non-western events and entities, or how to get Andy Roddick's tweets to penetrate the Chinese wall of censorship.
Allaster represents the competing philosophy, which call for someone deeply entrenched and familiar with the game to call the shots. The problem with this approach is that very often its best representatives have been more or less beaten into submission (so many compromises, so little time!) by the "system." It's hard to think out of the box when you've spent your entire life in it. Before her appointment, Allaster was the president of the WTA Tour, and an alarming detail we've learned is that she lists the on-court coaching experiment as a plus on her résumé.
So it looks like Allaster is the one left holding the bag that Larry Scott left on the stoop of WTA headquarters when he unexpectedly abandoned his post as its CEO a few months ago, in order to become the commissioner of the Pacific-10 Conference. Scott's baby, the vaunted WTA "Roadmap" has now become her adopted child. Now that the world economy is in a slump and unlikely to end overnight, it will be interesting to see if the Roadmap -- so big on the penetration of potentially large but untested foreign markets -- has produced a superhighway to ever-greater success or one of those dotted lines that peters out at the edge of some designated wilderness area.
All this makes Allaster a "caretaker" CEO, assigned to sell the Roadmap concept to players and fans. So this appointment represents a logical step in implementing the ideas Scott, with great skill and a formidable bargaining ability, managed to weld together into a coherent whole.
The only market that the WTA seemed to ignore in the Roadmap is the U.S., and now that the vast global upsurge of wealth has been stemmed, it's going to be interesting to see if the new markets of the frontier can deliver for the WTA. And, in the area of player commitment, if the WTA can deliver for them.