This is the calm before the storm, as rumors have circulated for months that the ATP Player Council, led by Roger Federer, is going to strike at this year's Australian Open over prize money inequities. The players are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore and now unlike the past efforts at negotiations, they are organized and resolved. Most major sports pay their athletes between 40 to 50 percent of revenues. The NHL which is now in owner lockout is at about 54 percent of revenues going to players. Most ATP events pay the players between 20-30 percent and the U.S. Open is at a paltry 11 percent of revenues paid out in prize money. To put these numbers in perceptive, consider that the top 250 players in tennis make about a quarter of the amount of money in tennis as they do in golf.
Gordon Smith, chief executive of the USTA, declined to comment on the negotiations with this comment, "A huge player raise could force staff and program cuts and jeopardize the viability of the USTA's recently announced plans for a $500 million upgrade of the National Tennis Center."
I guess the "cuts" Mr. Smith refers to might not be a bad thing. The USTA salaries which were first publicly disclosed after a change in the IRS tax laws in 2008. In that year, Chief Executive Arlen Kantarian received $9.15 million in total compensation, while nine others received nearly $700,000 or more in 2009.
The USTA is a non-profit of course, and as Jon Van Til, a Rutgers University professor who is a former president of The Association for Research On Non Profit Organizations explains, "When you start paying CEOs of non-profits more than the President of the United States, you can't make it a virtue."
I know who I'm rooting for in this dispute.
Steven Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.