Posted: Wed November 7, 2012 5:42PM; Updated: Wed November 7, 2012 6:44PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>INSIDE TENNIS

Indian Wells prize money the latest in long line of tennis nonsense

Story Highlights

Indian Wells head Larry Ellison propsed an $800K increase in prize money

The ATP board voted down the increase, leaving many scratching their heads

This is another example of times tennis can't seem to get out of its own way

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Larry Ellison
Indian Wells chief Larry Ellison proposed an $800,000 prize money increase that was allegedly voted down by the ATP.
Mike Blake /Reuters

It's like a boosted immune system. Spend enough time around tennis and you develop a threshold for mutant strains of nonsense, a resistance to the highest concentration of inanity and insanity. Yet even by tennis standards, this most recent one made us sick.

According to multiple sources, at Tuesday's ATP board meeting in London, the following issue was on the agenda: Should the ATP accept an offer from Larry Ellison to boost prize money at the Indian Wells BNP event by $800,000?

Why is this even an issue, you ask? Good question. A promoter is offering more money to the players. And it would be distributed evenly among rounds. A mainstay in the Big Three of the Forbes 400 rankings -- along with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet -- Ellison is precisely the type of credible, galactically wealthy figure the sport would do well not to antagonize. And at a time when the players make periodic threats to boycott the Grand Slams, you might think the ATP would want as much financial leverage as possible.

Think again. This, after all, is tennis, the sport that can't get out of its own way. If Ellison boosted the Indian Wells prize money, how would that make other events -- most obviously the IMG-owned Miami event the following week -- look? And ... well, actually, there are no other logical reasons why an organization tasked with growing and improving the sport would turn down a volunteer increase in money. Yet, that's what happened. With IMG's representative allegedly leading the charge, the three tournament representatives on the board rejected the prize money increase. The ATP's CEO, Brad Drewett, invertebrately declined to take action. And the measure died.

The ATP sent us this statement via email: "We welcome tournaments increasing prize money. However, in this case, a tournament is proposing a distribution that is not in line with the ATP rules that players and tournaments themselves have agreed to, and which every other tournament on tour follows. The ATP distribution model is designed in part to protect the middle-ranked players' share of prize money, and more evenly distribute prize money throughout every round in a tournament. We would be happy to approve a prize money increase if it complies with ATP rules on distribution."

One suspects that every player from Roger Federer to the likely first-round losers is hurling crockery, wondering why his own organization would take money off the table. But one also wonders how this went over with Ellison.

We imagine it went something like this ...

[The scene: Ellison on the back porch on his Hawaiian estate. His yacht is behind him. As Ellison sips his last bit of mango smoothie, his phone rings. It's Giles, his assistant in California.]

Giles: Good morning, Mr. E.

Ellison: It's a great morning, actually.

Giles: Well, one issue: You know how you offered that $800,000 to the Indian Wells purse --

Ellison: Yeah, sure. Love those guys. Heck, Nadal even stayed at one of my homes last year, remember? Nice kid, but left water bottles under all the chairs. Anyway, the tennis and players and the money -- let me guess: Someone asked where to send the thank-you note? Tell 'em not to worry about it.

Giles: Well, actually, sir, it's not that simple.

Ellison: They want more? These guys are more persistent than Ferrer. But OK, I guess I can --

Giles: No, no sir. They want less.

Ellison: Right. And I want Oracle's share price to go down.

Giles: No really, they don't want it.

Ellison: Less money? Among athletes? That's like joking about bombs in the airport security line.

Giles: I'm being serious.

Ellison: OK. Did they give a reason?

Giles: I guess they thought it messed with their business model?

Ellison: Right. And paying more for a property than the list price really screws up the market. And leaving a $100 on the table really screws up the model of the tip jar. [Voice rising.] And giving employees a larger bonus than they expected really screws up their budget.

Giles: Sir, I'm just the messenger.

Ellison: Of course. Sorry. But here's what I don't understand: Wouldn't an organization concerned about the growth of the game view more money as a good thing?

Giles: Well, the players would, but not the other tournaments.

Ellison: Why? Because it might pressure them to be a bit more generous, too? I shouldn't mow my yard because it might make my neighbors look like slobs?

Giles: You're really going nuts on the analogies today, sir.

Ellison: Sorry. But this isn't even low-hanging fruit. It's a vegetable. In this global economy, with players getting sidelined with injuries, with that paltry pension plan, the players are turning down more money. Where's the union?

Giles: Well, um, the players don't have a union, sir. The ATP is this umbrella of players and tournaments.

Ellison: That sounds like a recipe for conflict.

Giles: Yeah, that word is in heavy rotation in tennis.

Ellison: And wait, aren't the players threatening to boycott the majors until they get paid more? Wouldn't it help their cause if they made as much money as possible at their own events?

Giles: Well, yeah, but you're forgetting the other tournaments.

Ellison: I still don't get it. They might not want me to show them up. But how is it good for the game when they veto a prize money increase?

Giles: Good for the game? Since when did that become a concern?

Ellison: Silly me. I forgot.

Ellison: Oh, Giles, one more thing.

Giles: Yes, sir.

Ellison: Call up Tim Finchem for me, would you? Pretty sure my money is good with the PGA Tour guys.

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