The Women's Tennis Association, which is considering pulling out of the U. S. Open championships, says it has been offered a chance to help run its own national tournament with $500,000 in prize money.
Peachy Kellmeyer, WTA director of operations, told The Washington Post yesterday that Capital Sports, a national promotion firm based in New York, recently proposed a women's championship package that would double the prize money offered by the Open and make the WTA a partner in revenue-sharing and administration of the tournament.
The proposed package calls for the tournament to be held indoors in New Jersey during the middle two weeks in August, according to WTA member Joanne Russell. WTA Vice President Jerry Diamond said the proposal guarantees 10 hours of television coverage, though not necessarily by one of the major networks. During this year's Open, CBS-TV televised 13 hours of tennis on the final weekend, of which just more than two was women's play.
"The move that has been proposed is 100 percent better than what we have now at the Open," said Diamond.
"No decisions have been made yet," Kellmeyer said. "The question right now is whether to split from the United States Open tournament. We're now in the evaluation process, gathering the necessary information to make an intelligent decision."
At least half of the 100 WTA members attended two meetings this week in Las Vegas and another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Atlanta.
"The sooner we make this decision the better," said Billie Jean King, who cited a small draw (the women can enter 96 as opposed to the 128 in the men's competition), what she called unfair scheduling and less-than-satisfactory television exposure as the main grievances the WTA had with the U.S. open. tThe association has also voiced dissatisfaction with the United States Tennis Association's current junior development programs.
"Right now I'd estimate the association is 60-40 in favor of pulling out of the Open," said King, 36, a past WTA president and three-time Open champion. King said she is trying to stay in the background and let the younger players make the decision that will "greatly affect their futures."
"This is not a hastily conceived notion. We've thought about pulling out for four years now," King added. "But it's coming to a head because the USTA (which runs the Open) continues to fight us on small issues. It's very irritating. They just love to say 'no.'"
USTA President Joseph Carrico said, "I cannot understand why the WTA would detract from the U.S. Open by withdrawing. I would be very disappointed. Such an action would be hurting everyone and helping nobody. But I don't know a single young player who would welcome pulling out of the Open. They realize that is a great amount of exposure to give up."
Carrico added that he was in favor of the women having a 128-player draw at the two-week tournament in New York which Chris Evert recently won for the fifth time. "But it was CBS' (television) decision on how to schedule and when and what to televise," he said. "1 don't know what to do about that. CBS will cover what they want to cover.Their (the WTA) pulling out would be very bad for tennis. We plan to be a cooperative as possible on this issue."
Carrico said he would not be able to attend the meeting in Atlanta because he was notified just yesterday and was already scheduled to attend business engagements in Europe. He said former president W. E. Hester and USTA executive director Rick O'Shea would attend.
"If I were the head of the USTA and there seemed to be a crisis that might affect the major money-producing tournament in the country, I'd cancel whatever else I had planned to attend that meeting," said Diamond. "This problem is serious."
"Nobody's approached me with any demands," Carrico said. "I talked with several members of the WAT at the Open who all said they were pleased with the improvements made. A lot of their prior complaints -- many justified -- have been solved. But I have never talked to Billie Jean King about the issue."
Capital Sports, whose officials could not be reached for comment, has previously promoted the Open but its contract was not renewed after this year. But Diamond was quick to say that he contacted Capital Sports and there was no personal vendetta involved.