About 100 members of the Association of Tennis Professionals have signed a "statement of support" asking that the ATP aggressively seek a percentage of the television profits from the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments.
The ATP, which represents almost all the male tennis players on the professional circuit, would use the money to fund its three-year-old pension plan. Currently, the only source of funding for the plan is the annual ATP Tournament in Cincinnati each August.
"There is certainly precedent for this kind of thing in American sports," said ATP board member Paul McNamee. "The players just think it's fair to derive some money for a pension fund from avenues other than prize money, especially with the TV money being so huge now."
Wimbledon and the French Open both recently signed new television contracts with NBC, and the U.S. Open signed a new five-year deal with CBS last September. The only Grand Slam event without a network contract is the Australian Open, though it does have a deal with ESPN.
Players were asked to sign the statement, which asks that the union seek a percentage, perhaps 10 percent, of TV money, at a players meeting here Sunday. About 100 players, including most of the top 20, signed the statement, according to sources here.
The players would like a resolution of this issue by this time next year, sources said, and there has even been some talk that, if the four tournaments were not willing to negotiate, a boycott of Wimbledon might be considered in 1987.
"The players are here to play tennis. The last thing we want to do is not play," McNamee said. "But on the other hand, I think it's fair to say that the players are united on this issue and would certainly consider stronger courses of action than signing a document if nothing were to happen. Right now, I think we're very far apart with the Grand Slam officials on the issue."
Grand Slam officials here say they are willing to negotiate the issue with the players. "I would doubt that we would be willing to talk percentage," said one official. "I think what it might come to is some kind of flat sum."
Mike Davies, chairman of the ATP, and Marshall Happer, administrator of the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, declined comment on the issue. Happer said, "It would be inappropriate."
One ATP source said that Davies and the players want this to be a low-key issue because "the players think the public will perceive this as a bunch of rich tennis players trying to get more money for themselves." In fact, the pension plan is more for the players who don't get rich playing the game than those that do.