Steve Wood- CEO, Tennis Australia Share PDF Print E-mail
Profile of the week
Born in Melbourne and educated in Australia and the United States, Steve Wood combines a successful track record in business with a lifelong involvement in tennis.
As a top state player in the 1980s, he was a contemporary of Pat Cash and Wally Masur and represented Victoria at junior level before embarking on the professional ATP [Association of Tennis Professional] tour from 1985 to ’87 prior to moving his career aspirations into business.
He was appointed in 2005 by Tennis Australia as its new Chief Executive Officer to take on the responsibilities for day-to-day administration of one of Australia’s most successful sports.
Before joining TA, he gained extensive business experience as the chief executive of information, communications and technology companies in Australia, across Asia-Pacific and around the world.
By Marc Sibbons & Edward Rangsi
You’ve been involved in tennis for over three decades. Has it always been a passion to work in the sport, and how did you get into the industry?
I’ve always been a big fan of the sport from a very young age. My parents were both involved in tennis coaching and as a player I was a contemporary of Pat Cash and Wally Masur in the 80’s, which I still hold very fond memories from.
Before I joined TA (Tennis Australia) I was fortunate enough to work 16 years in communication and technology. At the time, Australian tennis was looking for its first full time CEO, with someone who had both corporate and practical experience in the sport, which was how I got the job seven years ago.
What are your greatest memories as a tennis player?
My best memory was probably representing my state of Victoria in a cup competition against the others states in Australia. Pat Cash was my double’s partner at the time, who then went onto win Wimbledon and was a great player. We have remained good friends and keep in touch when our busy schedules allow us too. Tennis has brought me so much happiness and I just love how it brings everyone together as it almost acts as the social fabric of society. That’s the most important thing.
How has your practical experience in tennis helped you become successful in your current role?
People can forget how much they can learn on the tennis court; I think it teaches you some great skills, which can benefit you in business and in life, as it is an individual sport. I personally have taken so much from my tennis background and have learnt what it takes to be a professional tennis player. I then transferred these skills into the business world and I really believe the sport has helped me achieve some of the things I have worked for, and ultimately made me the person I am today.
I never had plans to be a CEO when I was starting out in sport, as I was always involved in the sales/marketing side and reported to someone in a higher position to me. I was open to looking at an Australian based job, rather than travelling Asia-Pacific all the time, which I found myself doing on a regular basis. It became apparent that I had the right ‘cocktail’ of skills that Tennis Australia was looking for and I subsequently applied for the job. The rest is history as they say!
As CEO of Australian tennis, what are your responsibilities and what are you expected to deliver?
I am responsible for all things tennis, from grass roots to Grand Slams. The responsibility is centered around community, player development, professional tournaments, and everything that goes in-between, so it’s a very diverse role I operate under. It keeps me very busy, but it’s something I enjoy doing, which is the most important thing.
What are the most challenging and, equally, rewarding aspects of your job?
It’s enormously complex because we are involved with community programmes, professional tournament rights, broadcast rights, sponsorship, corporate hospitality and so on. So, all the business angles are covered. Furthermore, there is a very large amount of stakeholders, which can be challenging. The fact is that there are 75million tennis players worldwide, which obviously comes with a lot of opinion, so managing this public opinion can be a challenge in itself.
The most rewarding, and arguably most exciting part of the job is that you get involved with some of the greatest tennis players in the world at the Grand Slam, which is a huge boost. Also, we are always eager to see what emerging talent is coming through the youth ranks, watching their development into becoming future stars of the game, which of course is very motivating as well.
How has Australian tennis progressed since you were confirmed as CEO in 2005?
In business terms, we have had some great success over the duration of my journey. When I first started, we had an underperforming business that wasn’t particularly in a good shape. This was one of the main reasons why they hired a full time CEO as they needed a new direction. We’ve doubled in size in terms of our commercial performance and we’ve taken our revenue from around 80million to around 170million this year. So, it’s been a terrific example of extracting real value from some of the valued assets to where we can deliver as Tennis Australia.
How is the country encouraging new people to participate in tennis events? What youth programmes are in place to raise the sport’s profile?
Our goal is ultimately to get more kids playing tennis. It’s as simple as that. We know that by the age of 15, if the kids haven’t developed a passion for the sport, they probably never will. We also know that our best, hardcore tennis fans are also tennis players so the best way for us to grow our events is to have more tennis players.
Therefore, our strategy is to deliver successful programmes at the grassroots level in order to help us find some champions from the pool of youngsters playing tennis from the age of 5-12 years old. On the back of that, have them progress into players capable of competing at the very highest level of tennis, which helps them whilst making us more prosperous in the process through the level of coverage they attract.
We have an MLC Hotshots programme in place that has 250,000 kids involved in where we aim to have at least 750,000 by 2016. We also have our cardio tennis programme, which is a fitness workout on a tennis court and is fairly self-explanatory. It’s really about making tennis more accessible to the general public and making people competitive through the programmes whilst of course having fun in the sport.
Considering the growth of technology and the social media phenomenon, how important is this medium to sustain the popularity of this sport?
All media platforms are absolutely crucial for tennis. It goes right from our broadcast, to our TV product, to the website and our social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. They are the core vehicles that we are using at the moment. Getting the message out there and connecting to the fans who can develop an interest in what we are presenting in tennis is vital and something that we compete with others sports with. We have a pretty good technology team at the moment, who are being aided by all the investment that has taken place in this sector in the last few years. So, we are confident we can grasp the huge marketing opportunity it ably presents to our audience.
Melbourne Park has been the home of the Australian Open for the past 24 years. How important has the venue been to the success of the event during that time?
The Melbourne Park tennis precinct is inexplicably linked to the performance of the Australian Open as a Grand Slam. We are very fortunate that the venue is situated right next to the city of Downtown Melbourne, which gives us a lot of leverage in terms of hotels and restaurants for example. The fact that the transport/infrastructure there is nice and close is a real competitive advantage for us over any other form of event in Australia and is hugely important to its success as a stadium.
Melbourne is known as the ultimate sports city where it has won that title various times in recent years, so it’s a perfect marriage between sport and business. One of the ways that the city continues to win those awards is to leverage off the fantastic sporting facilities to not only the tennis, but also for cricket, soccer and rugby, which all reside here in Melbourne. It’s an ideal venue to operate a sporting business under.
What is unique about Melbourne Park?
The uniqueness comes in the form of the two retractable roofs on our main stadium courts. Depending on the weather, we can leave the roof open or closed which provides us with the climate to progress the tournament as best we possibly can and continue our broadcasting product.
The Melbourne and Olympic Park is also in the process of going through a $363 million redevelopment. This is the first of three stages of works which will see a new indoor purpose built tennis training facility on site and a roof installed on Margaret Court Arena, the third retractable roof at the complex. We are very proud of the innovation we deliver as Melbourne Park, Australian Tennis and the Australian Open, and long may that continue.
A Plexicushion surface has been installed at the Open since 2008. Why was the decision made to replace the Rebound Ace surface?
Since its installation in 2008, we changed from green to blue primarily to produce a more attractive broadcast product. But, it’s also the cooler way to host tennis because the blue surface doesn’t retain as much heat. This is crucial because the back end of January is usually the hottest time of the year for Melbourne and we had real issues of heat stress for our players and fans involved in the tournament. We are now very pleased with how the blue surface has performed, and the colour is once again symbiotic of the Australian Open and Australia as a whole.
The Rebound Ace surfaced we had in place for almost 20 years had reached its sell-by date, so it was time to re-evaluate our course strategy and search for new surfaces to front out event. Through very thorough analysis and field research, we decided that is was better to go with the Plexicushion surface, and change the colours. The decision was an immediate success with the players, fans and broadcasters alike so everyone is very happy with the change and the Open continues to reap the dividends.
The Australian Open typically has very high attendance – second only to the US Open. What levels of exposure does the tournament have through the use of marketing and sponsorship?
We had just over 686,000 people come through our turnstiles last year, which beat the 2010 record attendance of just under 654,000, so we were obviously very happy with these results and we continue to grow.
The sponsors and our commercial partners enjoy the fact we attract huge crowds (80,649 people on the biggest day of the tournament) and relish the opportunity to activate/connect with the customers when they come on site. The fans generally sit and watch tennis where our sponsors/broadcasters enjoy the atmosphere that it brings and it is all part of the success of the Australian Open.
Furthermore, our ticket pricing is very competitive and we obviously attract the best players in the world for a short period of time at an affordable, family friendly, price range that has been our strategy over many years.
Has there been an increase in TV coverage for the Australian Open in the last 5 years?
We have been able to significantly increase our broadcast coverage, where we now go to over 200 countries. We also have access to 350million homes and 36 networks which cover the tournament, whilst around 1,500 on-site media people visit us to help spread the message around the globe. We are very fortunate that during January there isn’t a great deal of major sports events being played around the world so we get about 6,500 hours of live coverage to all our networks, which is very pleasing. This is crucial in enticing people to learn more about tennis, gain an affinity with the players/venue, and maybe even visit the Australian Open at some point. That is the aim.
This year, there was talk of a players strike over prize money and playing conditions. Did you have any doubts leading up to the Australian Open?
No, I didn’t have any doubts that the players would attend the tournament and I was sure the strike wouldn’t come to fruition. There was talk of it the night before the Australian Open had started that they weren’t happy with the amount of prize money we were paying and since then the Grand Slams have heard that message and taking some measures to assist them with their financial requirements. We saw that at the French Open this month and we will see that at Wimbledon coming up in a few weeks.
We are very pleased to be able to support the players in this sector. We have the world’s largest prize purse of $26m AUD at the Australian Open, but know that as we grow, the players pay cheques grow. So, we have to be able to compromise on this issue in order to maintain a successful event every year.
What does the future hold for Australian Tennis?
Well, we’ve just had our best year in ten years on court first and foremost. It was very pleasing to see Samantha Stosur win the U.S Open and Bernard Tomic breaking through at Wimbledon, and there was plenty of positive youth development reports come back to me over the past 12 months or so. Of the back of that, the future is very bright for Australian Tennis, and I am very excited to see how the next year folds out on the court.
Our off-court business is also in good shape, which means our on-court performance also follows suit. Last year was a breakout year for us and we were very motivated to strengthen our player development programme, whilst delivering a successful community programme to keep the people around us happy in our presence. The support we’re getting from the state governments has been fantastic, and we’re all working hard to bring the tennis community together and achieve long-term goals. It’s something that is a continuous development, but we are coming on leaps and bounds since I’ve been here and long may it continue!

Steve Wood FP

Born in Melbourne and educated in Australia and the United States, Steve Wood combines a successful track record in business with a lifelong involvement in tennis. 

As a top state player in the 1980s, he was a contemporary of Pat Cash and Wally Masur and represented Victoria at junior level before embarking on the professional ATP [Association of Tennis Professional] tour from 1985 to ’87 prior to moving his career aspirations into business.

He was appointed in 2005 by Tennis Australia as its new Chief Executive Officer to take on the responsibilities for day-to-day administration of one of Australia’s most successful sports.

Before joining TA, he gained extensive business experience as the chief executive of information, communications and technology companies in Australia, across Asia-Pacific and around the world. 

By Marc Sibbons & Edward Rangsi


You’ve been involved in tennis for over three decades. Has it always been a passion to work in the sport?

I’ve always been a big fan of the sport from a very young age. My parents were both involved in tennis coaching and as a player, I was a contemporary of Pat Cash and Wally Masur in the 80’s, which I still hold very fond memories from. 

How did you get into the industry?

Before I joined TA (Tennis Australia) I was fortunate enough to work 16 years in communication and technology. At the time, Australian tennis was looking for its first full time CEO, with someone who had both corporate and practical experience in the sport, which was how I got the job seven years ago. 

What are your greatest memories as a tennis player?

My best memory was probably representing my state of Victoria in a cup competition against the others states in Australia. Pat Cash was my double’s partner at the time, who then went onto win Wimbledon and was a great player. We have remained good friends and keep in touch when our busy schedules allow us too. Tennis has brought me so much happiness and I just love how it brings everyone together as it almost acts as the social fabric of society. That’s the most important thing. 

How has your practical experience in tennis helped you become successful in your current role? 

People can forget how much they can learn on the tennis court. I think it teaches you some great skills, which can benefit you in business and in life, as it is an individual sport. I personally have taken so much from my tennis background and have learnt what it takes to be a professional tennis player. I then transferred these skills into the business world and I really believe the sport has helped me achieve some of the things I have worked for, and ultimately made me the person I am today. 

I never had plans to be a CEO when I was starting out in sport, as I was always involved in the sales/marketing side and reported to someone in a higher position to me. I was open to looking at an Australian based job, rather than travelling Asia-Pacific all the time, which I found myself doing on a regular basis. It became apparent that I had the right ‘cocktail’ of skills that Tennis Australia was looking for and I subsequently applied for the job. The rest is history as they say!

As CEO of Australian tennis, what are your responsibilities and what are you expected to deliver? 

I am responsible for all things tennis, from grass roots to Grand Slams. The responsibility is centered around community, player development, professional tournaments, and everything that goes in-between, so it’s a very diverse role I operate under. It keeps me very busy, but it’s something I enjoy doing, which is the most important thing. 

What are the most challenging and, equally, rewarding aspects of your job?

It’s enormously complex because we are involved with community programmes, professional tournament rights, broadcast rights, sponsorship, corporate hospitality and so on. So, all the business angles are covered. Furthermore, there is a very large amount of stakeholders, which can be challenging. The fact is that there are 75million tennis players worldwide, which obviously comes with a lot of opinion, so managing this public opinion can be a challenge in itself.

The most rewarding, and arguably most exciting part of the job is that you get involved with some of the greatest tennis players in the world at the Grand Slam, which is a huge boost. Also, we are always eager to see what emerging talent is coming through the youth ranks, watching their development into becoming future stars of the game, which of course is very motivating as well. 

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