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Women’s Tennis CEO shares challenges of global brand

Stacey Allaster speaking

When Chinese women's tennis player Li Na won the French open in 2011, 116 million fans watched her win. By contrast, 11 million watched American tennis star Serena Williams win the U.S. Open in 2013 -- and that was a record.

That excitement in China illustrates the opportunity that the Asia/Pacific region represents for women's tennis, said Women's Tennis Association CEO Stacey Allaster, as she spoke to a group at USF on Tuesday about the importance and challenges of building a global brand.

"(The WTA) can't be the best in sports," Allaster said. "We can't beat the NFL. What can we own, how can we be different?"

As chairman and CEO of the WTA, Allaster played a key role in developing the organization's strategic plan. Since the plan's adoption, WTA prize money has increased more than 70 percent, reaching the $100 million mark in 2012 (including Grand Slams). It took more than 30 years to reach that mark, and the organization is forecasted to reach the $200 million mark by the end of this decade, Allaster said.

"I believe I represent the most marketable and talented female athletes in the world," Allaster said, noting that seven out of 10 on Forbes' list of highest paid female athletes are tennis players. "We're just beginning to get on the tipping point of marketing opportunities for women's tennis."

Allaster was the second of four speakers in the inaugural USF Sport Lecture Series, presented by FOX Sports Florida and hosted by the Sport & Entertainment Management Program. The Sport & Entertainment Management Program is in its second year at USF, offering a path for students to gain their MBAs and gain experience through internships with partner organizations -- including the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is the sponsor of the program

Allaster spoke about those marketing opportunities at USF, concentrating on how the WTA is developing its brand to succeed internationally. The WTA already has a foothold in China, where Li Na is a superstar and women spend seven times more than men. Now, the WTA is focusing on the city/state of Singapore, holding its championships in the nation from 2014 through 2018. The organization chose Singapore for the championships because the nation endorsed its vision to expand the championships beyond just a six-day tennis event.

Tennis, Allaster said, needs to do a better job of focusing on fan experience in a sport that tends to have a "come in, sit down, and be quiet" mentality. One of her ideas for revolutionizing the fan experience in Singapore was having a DJ playing between sets. Allaster said she hopes to shake up the traditional tennis stereotype.

"If anyone asks me what I do, I tell them I'm in the entertainment business," Allaster said.

Allaster said she wants to continue thinking ahead of the curve. It's not only Singapore she's thinking about, she said -- it's what comes after Singapore.

"The reality is, what I did yesterday is irrelevant," she said. "What's happening tomorrow?"

It's a constant battle for the WTA to stay ahead of the global trends, she said, when cultures are different and fans expect varying things.

"The beauty of my job: We're global," Allaster said. "The challenge of my job: We're global."

Kristine Carcione, a student in the Sport & Entertainment Management program, said as a young woman looking to break into the sport industry, she sometimes wonders how far she can rise in the male-dominated field.

"She's doing something that no one else is doing, and it was very inspiring as a young professional," Carcione said.