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Homecoming speaker series features outgoing Women’s Tennis Association CEO

Stacey Allaster

The branding of tennis - especially women's tennis - might bring to mind soft clapping, graceful athletes, and glamour.

But, as the demographics and generations of fans and athletes change, the brand of women's tennis has changed as well. Stacey Allaster, outgoing CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, spoke during homecoming at USF about how the WTA has developed a global brand in the highly competitive sport and entertainment industry. Their brand now trades on excitement, powerful athletes, and a new kind of glamour.

"We cannot be successful like Wimbledon with 'Quiet, please,'" Allaster said. "For our organization that doesn't like to change ... if you're going to have this big change and you're going to be transformational, you can't just muddle along."

Allaster, who was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the "Most Powerful Women in Sports," was the keynote speaker at the 2015 USF Muma College of Business homecoming lecture series, just after announcing she would be stepping down as the WTA's CEO after nine years . Her lecture focused on the ways tennis is trying to connect with fans worldwide, and empowering women in sports and business.

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.

"When I started 10 years ago, we really only had one revenue source, and that was sponsorships," Allaster said, noting that expanding those revenue sources was crucial to that revenue rise. "It's a game-changer for us to put fans first."

Allaster spoke about those marketing opportunities at USF, noting that the WTA has developed its brand to succeed internationally, including in Asia. The WTA is focusing on the city/state of Singapore, holding its championships in the nation from 2014 through 2018. While Allaster said she hears people say that "no one cares about tennis after the U.S. Open," she said that the new fans of tennis across the world don't think that way at all.

"Who's asking that question? I think it's a western thinker," she said, noting that one-third of prize money is awarded post-U.S. Open.

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 with fans dancing on the courts wearing socks in order to avoid damaging the court.

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

As part of that fan-focused experience, fans keep balls that bounce into the stands, and it's a given that players will sign autographs and take selfies.

"I'm asking not only the winner to sign autographs, but also the athlete who didn't win," Allaster said.

"I learned from Stacey that she is the only woman leading globally a professional sport association," said Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem in his introductory remarks, adding that he hoped Allaster would return to teach USF students in her retirement.

"I don't know if I've ever met a dean so passionate about his students and his alumni," Allaster responded.

To see a gallery from the event, visit the USF Muma College of Business Facebook page.