When I was first following tennis the season ended with a great event in Madison Square Garden called “The Masters.” In 1990, players took over the tour and a new year-end event called “The ATP World Championships” was born. However, the ITF was not happy about this and it launched a lucrative season ending event held after the ATP World Championships known as “The Grand Slam Cup.” The most exciting thing I remember about this event was a shoving match between Brad Gilbert and David Wheaton in a semifinal match. Gilbert would win the match and collect $1 million dollars for his runner-up effort against Pete Sampras.
A little internet sleuthing led me to the knowledge that the ATP and ITF mended fences in 1999 and launched a joint event called “The Masters Cup.” This seemed like a decent name as it harkened back to The Masters from the 1980s and The Grand Slam Cup from the 1990s contributed something to the name too. Also, golf already has a Masters event. Tennis adding the word “cup” seemingly created some separation between the two names. Would the Masters Cup name last?
No. More internet research tells us that the season ending event’s name changed in 2009 to the “World Tour Finals.” Aside from the initials WTF, this name has seemingly worked for tennis.
I generally feel a mixture of despair and nausea when I hear sports fans, athletes, and coaches talk about “building our brand.” To my mind, sports are about contesting something visceral while branding seems so sterile. Still, tennis often struggles to draw in its more casual fans and other general sports fans more often than the final weekend of the majors. An event bringing the best players in the world together to end a season seems like an opportunity to reach those fans. Changing the name of the event three times since 1989 does not seem like good marketing. So my plea to the ATP and ITF is to leave the name alone even if it is not ideal. No more civil wars with deuling events. No changing the name to “ATP World Masters Tour Championship Grand Slam Cup Finals.” Just let the tennis sell itself by getting out of the way in terms of marketing.