Brutal $500m twist for Tennis Australia in Ash Barty's retirement

·Sports Editor
·4-min read
Ash Barty and Craig Tiley, pictured here at the Australian Open.
Ash Barty's retirement looks set to cost Tennis Australia tens of millions of dollars. Image: Getty

Ash Barty's sudden retirement is set to cost Tennis Australia tens of millions of dollars in a brutal twist to the Aussie star's announcement.

Barty shocked the sporting world on Wednesday when she announced she's walking away from tennis at age 25.

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As Australia continues to come to grips with the bombshell decision, details have emerged about how Barty's call will almost certainly cost Tennis Australia.

Barty's Australian Open triumph in January came as a huge boost for the governing body, with record TV audiences tuning in to watch her incredible march to the title.

Her win over Danielle Collins in the final was the most-watched women's final in Australian Open history, with a peak audience of 4.2 million.

It was the biggest audience to watch a women's final in Australia since the TV ratings system was introduced in 1999.

The huge ratings put Tennis Australia in position to cash in on a new TV deal when the current one with Channel Nine expires at the end of 2024.

Nick Tabakoff of The Australian reported in February that there were 'whispers' that TA would be seeking a deal worth up to $400m when it begins negotiations for the next deal.

The current deal is worth $300 million - $60 million per year across five years.

Tabakoff reported that networks wanting to snare the TV rights for the Australian Open could be forced to cough up as much as $500 million.

But with Barty out of the picture, TA has suddenly lost its most powerful bargaining chip.

Ash Barty, pictured here with Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley in Melbourne in 2017.
Ash Barty poses with Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley in Melbourne in 2017. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Global Media and Sports managing director Colin Smith told News Corp on Friday that Barty's retirement, coupled with the likely absences of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic in coming years, is bad news for TA.

“Somebody is not going to be paying mega dollars, or what they would have if Ash was continuing,” Smith said.

“At the end of the day, sports have to pay their way and we have two sports in Australia that are must watch and must have – AFL and NRL.

“Tennis is a really nice lead-in (to promote new seasons), because it’s got a true halo effect to it, but we’re not talking about premiums of another $40-million-a-year at all.

“If I’m going to be involved in a broadcast war for tennis and therefore pay a super-premium, I’m much less likely to when I’ve just lost my competitive advantage for guaranteeing a TV audience in Ash Barty.”

Working in TA's favour are reports that Channel 7 are desperate to snare the tennis coverage back from Channel Nine after giving it up in exchange for the cricket.

Craig Tiley, pictured here speaking to the media at the Australian Open in January.
Craig Tiley speaks to the media at the Australian Open in January. (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

Tennis Australia was banking on Ash Barty

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley revealed in January that the organisation had still lost money in 2022 due to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, but predicted that Barty would lift them out of the red.

After emptying its cash reserves of $80 million and taking out a $40 million loan to stage the Australian Open in 2021, TA had been hopeful that this year's edition would help replenish its coffers.

"We were restricted this year to 50 per cent (crowd capacity) for most of the event," Tiley told AAP.

"We're now at 80 per cent but still it's pretty late - but we'll take anything.

"I think we'll still lose money this year but our recovery's started and when we get to 2023 we'll bounce back real fast and we'll put ourselves back in a very positive position."

Tiley said Barty's drought-breaking victory was central to TA's recovery mission.

"We put a lot of infrastructure over the last years in building the product and we've enjoyed during Covid an exponential increase in (playing) participation," Tiley said.

"That's not our survey - that's the government's survey - so it's comparative to everything. So that's been great.

"But now we've got the marketing vehicle with Ash's success and we can match that with the infrastructure we have in place and we'll see really a strong growth in our sport and ongoing growth in it.

"It's a beautiful sport to play - we've been saying it for boys and girls and especially for little girls who want to be like Ash.

"So we're so proud of her and this will really accelerate us into another level of participation."

Unfortunately for Tennis Australia those predictions might need to be changed.

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