Named by Forbes magazine as one of the "Most Powerful Women in Sports", Stacey Allaster is an entrepreneurial leader with a history of leading global sports groups to exceptional results. Allaster serves as Chairman and CEO of the world's leading professional sport for women, the Women's Tennis Association. The tour includes more than 2,500 players representing 92 nations competing for more than $118 million in prize money at the WTA's 54 events in 33 countries.
Allaster's tenure began in 2009 and has been marked by her focus on global growth with Asia Pacific being the strategic priority, maximizing the fan experience through product innovations; securing a record number of new sponsors; ensuring the financial success of the sport; and enhancing the health and well-being of the athletes, while also fighting for gender equality.
She has delivered a series of financial successes that have further driven the growth of the WTA. She has secured a landmark international media deal that will maximize exposure of women's tennis, overseen a record setting WTA Championships in Istanbul and secured a strategic partnership with Singapore to stage the WTA Championships from 2014-2018, the largest financial partnership ever completed in the history of the WTA.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I owe my success to my upbringing. I had very strong and hard-working female role models - my mother and grandmother. My mother was a single mom and she sacrificed everything to provide me with opportunities to be successful. She taught me the value of hard work, discipline and never giving up. She supported my career ambitions and there's no question that I wouldn't be where I am today without her.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at the WTA?
I've been working in tennis since I was twelve years old and I have worked in all areas of the sport. My first job in tennis was cleaning the red clay courts at my local tennis club. By the age of sixteen I became a teaching pro and club manager to help pay for my own tennis lessons and college. At an early age, I was exposed to the management of people, event operations and sports marketing. For the next 20 years I spent time in athlete development, selling tennis to fans and sponsors and running the men's and women's Canadian Open tennis championships. Overall my previous experience taught me how to navigate our international sport with multiple stakeholders (ATP, Grand Slams, ITF, agents). I know what the players need to be successful at events and I know how to deliver an exciting sport entertainment product to fans and sponsors.
One thing that I learned early on is the value of hard work. Each and every day is now about rising to the challenge to exceed expectations and to show that I am more than qualified for my position. What I accomplished yesterday is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what I will deliver together with my incredible WTA team tomorrow.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at the WTA?
Some highlights during my tenure at the WTA include: equal prize money at all four Grand Slams, 70% increase in player compensation over the past 5 years, the global growth of women's - 54 events in 33 countries and our partnership with Singapore to host the season finale, the WTA Finals, featuring the top eight singles players and doubles teams in the world for the next five years. Our partnership with Singapore is the largest financial partnership ever completed in the history of the WTA and we will be transforming a 6 day tennis event in to a 10 sport entertainment spectacle featuring:
• 7 days of competition vs. 6
• 8 doubles teams vs. 4
• New WTA Finals doubles trophy being created and named after Martina Navratilova
• Official Draw Ceremony will be open to the public
• 10 Day Fan Fest that is free and open to the public
• Practice courts are open to the public
• WTA Future Stars (U14 & U16 junior girls' event representing 12 Asian markets
• WTA Rising Stars (U23 invitational featuring 2 players from Asia Pacific and 2 from the rest of the world. Players were selected by an online fan vote)
• WTA Legends (4 day invitational featuring former WTA Champions)
• WTA Coaches Summit
• New Ambassador program
• Mariah Carey concert
The biggest challenge in this business is also our biggest opportunity - the global footprint - 54 events in 33 countries being played over 43 weeks. It is a long season. How do we keep U.S. fans engaged when we are in Europe or Asia? How do we make our European players stars in the Americas and Asia Pacific and vice versa? How do we scale this global business?
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in the sports industry?
You own your destiny. Your effort, your determination and your ability to strategically and politically navigate your career is your responsibility. Life's journey is never straight or easy and if you can get your foot through the door - any door - you can make adjustments. Don't be afraid to be yourself, create opportunities and seize opportunities and be ready to challenge the status quo.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
The most important thing that I've learned in my career, and life, is to never give up. Be persistent, set goals, learn from your failures and believe in yourself regardless of what other people may tell you.
When the WTA began its search for a new CEO in 2009 they interviewed more than 20 candidates. I could have either let that discourage me or prove that I was the right person for the job and exceed their expectations. I celebrated my fifth year as Chairman and CEO of the WTA this year and that would never have been possible if I had given up when I wasn't immediately selected.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Personally I don't believe there is a work/life balance for me and it is all about prioritizing my time with work, family & friends and time for me. I am fortunate to have the partnership with my husband John who takes care of our children full-time and although I miss my children when I am away, I do not need to worry about their well being. For me, this is essential in helping me manage the stress of traveling 150 days a year.
I also listen and watch for signals from my family as to when it is time to turn off from the WTA, and, life outside of work helps to keep me grounded. There is a misconception that working women need to choose between their career and their family and that shouldn't be the case. My family is a source of strength for me and helps me stay focused on what I'm looking to accomplish.
As it relates to personal time this must be scheduled and prioritized. I've learned the hard way that I do need time for me and I enjoy nothing better than a long walk on LongBoat Key's beautiful beach or having a very nice dinner with close friends.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe gender bias and inequality are the biggest issues for women in the workplace. Although there has been a great deal of progress, today we have single digit representation of female CEO's, executive leadership and pay inequality of approximately 20%.
I was recently told that gender inequality will be eradicated in the next twenty years - twenty years, why do we need to wait that long?
Overall this is not just about encouraging women to believe they can, and should, have a seat at the table. This is a societal issue that men and women have to work together to solve. It takes education, advocacy, company's commitment and culture, and courage for people to lead and eradicate gender bias and inequality. Company's need to be proactive in gender representation, provide career flexibility and ultimately we need to break down the stereo type that an assertive, confident woman is an assertive, strong, confident leader and not a "B".
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Outside of my family, I owe a lot to Derek Strang and Jim Fleck of Tennis Canada along with my tennis coach, Dutchy Doer, the individual responsible for helping me get my start in the sports marketing industry. All three of these men believed in me, guided me and provided me with opportunities that have made me successful professionally and personally.
Dutchy instilled in me the belief that I was capable of achieving anything that I put my mind to and I carry his words of wisdom with me each and every day.
In my personal life, my mother is very special to me. She worked through a work-related injury, bought a house and made sure that we were taken care of. She sacrificed so much for me and my sister. She set an example for me that family comes first and I've followed her dedication to my family throughout my life.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Without question Billie Jean King is one of my greatest heroes. She is a pioneer, an innovator, an entrepreneur and a champion. Not only is she a champion on the court, more importantly, Billie is a champion of societal change, a champion of women, a champion of men, and, a leader committed to making the world a better place.
I also admire Michelle Obama for not only becoming a successful business woman, and now First Lady, but also for her grace and for being an excellent role model for working mothers.
And Oprah Winfrey, too. In her commencement speech at Harvard she said, "You will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal...to fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being." And, she personifies that in everything she does.
What do you want the WTA to accomplish in the next year?
I want the WTA to be the most exciting and inspirational sport entertainment property on earth.
In 2015 we will launch our new strategic business plan that will focus on: improving our fan's connection with our players; making it easier for fans to follow our season; elevate the promotion of our Rising Stars and the WTA brand; continue the transformation of our tournaments from tennis events to true sport entertainment occasions; and establish WTA media. Overall we are looking to maximize the distribution of all our live content "matches" and non live including highlights, player personality profiles across all channels - broadcast, digital and social.
One of our major strategic ideas is that we want to centralize all live television rights and produce all 2000 of our main draw singles matches at our 54 tournaments in 33 countries by 2017. Today we produce 700 matches so this would be a significant undertaking, however, we believe this will improve the connection with our fans, allow us to promote national heroes and provide enhanced value for our sponsors
Taking all of the content - live and non-live - and distributing it on mobile platforms and via social media will be the key to our success and will allow us to engage with younger fans, and global fans.
This year's WTA Finals take place October 17-26 in Singapore and are a great way for fans to see established names and rising stars go head-to-head--it really is the ultimate showdown in women's tennis the top eight singles and doubles teams of 2014 and this will set the tone for next year.
2015 will be all about implementing and hitting on the goals of our strategic plan, WTA 2020.