Update: Indian Wells' CEO Raymond Moore, following days of outrage as a result of is sexist remarks, resigned on Monday, March 21st.
"Ray let me know that he has decided to step down from his roles as CEO and Tournament Director, effective immediately," tournament owner Larry Ellison said in a statement. "I fully understand his decision."
Ellison noted the "ongoing, multi-generational, progressive movement to treat women and men in sports equally" and that women and men have been paid equal prize money at all major tennis tournaments, including Indian Wells, for a decade.
Here's what our contributor Sunny Cadwallader had to see when the news of his initial remarks broke days ago.
The year: March 2016
The place: Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California.
Time Context: The return of Venus Williams this year after a 15-year hiatus. Serena Williams returned last year after a 14-year hiatus.
In 2016, the CEO of a high-profile tennis tournament, during his annual final day media breakfast, said this:
Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore's remarks this morning not likely to delight the WTA, its players, or fans: pic.twitter.com/56zSV0SK2X— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 20, 2016
Indian Wells CEO continued pic.twitter.com/atHMyLQ4al— Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) March 20, 2016
One doesn’t have to be a feminist to be offended by such remarks, they only need to have an open-mind to understand context and wisdom to understand the history of the sport.
I’ve been watching tennis for (yeah, I’m old) decades now. I’ve seen some of the greats (Navratilova, McEnroe, King, Borg, Ashe, Graf, Williams, Connors) and how much the sport has grown, especially on television.
I’ve come to appreciate both the men’s and women’s games. What we see today is a far cry from what I grew up with. Technology, athlete commitment and accessibility have helped shape it to be a much more global sport.
While it can be easily argued that there is still an exclusivity to it, similar to golf, television broadcasts and now social media has helped broaden its appeal for both men and women.
Here in America, no players have done more to bring tennis into the mainstream than Venus and Serena Williams. They cross sport and cultural lines like no male players have. That’s not to say that men haven’t made an impact, but is the casual fan tuning into a non-major tournament just to see Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer?
With the dearth of top-level American male players over the past several years - John Isner is currently ranked 11th (no majors title) - it has been the Williams sisters that have drawn in viewers to tennis events in the U.S.
Viewers, whether watching on tv, online or in person, equals dollars for advertisers and events. For sporting events like Indian Wells, it always has been and will be about the dollars. With word that Mr. Moore has visions of a hotel and stadium upgrades for the tournament, dollars are what he and Indian Wells will need.
Back when the event was still the Pacific Open (2008), Moore said this about raising the game (in dollars):
And that brings us back to Moore’s comments today.
The idea that someone should “get down on their knees and thank God that” two men were born is absurd. The image of Moore’s statement is degrading to any human being, let alone women. It paints the picture of subservience or lesser-worth. As if the very existence of the WTA and women’s tennis continues because of the mere presence of men.
As entertaining as men’s tennis can be, women’s tennis is every bit as entertaining and no less appealing. The drama, emotions, athleticism, rivalries, intrigue draw me, remember, a long-time fan, in. With all due respect to Mr. Djokovic, Mr. Federer, Mr. Murray and Mr. Nadal , the women’s game is simply must see TV right now.
Back in January, I looked at Grand Slam ratings figures in 2015. When one of the Williams sisters plays, people tune in, especially when it is Serena.
Australian Open: Serena vs Maria Sharapova = 0.7 rating (+40% over ’13 and ’14 – both without Williams)
French Open: Serena vs Lucie Safarova = 1.4 rating (vs 1.3 in ’13 – sans Williams; equal in ’14 with Williams)
Wimbledon: Serena vs Garbiñe Muguruza = 1.7 rating (+89% over ’14 and 31% in ’13 – both without Williams)
U.S. Open: Italy’s Flavia Pennetta vs countrywoman Roberta Vinci = 1.1 rating during its first year on cable only (-62% from ’14 and -73% from ’13 when both were on CBS – both with Williams)
Last year, CNBC looked at the ratings of women’s tennis and said, “global TV and digital audience for women's tennis rose 22.5% last year compared to 2013.” This isn’t just Grand Slam or U.S. viewer numbers. This is global.
Mr. Moore, after hearing the reaction to his controversial remarks, later apologized, via BNP Paribas Open:
"At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous," he said. "I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women's final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks."
After today, most of the sports world will have moved on from Mr. Moore and Indian Wells. Tennis cannot afford that luxury. Controversy has latched on to the BNP Paribas Open and it must be addressed. When the CEO is telling players attending their tournament that they need to be on their knees giving thanks to their colleagues indicates someone who does not fully grasp the scope of the game.
This is tennis. This isn’t a house of worship.
No, one does not have to be a feminist to be offended by Moore’s remarks.
One just has to have a respect for others.