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Sports Matters Q&A: Sandilands on Asia’s ‘dynamic’ role in WTA growth


RYAN SANDILANDS, the WTA’s CEO of Asia-Pacific, outlines China’s and Singapore’s fast-growing roles in women’s tennis, in the second in a series of interviews with speakers at the upcoming Sports Matters in Singapore.


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Interview by SportAsia


What have been the highlights so far in your newly created role as the WTA’s CEO of Asia-Pacific?

This has been a very exciting year of ‘firsts’ for the WTA in Asia: A first Asian woman, Li Na, winning the Australian Open; Peng Shuai reaching the US Open semi-finals; hosting the WTA Finals for the time, in Singapore next month; and new WTA events appearing for the first time in cities such as Wuhan and Tianjin in China. Asia continues to be a vibrant and dynamic market for women’s tennis.


Personally speaking, I’ve been in the role for nine months now and it has been so much fun; a lot of hard work, but also fun. I’ve got a great group of colleagues in Singapore and Beijing, and we’re lucky to be working in women’s tennis in Asia at this time.


Your remit covers Asia-Pacific, but which countries is the WTA targeting first and why?

I’ve got offices in both Singapore and China, as there’s a lot of focus on those two places. Singapore is the home of the WTA Finals for the next five years and China is a country that has seen phenomenal growth in WTA events. Five years ago, China had two WTA events; this year there will be eight events on the mainland and two in Hong Kong and Taipei.


There has also been strong interest in the WTA Finals from Southeast Asia, where we recently launched a new junior event called WTA Future Stars, aimed at Under 14 and Under 16 girls. We’ll have WTA Future Stars qualifying events in about 11 Asian countries this year, which is a great result for a first-time initiative.


What has most surprised you about your role?

I’ve been working in Asia for many years now and was quite aware of the WTA’s involvement in the region before joining, so there haven’t been that many surprises.


Perhaps one thing I didn’t expect was the passion for women’s tennis in developing Asian markets such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Our planning work on the WTA Finals in Singapore has brought us into contact with these markets and it’s great to see how keen they are to get involved and grow the game.


At Sports Matters in Singapore, you’ll be on the panel discussing ‘Contents matters – The next chapter for sponsorship marketing’. Can you outline some of the most important themes that will be discussed by the panel?

It should be a really interesting discussion and one that everyone in the room should have an opinion on. We no longer look at our content as sport, but rather as sport entertainment – and this is a key point. How do we plan to keep our fans entertained and engaged on an ongoing, regular basis and on their terms?


Another point that will be interesting to discuss is how to integrate sponsors into the content. I think we’ve all seen good and bad examples of this.


You’ll be on a panel with representatives from Manchester United and NBA Asia. Why is it important for any global brand to have a permanent office in Asia and why is the continent so important for women’s tennis in the future?

We have millions of fans in Asia that want more women’s tennis, so it makes sense to have presence on the ground in order to work with them and understand them.


We opened our first Asia office in Beijing in 2008 and made some big commitments at the time about the region. We have made good on the promises to grow women’s tennis in the region and that’s evident in the number and stature of tournaments, size of the fan base, number of people playing the sport and the next generation of rising stars emerging from Asian countries.


What are you most looking forward to at Sports Matters?

Other than meeting old friends and making some new ones, I’m keen to hear the panel discussion on Asian football in particular. Having lived in China for a while and seen the response to the AFC Champions League, I think there are some exciting times ahead for Asian football.


What do you hope to learn from Sports Matters and who are you most looking forward to listening to?

I find that you pick up as much from those you meet over coffee and at break times as you do listening to those on stage. This level of sports professionals rarely gathers in one place, so there’s always interesting discussions to be had.


Focusing on the speakers, the room will be packed for Seb Coe, but I also like listening to Lim Teck Yin (CEO of Sport Singapore) and Tan Tong Hai (CEO of Starhub), two great speakers who are extremely passionate about sports. I am less familiar with the other speakers, but I’ll be listening intently for ideas and insights that I can borrow!

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