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Profile: Chris Kermode

“I would like it to be remembered that it became a tennis event that almost transcended the sport,” says Chris Kermode, managing director of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. 

“It has quickly become a must-see event and has engaged with a new audience that primarily had never seen live tennis before. To get that amount of people inspired to watch, play, follow attend, I think that’s the legacy.”

After five hugely successful years at The O2, the event has firmly established itself as a fixture in the British sporting calendar, with only Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix and Ascot attracting higher attendances.

While the event will stay in London until at least 2015, the man responsible for bringing the tournament to the capital and turning the season finale into a resounding success story, Kermode, will be moving on in 2014 after being appointed as the new ATP Executive Chairman and President.

“It’s a huge honour to have been given the opportunity to lead the ATP during what is unquestionably one of the most exciting periods in the history of men’s professional tennis,” Kermode said of his appointment.

A former player himself, Kermode boasts a CV that makes him the perfect candidate to succeed the late Brad Drewett at the head of the men’s game.

Following his retirement as a professional, Kermode worked as a tennis coach before setting up his own promotion and events company before returning to work in the tennis industry.

“Chris has a lot of experience having worked in a number of different capacities in tennis over the years and he has all the attributes required to lead the ATP World Tour forward during this period of unprecedented popularity and success,” Roger Federer, Chairman of the ATP Player Council said of Kermode’s appointment.

Even as a tournament director his experience is a broad one. At one end of the spectrum, the ATP World Tour Finals is one of the most contemporary events on the tennis calendar, but he has also run one of the most traditional, as tournament director for the Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club every June.

“At Queen’s it is traditional, there is heritage, and that is because it is The Queen’s Club, but it’s about managing to do different events in the right environment,” Kermode says.

“Because the O2 is a music venue it allowed us to have some synergy with the music and sport. A joint venture partnership with AEG allowed the team to fulfil the vision we had for it.  At the time it was a big risk. The O2 Arena hadn’t been built; it was still the Millennium Dome with all the baggage that it carried.

“Within about six months it was clearly the most successful music venue in Europe – but would the predominantly west London market go to watch indoor tennis in a music venue on the wrong side of London?”

The answer was yes. With over 400,000 fans flocking to The O2 this year, many of whom did not have a ticket and merely enjoyed what was on offer in fanzone, the event continues to attract sell-out crowds and as well as record-breaking audiences on television and online.

“We’ve put a hell of a lot of work into [the event], and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved,” Kermode said. “Not many people thought it would actually work back in year one – people said tennis was a very much a summer sport in the UK with Queen’s and Wimbledon and to have this event in November, there were a lot of doubters. But we started off with 250,000 people in the first year and it’s continued to grow every single year.

“There are loads of things I am proud of, but hitting those attendance numbers back to 2009, figures that no one thought possible, is probably the thing I am most proud of. It is like 15 back-to-back sold out Beyonce concerts.”

A popular appointment, Kermode is well regarded by the players, media and officials. His track record suggests he is not afraid to make changes and he will take on board feedback from all parties.

“Both the Aegon Championships and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals have been very successful,” says Kermode.  “That’s a reflection of what my team has done at both events – we’ve put a lot of heart and soul into both.”

Kermode faces a challenge juggling the requirements of the players, tournaments media and other key stakeholders, but with his experience, expertise and enthusiasm, the 48-year-old appears the right man for the job.