PHIL Anderton has filled hot seats as chief executive of both Scottish Rugby and Heart of Midlothian, while a role with Abu Dhabi-based Al Jazira football club meant working for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, owner of Manchester City.
However, it is doubtful if the man they nicknamed “Firework Phil” because of his extravagant marketing ploys, has ever reached further into the sporting stratosphere for knowledge and insight than when working as chairman of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the world’s largest indoor tennis tournament held annually at London’s O2 Arena.
Moreover, it is tennis that has given Anderton his latest sporting involvement back home in Edinburgh as the countdown quickens towards the Brodies Champions of Tennis event that brings the likes of legends John McEnroe, Goran Ivanisevic and Tim Henman to a specially -constructed covered court at Edinburgh Accies’ sports ground at Raeburn Place from June 20-23.
It almost seems that it would not have been the same without Anderton – and not just for the rugby connection at a venue which hosted the first international rugby match in 1871, or the fact he grew up playing schoolboy cricket at the same address.
Rather, he will be a right-hand man to promoter Vikki Mendelssohn, both for those marketing skills and knowledge of what exactly makes a top tennis player – even those no longer in the first flush of youth – tick.
Working with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) brought Anderton into contact with the game’s great and good, teaching that age does not diminish competitiveness natures. “It is fair to say in my experience of tennis players compared to rugby and football players, a lot of them are very polite, very articulate, very focused [pause as words are chosen carefully] . . . I wouldn’t say egotistical, very competitive. They are very focused on doing whatever they can to win because tennis is a singles sport and not a team sport.
“You are on your own. Most, from the age of 7, 8 and 9 are programmed, told they are the best. They have got to beat the next guy in the next game.
“Look, the [tennis] tour is a weird environment. If you are part of a football club, you train, go to the gym and play games with team-mates. In tennis – and it is a little bit different even from golf – you are competing one-on-one with people you spend a lot of time with. In golf, of course, you are competing against the other guys, but in a different format unless it is matchplay.
“Tennis is always matchplay and since you could be playing at any point in the day, you sit in locker rooms and other areas with players who you have to get on with, but you are actually deadly competitive against.
“Seeing the kind of dynamic as I have, where [Rafael] Nadal and [Roger] Federer are very professional, very friendly, is interesting, but scratch the surface and they are deadly serious. You just see the competitiveness coming out of them with little things that happen in a meeting where somebody will say something and the other will have a quick crack back straight away.
“That is something Andy Murray will have had to get used to.”
Tennis today is at its highest point in terms of interest from the public, with Novak Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray all flying the sport’s flag. The scrutiny placed on their every word and move is greater than before and Anderton is particularly impressed by Murray’s conduct and growing maturity.
“It is not just on the court you have to handle yourself. Ernests Gulbis came out the other day and said the top four players are boring,” the 47-year-old continued. “Maybe it was a sign of jealousy on his part, but five years ago Murray might have reacted. Instead he let it go and all these things go into the make-up of top tennis players; they don’t lose it overnight when the reach the Champions Tour.”
Anderton also has huge admiration for the lifestyle players have to lead. “I’ve found, too, that tennis is an unusual sport in that to get to a tournament you are often on your own. You fly to a destination, deal with the time zones etc and then get knocked out in the first match and that is you done for another week. Where to next?
“Also, we see the top guys earning a lot of money but it actually drops off quite quickly. If you are 100 in the world you are a seriously good player, but you are not making a big living. You are not on the breadline, but it is not what a lot of people think. It is very lonely with no coaches on court alongside and injury can have a big impact.
“The other thing with these guys is it is not like golf where you have US, Asian and European tours. Tennis is a world tour and it is extremely physical. That sounds strange compared to rugby but injuries, particularly, shoulder and knee, can occur because the ball is bouncing higher. For Andy Murray to have succeeded in that environment makes him a very special individual.”
Listening to Anderton, you get the impression he holds tennis players in the highest regard. That’s part of the reason why he has taken on the advisory mantle of getting McEnroe and Henman to Raeburn Place and he has full praise for the organisers who have achieved something of a coup.
“The type of lifestyle I described is the one that Champions Tour players have emerged from and it is fantastic that Vikki has had the ambition to bring an event featuring them to Edinburgh,” he said. “There are only about a dozen Champions Tour events around the world so to have an one in Edinburgh before Wimbledon is a brilliant achievement.
“When you go along to see legends of the game like McEnroe it is partly their character that attracts and the memories of their grand slam successes.
“But you also have a player like Henman who only stopped a couple of years ago and could still have a world ranking if he chose to compete regularly.”
Explaining his role in the event in greater detail, Anderton added: “My role is that Vikki asked me having worked at the ATP to give any advice on staging. For example, at the O2 event we started doing something that was different from any other tennis tournament by having a couple of sessions every day.
“Previously there was a tradition where you bought a ticket for a whole day and that is what people got used to, but when you go to football or rugby you basically get a couple of hours entertainment and they charge for that. Why shouldn’t it be the same for tennis?
“Obviously there is a commercial aspect to that, but also from staging the event if you have one ticket for a whole day you don’t sit there all day, and the gallery ends up with a patchwork look on television.
“Now you sit for a session and it looks great on TV. That and other little foibles is where I have had some input.”
The former Hearts chief executive, however, refuses to take any tangible credit. He brought fireworks to Murrayfield and Roger Federer to a dome on the edge of the Thames, but this project, he insists, is all down to Mendelssohn.
“Make no mistake, Vikki was the person whose idea it was, who did the deals, who has done all the work. I think Vikki has been brave. The way the Champions Tour is set-up they put any risk entirely on the promoter.
“You pay for your slot. You pay for the players which is not insignificant when you are getting people like McEnroe and then you have to pay for the seating, covering etc.
“You either make a huge loss or profitability which is down to sponsors – Vikki did a great job to get Brodies on board – and ticketing which is a really big part also.
“There were debates about playing outdoors and you could take a simple view and say ‘people buy a ticket and it gets rained off, well, tough luck if there’s been an hour’s play’ which might prevent insurance policies being invoked. We took the view that is not a smart long-term way to host it (hence the roof). We want to guarantee fans see tennis. If it were washed out who would want to come back the following year?
“Agents who hold marketing rights have also to be on board. International Management Group are a smart commercial organisation who wouldn’t hand over a tournament to people they didn’t think would deliver.
“Nor would they put it to a part of the world they thought wasn’t right for the tour. I am surprised no other city has been able to grasp the opportunity to host the tournament a week before Wimbledon when interest is so high so, again, that is a credit to Vikki Mendelssohn and her vision.”
Could it lead to further events?
“One of the problems is that the ATP have 64 tournaments at the last reckoning so it is unlikely that the board would start bringing new tournaments into the calendar to add to it. If you end up with too many tournaments, it dilutes the quality.
“The way it works is for a new tournament to come on and that tournament buys out the franchise of another. It is then up to the board to decide: is it the right tournament; does is fit well into calendar; has it got the right management, and is it logistical geographically.
“One thing I know is that right now Scotland has a strong grassroots programme and a strong pinnacle, notably Andy Murray. I’d love it if there was a mainstream tournament here especially with one of the world’s top players and juniors coming through.”
As for the calibre of the players heading to Edinburgh later this month, though, that can perhaps be gauged by a rare outing for Anderton on to the tennis court.
“Through my job at the ATP I found myself playing doubles on a back court at Wimbledon alongside Pat Cash.
“I am no great shakes as a player and there was a commercial element to the exercise, but one thing I did take on board was Pat saying that because of racket technology, he hit the ball better and harder than when he won Wimbledon (1987). For all the players at the Brodies event, the legs may react a bit more slowly, but the racket skills will certainly be sharp and that is well worth looking forward to.”