By Blair Henley | Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Elected as the new president of the ATP Player Council, Eric Butorac has Federer-sized shoes to fill. Find out what's on the council agenda and how his fellow players are reacting to his new post.
(Photo Credit: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images)
After six years at the helm of the ATP Tour Player Council, Roger Federer announced in June that he would be stepping down from his presidential post. Who would replace him? Maybe outspoken Sergiy Stakhovsky or new member Stan Wawrinka?
Instead it was 28th-ranked doubles player Eric “Booty” Butorac who got the call, elected by his peers Friday to lead the council over the next two years. The 33-year-old American doesn't have the star power of Federer, but that might not be such a bad thing.
“No one is ever going to fill Roger’s shoes,” Butorac said. “I do hope people will give me a chance to have some time. By me having less of a name, we can elevate the whole council to be very powerful, to use guys and their specialties.”
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Butorac, a 2003 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in Rochester, Minn., has been a council member since 2008, serving as vice president to the Swiss for the past two years. The Minnesota native admits his playing schedule and press obligations are slightly less demanding than Federer’s.
“I absolutely have more time on my hands,” said Butorac, a married father of one. “Half the information I’ve given Roger was when he was tying his shoes or when he was getting in a car.”
Butorac feels his accessibility will be an asset. Just one day after his election, the new president received a call from a player having US Open transportation issues. Butorac hopped on the phone with the tournament director and straightened out the problem within 15 minutes.
“[Players] are not going to call Roger Federer at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night,” Butorac said with a laugh. “They see me as a guy who is very approachable. I can understand the life that most of the working class players out there are living... Sometimes you explain things to Roger about someone not getting an extra night in their hotel room, and he doesn’t grasp that. But how could you in his life?”
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The ATP Player Council has played a significant role in facilitating considerable Grand Slam prize money increases over the past several years. The US Open purse alone has tripled in the past decade. In the coming months, the attention of the 12-person council will turn toward the nine Masters 1000 tournaments, which have prize money totals up for negotiation in 2015. In addition, they will be busy working out the kinks in the “messy” 2016 tournament calendar thanks to an extended grass court season and the Rio Olympics. They’ll also be looking to expand streaming options for ATP matches.
“We’re trying to get to a point where every single match is shot for a camera,” he explained. “Some of the players in the smaller countries are only on TV seven or eight times a year, and when they’re on TV, they are on the largest courts playing the best players in the world. They might not win any of those matches. We want them to be perceived as a winner, as they are.”
As for the continuous fight to secure more prize money, particularly for athletes at the lower levels of the game, Butorac believes all players should shoulder the burden.
“You have to explain to some of the lower ranked guys that if you want more prize money, you need to take more of a load off the stars’ activities or the media appearances,” he said. “We’re going to drive prize money down, but those top guys are doing appearance after appearance, and you need to share some of the load.”
There is no doubt Butorac has the dedication and desire to make the most of his new position, but the biggest question remains: Do his fellow players refer to him as President Booty?
“I think mostly they are mocking me, but yeah, they do,” he said, smiling. “People try to touch the cloth; they are bowing in the locker room. I’m getting kind of a hard time for it.”