To reach the highest level in any sport requires a combination of talent, hard work, determination and a bit of luck. Tennis, one of the most popular individual sports around the world, is no different. We revel in the success of our favourite players, sometimes even envy them when we see them achieving success, winning Grand Slam titles, and enjoying a seemingly ‘perfect’ life. However, one does not realize the sacrifices they have had to make to get to that point, the various challenges they have had to overcome, highlighted wonderfully by the great champion Arthur Ashe as part of a now famous quote when he said, “The world over – 50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn profesional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 to semi finals, 2 to finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?” A question sometimes arises, do tennis players get adequate monetary reward for the efforts they put in? How do they fare when compared to top athletes in other sports? Is the prize money awarded to players too less when compared to the revenue generated by tennis tournaments?
The first thing to be kept in mind is that tennis, unlike a lot of sports, is largely an individual sport. When a player decides to turn pro, he or she is completely on their own, even having to pay for equipment and accessories till they reach a particular level and get sponsored. The amount of money he or she earns is totally dependent on them, there are no contracts, no bonuses, no fixed wages, nothing. The further a player goes in a tournament, the more money he will earn and the easier it will become for him to qualify for tournaments that offer greater prize money. Hence, it would be unfair and impractical to compare the money tennis pros earn in comparison to athletes in team sports. A football player, for example, could end up not playing a single match during a season due to injury but will still get paid a certain fixed amount as per his contract, in the tennis world, the player will not have that luxury. From just playing alone, there are 20 players in the NBA who would earn 20 million $ per year. Perhaps, only the top 15 players on the ATP tour would make anywhere close to that amount. And then, there are the expenses of travel, accommodation, training, etc which come out of the player’s pockets. A player outside the top 200 will in fact struggle to earn a decent living at times, unless he is backed by his national association. Expenses such as travel, accommodation, training expenses, all have to be borne by the players and if the income received from the tournament isn’t enough, it could result in being a loss-making exercise for the player. In other words, it is completely in his hands how much the tennis pro earns, nothing else matters.
However, as mentioned before, tennis is perhaps the most popular individual sport when it comes to worldwide audiences, apart from perhaps golf. Millions of viewers tune in across the globe to watch the sport, especially during the Grand Slams. Are tournaments giving enough money to the players out of revenue earned through broadcast, ticket sales, sponsors, etc? Take the example of Wimbledon, undoubtedly the most prestigious tournament of them all. The total prize money on offer(for all the events combined) at Wimbledon 2011 was 14.6 million pounds. With income received by the tournament estimated to be around 120 million pounds, the prize money amounts to around 12 to 13 percent of the revenue earned, vastly less than the 50 percent of club revenue earned by English Premier League footballers or 48 percent of the revenue paid in NFL American Football.
While it may seem almost criminal to pay players such a less chunk of the revenue earned and there is perhaps a cause for players to feel ‘undervalued’, ‘there is also no real voice emerging from the Players’ Association on the issue. There were talks of a strike against the Australian Open last year and players like Janko Tipsarevic and Caroline Wozniacki have perhaps jokingly stated that they were underpaid, but by and large, players seem to be happy with what they are earning. Tennis tournaments don’t have a constant flow of income, they are held only for a week or two in a year and apart from a few major events, cannot guarantee a constant number of viewers from one year to the other. They must cater to those risks as reputations and interest in a tournament is normally built up due to the quality of the playing field, and a withdrawal or two from a tournament can seriously hamper it and send its projected revenue haywire.
Conclusion: While there have been a few murmurings going on about the possible lack of money given to players, it has not yet escalated to the level where it has become a major issue. Like the players, organizers too are flying solo, exposed to various risks. The best and most prudent option in this case would be to follow that old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, let things be the way they are.