Tennis: the players struggling to break even | FT Scoreboard

Tennis champions Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka are among the best paid athletes in the world. But prize money drops off steeply, with lower-ranked players often struggling to make a living amid the expense of travel and coaching. The FT talks to governing bodies in what is a fragmented sport and follows two players fighting to get to the top and get paid

It’s one of the most popular sports on the planet with both men and women so why are so many professional tennis players still struggling to make a living if you want to do this you have to invest in yourself it’s big risk but it’s also a really big reward it’s completely dependent on your results if you have a bad year you could work an entire year at a loss

Who is in charge of the rules of tennis everybody and nobody right people outside the sports world think everyone’s making a ton they are not it is tough my name is alyssia barnett i’m 28 years old i live with my dad when i’m not on the road and this year i’ve been on the road more than i’ve been home hi i’m liam brody i’m 27 years old i’m from stockport great

Britain this is the best year of our career it’s hard to not get consumed by thinking about prize money a lot but at the end of the day you have to go to a tournament and realize that you’re investing in in yourself and in your tennis there’s a lot of pressure to perform well at tournaments if you don’t do well you can be working at quite a loss so it’s a

Pretty unstable income at the end of the trip you sum everything up and you think okay i’ve done well this week and it is a little bit calming so you come away feeling better that you’ve made made a profit or you’ve broken even and you can relax a little bit but it’s an afterthought if i’m playing good enough tennis then the money will take care of itself i

Think my roommates just come in the reason luke’s here is you know to save money basically so there are really seven different stakeholders within tennis the itf looks after the junior up to the professional ranks and beyond that we have the men’s tour the atp the women’s tour the wta and then you have the four grand slam events and those seven stakeholders

Together work on promoting and developing the sport around the world well we clearly under monetize we have a billion fans you know we are very popular and we have a very gender neutral fan base but we are extremely fragmented we have all this different organization in the pwta the forced lambs and itf that go to market completely separately differently with

Different governance so we don’t do a great job in selling and distributing our sport that’s where we have to do better in tennis we’re probably the fourth or fifth largest watch sport in the world and we get very little in media content except for the majors that i’d like to see change with a billion fans tennis is among the most watched sports in the world but

It accounts for less than two percent of global sports media rights which were worth a total of 44.6 billion dollars in 2020 that means less money to trickle down to the players it’s 6 45 in the morning feels like a very early start over here in brest in france let’s hope we get a seat on this train yeah life on the road i mean it’s it can be difficult at

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Times but you do get used to it and it’s a lifestyle at the end of the day i mean you’re probably away from home really for 40 weeks a year you share stories about how you ended up staying in a brothel because it was the cheapest thing or you’re eating oats in the room rather than paying for breakfast just to save a little bit of cost most prize money goes

To the top players as you go down the ranks it drops off steeply this year in the top 500 median earnings from prize money were around 137 000 for men and 92 thousand dollars for women if you’re one of the top players you’ll be earning millions of dollars in prize money as well as sponsorship deals lower ranked players may get some extra help from grassroots

Funding and free rackets and clothes in return for social media promotion but the majority of their earnings will come from winning on court more than a third of the women and nearly a quarter of the men in the top 500 have taken home less than fifty thousand dollars this year when i’ve asked players you know how much money do you have to earn to make it and most

Of them come up with 100 to 150 000 that’s a lot of money at the moment the current pie let me put it that way you know the total revenue generated by the tennis professional sport and what we distribute in prize money doesn’t allow for the second tier to have players that can make a living and sustain the cost you can’t argue that the best players deserve

The most money at the end of the day tennis is a business and you want to keep your most valuable assets happy and that’s that’s the same in any business the top three or four men top three or four women that drive drive ticket sales i would debate maybe just the best players get the most money but just maybe a little bit less and they should share the spread

Of the rest of the money it’s difficult because you think well they’ve worked really hard and they they’ve they’re very talented they deserve to be there and if we work hard enough we can get there too all the grand slams have moved to give more money to the players who get knocked out in the early stages and british players for example can also benefit from

Pro scholarships and tournament bonuses but many top 500 players don’t make it to the slams they play most of their season on the second tier challenger tour and contend with injury losing streaks and high costs with few guarantees of financial returns i mean i think that you’ve seen a real concerted effort by the tennis stakeholders together and distributing

The money so that more players are able to make you know proper earning it used to be a little bit more top-heavy whereas now you know if you lose in the first round of a grand slam tournament in singles alone you’re going to earn about fifty thousand dollars i made the second round of wimbledon this year and that’s kind of my way of paying my coach and my physio

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And my snc coach for the next year and to be able to you know afford the tennis tour really at some point you have to draw a line and beyond that line i think we have to be honest and say in the challenger 2 you should be able to at least break even and pay your cost but you have to be conscious that this is sort of like a university that’s an investment for

You then go and move into the professional tour where you have a job currently stretching up in the gym here in bratislava after a good session on tomorrow against ilya marchenko he’s a good player played him last week as well in bergamo obviously we got the hotel for free at the challenges which is a nice bonus prize money came to about 1500 euros i think

But then of course i need to pay for my coaches food and bills and his his weekly fee as well probably working at a loss last week that tends to be the way that it works at most of these tournaments i don’t think it will ever be possible to have a sustainable tour at that level simply because it lacks the interest of the fun and the engagement of the sponsors

Broadcasters and ticket revenues billie jean serves for match point beautiful shot and the wimbledon title is hers billie jean king won 12 grand slam singles titles she’s even better known for fighting for equal pay for women in the early 70s one of her aims was this if you’re good enough to make a living very few people were going to be included in that first

Go around because we knew we had to start small we’re going to make it was that our goal absolutely not our goal is more is the merrier i personally would like to figure out how we can have at least 700 or 800 people making a living that would make me happy because that’s the nba that’s major league baseball every time i wake up in the morning i think about

It i have my blessing list but then i think okay we gotta do better today we gotta make it work in 2020 wimbledon and other events were cancelled but the pandemic was also an opportunity to be honest i’d probably say only since kobit have i started to be able to make money and actually put a little bit away into savings and that’s you know at the age of 26 i’ve

Been a professional tennis player for you know six seven years before that during kobe we had a lot of tournaments in britain and there were no outgoings tennis did come together we had a what we called a player relief fund where we gave to you know the top 750 players in the world you know we moved roland garros in september we had to change the calendar we

Changed the ranking we got a lot closer to wta i’m a very strong believer that the two tours should be combined because together we are stronger we shouldn’t be competing with one another we should be kind of competing with the outside world and i think that’s that’s part of the strategy with the help of an advisor we we are sort of in the process of evaluating


The different options of how can we create a new governance that can enable us ultimately for providing the better product to defend because at the moment if you ask yourself the question who is in charge of the rules of tennis the answer is everybody and nobody right if the atp and the wta were to merge which would thrill me it’s got to be 50 50. you’ve got

To fight for each other when you’re together you need to have equal prize money equal everything meanwhile men’s number one novak djokovic co-founded the professional tennis players association he’s said he wants more transparency in tennis and to improve livelihoods low earnings from prize money can mean some players never get their chance on court i think

The damage to the sport is is pretty massive uh if if the wealth isn’t spread to the to the lower players i think there are a lot of players then that like i said are incredibly talented and never get the chance to achieve their greatest tennis there could be guys that unfortunately don’t live in a nation where you have a strong federation which is capable of

Subsidizing your cost and then you might actually lose that talent that could become a great champion in the future we are addressing it is it perfect absolutely not and we know it it’ll never be perfect no sports ever perfect no business is ever perfect i think it’s quite a miracle that we have we’re doing as well as we are i spent my last 10 days of the year

At the davis cup supporting the squad practicing with them getting them ready i basically spent the last couple of months backpacking across europe really felt really good coming home you may not start out playing tennis for the money but the money can be a game changer i i actually figured out as well i spend about 12 000 pounds a year on on stringing and

Rackets so you know at the end of the day this sport is incredibly expensive at the highest or what at the higher levels you always have to make sacrifices for things that you want to do just really grateful that i’m able to play tennis and travel and i’m grateful that i have that support network because otherwise i don’t think i’d be able to do it to be top

200 in the world or top 250 in the world it’s a remarkable achievement out of i think seven billion people you know it’s it’s not many people who can say that obviously if you can become good enough then you can earn a living at the sport but sometimes it’s not that easy a lot of kids will come up to me say you think i should try or not i tell them always try

Because you do not want to say when you’re older i should have tried ever you don’t want to ever say that i should have could’ve could so i think it’s really important to give it a go because you know what if you do make it you’re one of the elite you get lucky in life and there’s opportunities you could never dream up

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Tennis: the players struggling to break even | FT Scoreboard By Financial Times

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