Prelude – Tennis Hooks People in Different Ways
Some fans and journalists seem to focus on tennis from a statistical level with some emphasis on betting. Others focus on kits, dating, and general categories associated with the celebrity culture. If I had to categorize myself, I’d say I like the competition of professional tennis as well as the aesthetics of tennis being played well. I am not sure what camps my readers fall into, but whatever camp a fan or journalist is in I view support of and interest in tennis to be a good thing even if I could care less about a player’s kit for the US Open. I typically don’t pay much attention to payouts from tennis events either, but that does not mean the topic is unimportant. It just takes an event like the one that occurred over the weekend for me to shift any focus.
Tennis and Equal Pay
As stated, I normally don’t give much thought to what professional tennis players are paid. I really like Jon Wertheim’s writing, and he typically broaches the topic by looking at both the revenue streams of the ATP and WTA tours as well as the optics of the question. I recall two or three years ago a number of articles chronicling how difficult a pro-player has it who is not ranked highly and who does not have a national association backing her or his pursuit of making it big in tennis.
I do think both tours should do a better job of helping players trying to make it on tour have a reasonable shot at seeing how skills develop over time. Patrick Rafter was a late bloomer on tour by the age standards of his time period, and I’d hate to see tennis miss out on a future Rafter who packs it in due to not being able to pay the bills. I’ve even floated some ideas of having challenger type events run concurrent with larger tournaments so the players who lose in the qualifying draw have a chance to earn some ranking points without having to add to travel expenses. This would also give fans in the latter stages of tournaments plenty of tennis to see on side courts between stadium court matches.
As for the topic of equal pay, I have been proud of tennis for being at the forefront of women’s sports for many years. I don’t think pay is equalized across the board as endorsements, stand alone ATP and WTA events, and the shadowy world of appearance fees are generally driven by a player’s popularity. Martina Hingis hasn’t played singles in quite some time, but her recent resurgence in doubles and mixed doubles coupled with her previous success likely lead to a nice portfolio of endorsements only surpassed by the top tier of active singles players. I don’t think endorsement money can or should be leveled out. Similarly, if ATP event in Memphis and the WTA event in Charleston pay differently, I am not one to tell two non-related events how to award prize money. However, in joint events it seems only reasonable to have equal prize money. The US Open has been doing this since 1973, and the US Open has grown. More importantly joint female and male tennis events tend to generate a synergy that boosts the interest level in the entire event. It is a real plus for both tours if someone tunes in or buys a ticket to see Serena Williams, but ends up finding an affinity for Dominic Thiem’s game. The value of cross promotion is real and should be treated as such.