How much do modern-day tennis players really earn?

By Online Editorial
roger federer Tennis players' salaries might not be as exorbitant as they appear
roger federer

Roger Federer (Photo: Esther Lim)

Armed with a dizzying array of dollars and cents, Simon Mundie crunches the numbers to argue that, compared with the world’s other top entertainers, tennis players’ salaries might not be as exorbitant as they appear.

So far this year, Roger Federer has earned more than two million dollars for his on-court endeavors – no mean feat bearing in mind we are barely a quarter of the way through the year.

The world number one holds the record for career earnings, having amassed more than 55 million dollars in winnings. You can be sure that he will have made somewhere near double that amount, if not more, with his endorsements and off court pursuits; his Nike contract alone is worth $10 million every year. That’s a huge amount of money by anyone’s standards.

Some argue that sort of money is obscene, particularly when you consider how little those in key professions like nursing and teaching earn. But sport in general provides us with huge entertainment, particularly since satellite and cable television became the norm, and it’s simply market forces at work. Besides, the top earners in tennis like Federer earn far less than the richest competitors from other sports.

Take football as an example, it is extremely common for players to earn upwards of £50,000 per week, whereas only the very best tennis players like Federer himself can compete with that. And remember, Federer’s is a sporting great, not just a tennis great; his name is certain to be spoken of with reverence for decades; exactly how many of those football players’ names are likely to be remembered in 20 years time?

Furthermore, compared with others in the entertainment industry, they are paid fairly. Certain movie stars for example take home £15 to £20 million a film, many of them have questionable talent, and they certainly don’t have to put in the same amount of work and sacrifice to reach the top of their profession.

The tournament which offers the most prize money is the US Open, with a staggering $1,600,000 up for grabs for the winner. In the Masters events, Shanghai leads the way with $616,000 on offer, followed by Miami with $605,500, although the winner of the tour finals at the 02 pockets a cool $770,000. Drop down a couple of levels and the amount of cash around dwindles significantly; a win at the SAP San Jose Open is worth just over $90,000.

The amount of money in tennis has grown as you would expect over the last decade or so, with prize money at Wimbledon almost doubling between 1999 and 2009; Pete Sampras taking home £455,000 in ’99, while Roger Federer pocketed £850,000 last year.

If prize money had rose in line with inflation, then you would expect Federer to have won roughly £590,000, illustrating the speed at which money is growing in the game. However, the rate has slowed significantly compared to the a generation earlier, when prize money at SW19 increased eleven-fold between 1980 and 1990, from £20,000 when Borg beat McEnroe to win his fifth and last Wimbledon crown to £230,000 when Edberg beat Becker in the final 10 years later; prior to that era money was deemed far less important than the prestige and ‘honour’ of winning a trophy.

The 1980s was when tennis learned to market itself properly, and make more of its international popularity. The powers that be haven’t yet entirely mastered how to fully grab tennis’ rightful share of the sporting viewers market though and there is room for growth.

Players like Federer make a huge amount of money, and players in the top 50 make a good living. Yet when you get much lower down it isn’t the same story; players ranked between 25 and 100 often receive minor sponsorship deals, but below that the off-court earnings dwindle significantly, as does the amount of money up for grabs at the smaller tournaments.

As the pool of money decreases, the expense of travelling the tour doesn’t. Players still have to pay for travel and coaches, which can really eat into their finances. Take the example of a journeyman pro like Daniel Koellerer, ranked around the 90 mark, who has been grinding it out on tour for eight years. His career earnings: $430,000, or around $50,000 a year. Take into account his travel and hotel expenses, and you can see that he is far from rich. And what if he gets injured? He won’t receive a penny.

So to make good money in tennis you clearly need to be in the top 50. If you are ranked between 50 and 150 you can keep control of your costs, and make a reasonable living travelling the world, but below that it’s a struggle- unless of course you have an organisation like the LTA to prop you up. But that’s another story.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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