The SportingJournal

More prize money should go to players in earlier rounds

Originally published: September 27, 2012

In light of the Australian Open boycott threat of last month, perhaps tennis players who are eliminated early in tournaments should receive a more substantial portion of the prize money pool than they are currently being awarded.

There is an apparent recurring pattern across tournaments, especially in the tennis Majors, as to the players who reach the quarterfinal and semi-final rounds.

A significantly higher concentration of prize money is more or less being supplied to the same players time and time again.

On the surface, this may seem reasonable as it is expected that the better players, and thus those with a higher ATP ranking, will reach a later round in the competition and therefore receive more prize money.

However, the prize money could be distributed more evenly to enable the lower ranked players to earn a larger percentage of the prize pool.

The table below depicts the prize money allocated to players who lost in the first round and those who were successful in winning the grand final for each of the Grand Slam tournaments this year.

(table 1)

Quite noticeably, the Australian Open designated a much higher amount of $2,300,000 to the winner’s prize money in comparison to the other Major title. However, the portion allocated toward first round losses of $20,800, whilst slightly lower, was not significantly different to the money issued within the other Grand Slam tournaments this year in respective rounds.

These figures indicate that there is ample money available to be dispersed among the earlier rounds and yet competition organisers inevitably seem to hold preference to weighting the winner’s prize money more heavily as it causes the tournament to appear more appealing to the world’s better players who are more likely to be attracted by larger prize pools for persevering into the later rounds.

As of July 9 this year, the men’s singles players were ranked in the following order in accordance with their prize money received.

(table 2)

It is interesting to compare the prize money ranking of players with ranking based on ATP points at a particular point in time to determine whether it is realistic to assume that ranking is indicative of earnings.

As can be seen in the above table, while the players’ rankings based on prize money and ATP points does not align exactly, the figures do demonstrate that it is the same 10 players who are positioned at the top of the ATP ranking who are also receiving an exponentially higher portion of prize money over players ranked beneath them.

The world’s top tennis players may not be undeserving of large sums of prize money for their achievements however, the lower ranked players who have reached a position within the top 100 tennis players in the world are presently not exactly receiving a sufficient reward for their performance in the sport.

“For tennis to be a viable career, the top 250 players need to make a good living,” Tennis Australia director Craig Tiley told the Australian Associated Press (AAP) last month.

“The players ranked about 80 to 250 in the world are not making as much money as they used to, and the prize money’s being skewed towards the top players, which normally drive the commercial success of the event,” Tiley admitted to ABC reporter Samantha Donovan.

“The bottom players are the ones who have the most to complain about, and we believe rightly so.”

Tiley said that players in the top 100 are currently not earning enough money to support themselves throughout the year.

The prize money should not be so concentrated in the later rounds as this is allowing the world’s top players to prosper at the expense of lower ranked tennis players who may still very well be ranked in the top 80 in the world.

While the sport of tennis has seen shifts in prize money for the finalists at the upper end of the spectrum, the prize money for the lower ranked players has hardly changed at all in the last 25 years.

Tiley believes that it is not the Australian Open or the Grand Slam tournaments alone that need to address the issue, but the sport as a whole; the ATP World Tour and International Tennis Federation (ITF) together managing the problem directly.

But should the redistribution of prize money affect the well-deserving monetary gain for high profile tennis stars like Federer and Djokovic?

Craig Tiley doesn’t seem to think so as the top four not only showcase their talent for tennis in tournaments throughout the year, but also bring that commercial aspect to the competition which is of more benefit to event promoters.

From the perspective of tournament organisers, raising the prize money in earlier rounds to attract lower ranked players who are not as popular in the public eye is unlikely to be high on the priority list.

Regardless, perhaps it is about time there is a redistribution of prize money across tournaments so as to give lower ranked players more of the proceeds.

However, before any changes can occur, the ITF and ATP Tour management teams will need to weigh up the ethical considerations involved in ensuring a fairer share of the prize money pools is being distributed, while at the same time preserving the tournaments’ reputations by continuing to lift the winner’s prize money.

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