Equal prize money for women in the Grand Slams is a topic that still divides even though it has been 7 years since Wimbledon became the last slam to adopt equal prize money.
High profile players like Roger Federer will skip and dodge questions on the topic, others like Gilles Simon have argued that it shouldn’t be equal.
Tennis is one of the few sports that women receive prize money commensurate with males and in terms of endorsements; Maria Sharapova can out-earn nearly all men. Compare this with surfing, where women have increased their prize money immensely but still only compete for half the men’s prize money.
A common argument is that the men play for longer (five sets compared to three sets). However, women have continually stated that they would be happy to play the five sets if required. With scheduling there would be no way for the women to play five sets, especially over the early rounds, as the tournaments would never finish in the allotted two weeks.
On the other hand, women claim that the sport should be a meritocracy and that they have to work just as hard as the men to get to the top. This has been an argument pushed by Venus Williams over the last decade or so, and she was instrumental in getting Wimbledon to finally make equal prize pools.
In fact, there is an excellent documentary by ESPN about Venus and her predecessor Billie Jean King and their fight for equal prize money at Wimbledon called “Venus Vs.”
Coincidentally, prize money since equality was reached for both men and women has nearly tripled, from the winners’ purses of £650,000 and £600,000 in 2006.
In 1968, the first year of pro tennis at Wimbledon, the men’s winner received £2000 and the women’s £700.
Professional tennis is a business, much like most other major sports these days. Gilles Simon’s belief that the women’s game is inferior is only a personal opinion, and also the effort required to get to the top shouldn’t matter.
I agree with Andy Roddick who said, “based on any other business in the world, the more you sell, the more you make”.
Prize money should be commensurate with ability to pull in revenue. The question in tennis is, who pulls in the revenue?
This can be hard to ascertain but there are some indicators which can help.
Using the US Open as an example, the tournament generates $195 million of revenue. $85 million of this comes from ticket sales and the remainder from sponsorship and TV rights.
TV rights revenue can be assigned partially by looking at TV ratings. Ratings for US Open finals (as an example) can be highly variable, and sometime the women’s final can get more viewers than the men’s.
In this year’s French open, more viewers in the US watched the women’s (2 million) than the men’s (1.9 million). More people were interested in watching Serena vs Sharapova than Nadal vs Ferrer.
The US Open men’s final also received less viewers than the women’s, but is now played on a Monday – up against the Monday night NFL juggernaut.
Ticket sales are the same price for both sexes, and getting tickets to all matches are in high demand, so it is hard to differentiate between the sexes here.
Similarly, determining the amount each gender attracts in sponsorship can be hard to ascertain in Slams where everything is pooled.
Outside of the Slams, the tours come together to play in a handful of major and minor tournaments every year.
There are varying amounts of prize money for men and women, where the relative importance of the tournament bears a big impact on the prize pool. In Sydney and Beijing the women actually have bigger prize money, mainly due to the fact that there are other large events running concurrently on the men’s tour.
Perhaps a better analysis can be done by looking at other tournaments on the ATP and WTA tours where women and men do not play together.
However, if you only look at tournaments where men and women play separately, we have remarkably different prize money.
The women’s tour has 31 independent tournaments for a total pool of $24.6 million and an average $794,000. Whereas the men have 51 individual tournaments with a total pool $65 million for an average of $1.29 million.
Using this very rough analysis, it could be argued that women’s tennis is indeed a high profile and valuable tour but when left to its own devices, can generate only 75 percent of the prize money that men can attract.
It is open to conjecture if this relationship also exists in the Slams, where some statistics show the women attract just as much interest. Maybe it’s a case of the top women attracting as much interest as the men but with lower ranked players and tournaments, there is more revenue and interest in men’s tennis.