By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
July 3, 2013
“If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”
--Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall II”
The British classic rock conundrum now seems to be reincarnated on the grass courts of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. How can we enter Wimbledon’s final weekend if there are few-top rated players left to play in it?
On the men’s side, it’s still looking somewhat like business as usual as No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic ($4,517,677 in 2013 prize money) and No. 2 seed and pride of Britain Andy Murray ($2,474,566) advance to the semifinals.
On the women’s side, however, chaos reigns as no matter what, come Saturday there will be a brand new Wimbledon women’s champion. Still poised to advance are last year’s runner up Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 4 seed, $1,057,293 in 2013 prize money) vs. Sabine Lisicki (No. 23 seed, $319,143) and Marion Bartoli (No. 15 seed, $348,800) vs. Kirsten Flipkens (No. 20 seed, $391,995).
Compare that to what could have been had bizarre upsets not been the currency of the day in London: Serena Williams (No. 1 seed, $4,621,750) vs. Maria Sharapova (No. 2 seed, $3,472,546). Or, in the men’s quarterfinals, Roger Federer (No. 3 seed, $1,549,495) vs. Rafael Nadal (No. 5 seed, $5,678,637).
And, of course, nary a singles-playing American in sight.
“Tennis is a complicated sport, and there’s a lot that goes into making a tennis player. It takes resources, it takes effort, and it takes heroes. We’ve been blessed with a lot of American heroes over the years,” said U.S. Davis Cup captain and HSBC ambassador Jim Courier, commenting on the current state of American tennis on Bloomberg “Sportfolio,” during a break from his duties hitting balls with civilians as part of an HSBC Wimbledon promotion in New York’s Madison Square Park.
Courier also provided his perspective on the purse increases by all of tennis’ Slams this year—Wimbledon alone boosted prize money by 40%, to $34.5 million (a $9.9 million jump)—and the critical role of active players in making that happen.
“The majors have been making a lot of money, and they deserve that, too, because they are the four pillars of our sport, the events that create all the opportunities for the players. That’s where the players’ brands are created,” he emphasized. “But in fairness, the players should participate in a larger slice of the pie. That’s what’s happening now. And to their great credit, the top players, led by Roger Federer, insisted that the bulk of those proceeds would go towards the lower-round players. So the players losing in the first through fourth rounds are making a lot more money, which is going to allow those a little lower on the food chain to make a living.”
While the 2013 men’s and women’s singles champions for this year’s tournament will receive $2.4 million each, 39% more than last year, players who exited in the first three rounds of the main draw were rewarded by as much as 64% more pay, according to Bloomberg News, while players in the qualifying tournament received 41% more and players falling in the opening round saw a 62% prize increase.
While Wimbledon’s prize increase marks the "latest example of the players’ new bargaining power in an age of uncommon unity among the game’s biggest men’s stars," the Slam purse hikes, according to the New York Times, do not match what the players were initially requesting." With the men "leading the way in negotiations," players asked for 25% of total revenue but "have not yet achieved that at any Grand Slam tournament."
The game’s top players, of course, receive far more revenue in marketing and endorsement deals than they do on court—the elegant and worldly Federer, a global marketers dream, last year led all other players with on and off court earnings of $71.5 million, "second only to Tiger Woods among sportpersons,” noted the New York Times. But the money game has changed for the rest of the pack as well.
The game has “changed a lot because of social media,” Courier noted. “Now, there’s an expectation of the players to communicate with their fans through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You’re seeing a lot of front-facing activation from the players from that standpoint.
“And the game continues to be very global,” he continued. “You have someone like Federer, who has aligned himself with blue chip brands—the Rolexes, the Moet & Chandons, the Mercedes. There’s a long term strategy here from a lot of these players—Sharapova is the same—where they’re looking well into their future and saying ‘what are we going to do post playing career?’”
One popular option for additional income and exposure for active and retired tennis pros alike is World Team Tennis, kicking off its 2013 season next week.
“World Team Tennis is a great platform for all of our players—from the top ranked to others less widely known—because the format appeals to such a wide and often non-traditional tennis audience,” says Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein, whose 2013 lineup includes Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, and Kevin Anderson. “Our stands are filled with people who come to cheer for a team with ‘Washington’ across the front of the uniform against rival teams from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. In the process, we attract a broader fan base than traditional tennis tournaments, and also make a deeper emotional connection that gets transferred to the players wearing those jerseys.
“Our players have become hometown heroes in our community with fans following them throughout the year,” Ein concludes, “and their brands and economic opportunities grow tremendously in the process.”