Wimbledon may have to significantly increase its prize money and change the way it is distributed, if leading players have their way.
While the winners of the singles events at this year’s Championships will each collect £2.35m and first-round losers will earn £45,000, many players believe that Wimbledon, the other three grand slams and Masters 1000 events are not paying them a big enough percentage of revenue. Distribution of the prize pot in the grand slams also needs correcting, they say, while Roger Federer is among those who want more money given to the lower tiers of the sport.
The total amount awarded to players at Wimbledon has more than doubled since 2012, with £38m on offer in 2019. However prize money as a percentage of revenue at the four grand slams is generally acknowledged to be between 12-15%. At the 2018 US Open the total prize fund (men and women) of $53m was only 13.9% of its official revenue of $380,144m.
The men’s ATP player council is due to meet at Wimbledon on Friday with prize money and fairness high on the agenda. “Tennis is a huge business so when you bring a certain value to the table, you need to be compensated accordingly,” Vasek Pospisil, a Canadian who won the men’s doubles title at Wimbledon in 2014, told the Guardian.
“It’s not even so much the dollar figure, it’s the percentage. Essentially the tournaments have a monopoly of the whole Tour because they’re in power and they don’t have to be held accountable for anything, so they literally just give what they feel like giving.”
Pospisil is a member of the 10-man player council board, which is led by the world No 1, Novak Djokovic. Until recently the grand slams have been reluctant to share a detailed breakdown of their financial accounts. The Masters 1000 events, where prize money as a share of revenue is higher but varies significantly, have been less forthcoming, leaving players in the dark.
“All I really want is the opportunity to have professional [legal] representation so that we can come to the table, they [tournaments] can make their arguments and they can say: ‘Guys, this is why we can’t give the same to tennis players that the NBA does or NFL does [50%] because tennis is complicated,’” he said. “It might not be 50%, it might be 30%. Maybe it is what it is now, I don’t know. The point is we’re not even given this opportunity.”
Picking up £45,000 for losing in the first round might seem a lot but Pospisil, who has a singles ranking of 188 as he returns after back surgery, said expenses are high. “Even if you’re ranked 80 to 100 and you’re making the slams, yeah, you’re making $200,000 [first-round loser money] and [people might] think you’re set,” he said.
“But then there’s tax, expenses, team, travel for 35 weeks as year. For being top 100 in a sport that makes as much money as it does, that’s really not enough.”
Federer told reporters in Halle last week the Challenger Tour needed help. Pospisil agreed. “On the Challenger Tour they earn peanuts. If the four grand slams decided to give a couple of million dollars each – which is nothing [for them] – to the Challenger Tour, [it would benefit] guys that are ranked 300 to 100, most of [whom] are losing money.”
A spokesperson for Wimbledon said prize money levels were “appropriate” and it is too simple to focus on that issue alone. “In the past three years, for example, we have delivered new dressing rooms, stretch and warmup facilities for players and their support groups in all of the events played at the Championships including juniors and wheelchair events. This is alongside the ongoing improvement in player services such as transport, statistics, food and drink and much more.”