Tennis jerks miss point of equal prizes for women

March 22, 2016

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

March hasn’t been an ace month for tennis. First Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid woman in the sport, revealed that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. Now, the boss of a tournament has quit after saying women players should get on their knees to thank the men like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who have carried the sport.

The comments from Raymond Moore, chief executive of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California, were obnoxious and small-minded. But even world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who said Moore had spoken out of turn and that women had fought for the equal treatment they deserved in tennis, contradicted himself by implying that the men should get more prize money because they attract more fans.

Yet star power and rivalries move between the men’s and women’s game, and outside interest shifts too. More generally, tennis is one of few sports that attract a broad constituency of both sexes as fans and amateur players. That’s where the money, be it Federer’s $67 million a year by Forbes’ reckoning or Sharapova’s $30 million, really comes from.

In the United States, for example, 18 million people played the sport in 2014, according to the Tennis Industry Association, with the more regular players breaking 52 percent female and 48 percent male. Attendance at the U.S. Open is balanced, too, the U.S. Tennis Association said. Professional tennis broadcasts last year including cable TV averaged 681,000 viewers, also about half women, according to Nielsen.

While some sponsors are now deserting Sharapova, the trend seems to be that women are catching up. Serena Williams made $25 million last year, according to Forbes, more than Andy Murray’s $22 million and not far behind Nadal’s $33 million. Tennis and lifestyle brands sponsor both individuals and tournaments, with the four grand-slam events able to pay out $140 million in prize money last year – split equally between men and women.

No wonder Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, who owns the Indian Wells tournament, went into damage-limitation mode and talked about great players like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Tennis attracts men and women in fairly equal numbers, and it’s ahead of other sports in narrowing the pay gap at its top professional levels. The jerks who think that’s unjustified are missing the point.

7 comments

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Ok and how are they missing the point? I don’t understand… you set up your premise but nothing more. And you conveniently fail to mention that ATP brings in on average twice the broadcasting viewership of WTA. Equal pay only makes sense for an equal job… a CEO of a company… a plumber… an architect… that makes sense – what doesn’t make sense is equal pay for a sports event where the prize pool is directly correlated to viewership and popularity…

Political correctness has gotten so crazy that we fail to see the wood for the trees, at the risk of saying something which will be twisted and misconstrued…

Posted by SodaBoy | Report as abusive

Its not about sponsorship companies will use female tennis players to broaden the appeal of there products. Its about sporting ability. if a female tennis player of lesser ability is entitled to the same as a male grand slam winner (even though she is not capable of competing against him)then every male tennis player of lesser ability is entitled to the same.

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

Let’s not forget: tennis is the ONLY sport with equal pay for men and women so let’s not portray tennis as a poster child sport of gender equality problem. “Jerks” in tennis are fewer and farther in between than any other sport from what I can tell.

Posted by schismatic | Report as abusive

Certainly to avoid any form of sexism, there should no longer be separate men’s and women’s tournaments. All can compete in one(1) tournament. Five(5) sets of tennis in Grand Slam events. Equal pay for equal work.

Let me also second SodaBoy’s comment, who watches women’s tennis?

Posted by b00bosie | Report as abusive

Heres the point:

You want to conduct yourself in a manner that’ll set a precedence and help build standards at the lower levels of the sport. And thus, eventually in other parts of the society as well.

As an example, most large tech companies have multiple people bearing titles like SVP/VP/Director etc. Obviously, some of them are more capable than others. But, as a policy, the base pay will be equal for all them irrespective of their capabilities/roles. This is done so that the same policy can be applied uniformly at *ALL* levels like interns/associates/analysts etc.

I do however agree that this opinion piece falls short in making its point. If only the author can set aside the righteous indignation, not resort to name calling, and calmly make a coherent argument! It would have greatly helped move this discussion forward.

Posted by ripvwinkle | Report as abusive

Oh the victimhood never ends!

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

Just because the sport is attracting a population that is split equally between men and women does not mean that they are tuning in and watching (and thereby financially supporting) Men’s or Women’s tennis equally, correct? Perhaps I’m missing something too…

Posted by aaaa123123 | Report as abusive