My Two Pence on Prize Money

After continuous pressure from players and media the ITF have finally increased prize money starting in 2016. This is much to the delight of players on the circuit and of course can only be a good thing for the game. I am also excited, as this is a really big step forward for the game I have dedicated my life to.

Having said that, here is what I would have done.

I am just focusing on the women’s side of things for the moment, as the structure of prize money and points is very different in the men’s game.

Lets start at the bottom, as that’s where we all start! If you are ranked between UNR and 400 you are a largely competing in $10Ks and yes, the prize money stinks. However, because the prize money in $10Ks is so low it means that there are far more of them on each week. In a normal week there can be 6 $10Ks and 2 larger events to choose from. This is simply because it is far easier for a Tournament Director to find $10,000 in prize money than $25,000.

With the increase from $10K to $15K their expenses have increased by 50% and I fear this may put off sponsors and Tournament Directors, and the number of low level tournaments will decrease. There is a reason that 3 countries run $10Ks most weeks of the year and no one runs $25Ks for more than a few weeks at a time. It is expensive and not feasible. A federation as big as the LTA has had to decrease prize money in a lot of tournaments, to help fund more tournaments over the grass.

In a $10K the average prize money is $312 and in a $15K it is $468, which is an increase of $156 (roughly £100) if my maths is any good. That’s great, but when the official hotel is £75pppn, stringing is £15, lunch is £10, dinner is £20 before I have even got to my flight it is not helping as much as it seems. I believe that instead of further increases to prize money at this level they should work on decreasing our expenses. There should be a cap on official hotel prices at £35pppn, a cheap lunch provided, £10 stringing, and transport to and from the airport. I really feel that this would have a far greater impact on the players at these tournaments as they will save more and feel a lot more looked after. You are still semi-professional at this level so I don’t believe your earnings should be high but that the expenses could be less to help players survive.

I fall in to the category of being ranked between 400 and 200 and this is where help is desperately needed. I now need to travel much further afield as there are far fewer tournaments on at a $25K level or above. In fact, for the whole of the month of March there were only 2 events of this level on in Europe, 2 in the US, 2 in South and Central America, and 1 in China. Remember there are about 250 players wanting to play at this level. If I want to play these tournaments my flight costs have sky rocketed and as there is nothing the ITF can do about that, then my prize money should be far greater. You can go from UNR to 400 comfortably without leaving Europe, but that is nearly impossible if you want push on. This is where the money should be going and although the ITF have invested in this level, it is not nearly enough.

Once you reach 200 and are competing in Grand Slams you will currently be earning enough money to take you to where you need to go. Not with a coach though, and that is the next step for this group of players. Further increases to prize money are definitely needed, but if hospitality for you and your coach were offered, that would make having a coach with you a possibility. If you want to reach top 100 you have to be doing it properly and having a coach at the majority of tournaments is imperative.

I feel really positively about the increases to prize money, (who wouldn’t?), but I think there could be different priorities for different levels. Decreased on site expenses at $10Ks, Increased prize money at $25Ks and $50Ks, and guaranteed hospitality for you and a companion at $75Ks and $100Ks. I am using the current system as I am not used to the new one yet! This would mean that there would still be plenty of $10Ks to get people started, players ranked between 200 and 400 would be able to get to the tournaments they need to, and players inside 200 could potentially travel with a coach for a large portion of the year.

Please let me know your thoughts on the prize money increases, it is an interesting debate 🙂

10 thoughts on “My Two Pence on Prize Money

  1. well expressed, and to a complete outsider like myself ,very sensible.hope your points get a wide circulation, and can be taken on board at some point.

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  2. Hi Naomi,

    These issues come up regularly for discussion in this forum…

    http://britishtennis.activeboard.com/f194088/general-tennis-discussion/

    …where your blog is held in high regard.

    The lowest level of ITF tournament (10k) was established in 1984; since when, compound global inflation has increased by 300%. So you have been competing for 1/3 of the prize money, in real terms, that the system was designed to provide. Now it goes up to 15k – which is half the prize money intended, in real terms.

    In 1984, the Wimbledon singles champ won £90,000 – and an ITF 10k winner got approx. £900. This year, there’s still £900 for winning a 10k, and £1,800,000 for winning Wimbledon.

    Given the economics that make it nearly impossible to earn a living travelling to overseas 10ks, I think that it is essential that the LTA organise sufficient UK 10k tournaments – say about 20 per year – to give our players the chance to accumulate enough ranking points to graduate to playing abroad at 25k level, where it is just feasible to meet travel, stringing and accommodation costs.

    I think your suggestion of a cap on hotel prices could impact more on the sponsors. The hotel in Sharm, for example, is taking somewhere around $18,000pw from player accommodation alone.

    Some of the best ideas on the ITF circuit I read on this blog, in your earlier post on the Midland tournament. Really appreciate your thought-provoking, informative and well-written posts.

    Thanks, and good luck for the upcoming UK grass season.

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    1. Thanks for your comments and kind words about the blog. I very much enjoy it!

      Yes inflation is something that needed to be addressed and it has with these new increases. And while I am in favour of it I just don’t believe it will have as much of an impact on players as people think, as once the extra 5k is split between everyone it isn’t a huge difference. It is probably enough to cover the lack of inflation over the past 30 years which is great but I don’t believe prize money should increase more than that at the lower level when our on site expenses are what really hurts us.

      What you say about Sharm is true. They take around $18k from player acommodation which is the vast majority of the income. They charge $55 per night including breakfast and dinner which is very reasonable and I believe it is achievable for TDs around the world to negotiate something similar with a hotel… After all you are guaranteeing them a lot of rooms. However, the expenses of the tournament director runs to about $20k for the week. $10k for prize money, 6 umpire’s time and expenses, physio time and expenses, doctor, courts, balls, lights etc. By the time you add it all up, they are probably making a small profit and I just wonder if asking TDs to stump up the cash is the best way to go about it when you could ask them to work harder to negotiate a better hotel rate for us or provide a reasonably priced lunch.

      Please don’t get me wrong, I am in favour of prize money increases, it is just that I worry the amount of tournaments will decrease and as I explained in my blog the fewer tournaments there are the more expensive our lives become.

      Now if the money were to come from somewhere else… Say the vast profits at Grand Slams… Now we are getting somewhere. But that option has been rejected by the ITF and the responsibility now falls to the the TD.

      I really appreciate your thoughts and continuing the debate.

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  3. Great read! Interesting points about targeting reducing the costs for players. With all the talk typically being od prizemoney, i hadn’t considered tackling the issue from that angle.

    What i would love to see is the ATP and WTA petitioning the slams into providing a small fixed percentage of their income to a fund for assisting with the financing of lower level tournaments. In the ATP, that would be Challenger level tournaments and the equivalent for the WTA.

    Resultingly, the WTA and ATP would co-operate with tournament organisers and fund 50% of the prizemoney cost. This would be part of a restructuring in which the tournaments offer higher prizemoney than current.

    For me, the key to progress is getting the Grandslams on board with a program because they sit in command of the majority of the money the sport makes.

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    1. Thanks for your comments! I do agree with you I feel that there is money available from the ITF’s profits in Slams and this could be used to help. After all the ITF look after the lowest events and the biggest events with the ATP and WTA taking care of the rest. The ITF make money from the Slams so surely they can find some to invest lower down?

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  4. Hi Naomi,

    You’re too kind, both to me (which is fine by me) and to the ITF/LTA (which may be advisable for you, but where I can’t follow you).

    First up, you make a good point about the ITF using some bargaining power to get players better deals on accommodation, etc. Any extra money spent here is lost to the sport, and it should be in the interests of everybody in tennis to get as good a price as possible.

    But this prize money increase of 50% doesn’t nearly account for 30 years inflation. For that, it would need to be 300%.

    As things stand, as you surely know, but for the benefit of anybody else reading this…

    Once a week, there is a 10k tournament in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. It seems well run, (your report on it is good) and accommodation is reasonably cheap @ $55pppn. $385 per person per week.

    Of the 32 players who make the main draw…

    16 lose in Round 1, get $98 as a consolation prize; 8 lose in Round 2, get $196 in prize money.
    4 lose in QFs, get $245 in prize money; 2 beaten semifinalists get $490; the beaten finalist gets $980, the winner $1,568.

    So 28 of the 32 don’t earn enough to pay for their accommodation – and if prize money now increases by 50%, that remains the same.

    Back in 1984, when money went 3 times further, and the ITF system was devised, it looks to me as if it was intended to go most of the way towards paying R1 losers most of their expenses, and to give all the rest a small, but reasonable, income. A R2 losers’ purse of $196, multiplied by 3 for inflation = $588 in today’s money.

    A Quarterfinalist will still not be covering their accommodation costs if their prize money goes up by the proposed 50% to $367. That’s still $18 short, for winning 2 matches, then losing one.

    If a football team goes through a season winning 2 matches, losing 1; they get 2 points per match played, and get promoted, generally after winning the division. Tennis is setting the bar ridiculously high; and if it’s forcing 7 out of 8 players out of business, each week, the cull is far too harsh.

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    1. Yes I do have to be reasonably careful with what I say, mainly because both organisations have done so much for me in my career.

      I will trust you on your numbers as that is not my strong suit! I think that although we are on the same page with most things and believe that the recent prize money increase is a good thing, we may differ in our expectations. Please correct me if I am wrong on this! I do not believe that you should break even if you are ranked outside 500. There are many reasons for me believing this but ultimately it comes down to 2 main points… the standard isn’t good enough and you should be investing in yourself like you would if you started a business. You will get your rewards for being successful in the end, or quit if you don’t find the success and therefore sustainability.

      HOWEVER, the difference between expenses and income is far too much, and the level you have to reach to break even is far too high. This needs to change. I want to see different ideas talked about rather than players just shouting ‘give us more money!’. Yes this has worked but as we both agree only by a small amount. I don’t want to see more strain on Tournament Directors and therefore less tournaments, this will only dramatically increase our expenses by far more than the prize money increase is worth to us.

      And don’t even get me started on football… they get paid whether they win, lose, draw or sit on the bench! I know that wasn’t your point but football gets me going! To address your point, when I am doing my schedule I am aiming to average winning 2-3 main draw matches for every loss over a 6 month period. If I am playing the right tournaments then that means I am averaging quarters or semis and should be moving up the rankings at a consistent pace. If you keep playing tournaments of the same level then of course your ranking will get stuck and you need to achieve the same ration in higher tournaments to push on. Remember you only need to win 5 matches to win an event and as demonstrated by Laura Robson, you don’t need to win any events to make the worlds top 32.

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  5. Hi Naomi,

    I’m not sure that I agree that players should be forced by economics into retiring if they’re below a certain ranking. I think that the 1984-era system is about right – R1 losers are out of pocket – that’s half the field – but if you’ve won a professional tennis match that week, you shouldn’t be forced to consider giving up the sport.

    I fully take your point about not putting all the responsibility for increased prize-money onto the shoulders of TDs.

    My bright ideas of today, which I haven’t really thought through yet, but here goes…

    First, I think it would be much fairer for up-and-coming players, or those coming back after a break, if a tournament win at a lower level gets you an automatic wildcard for one tournament at a higher level. Last year, for example, Ms N Cavaday wins 3 ITF 10ks. She gets for this only 36 points, which, judged against another woman who has played 25 tournaments at 25k level, makes it look like you’ve played pretty badly. So I think it would be fairer if a 10k tournament win gets you an automatic wildcard to any 25k of your choice within the next couple of months. You, last year, should have earned 3 MD wildcards to 25k tournaments, where there are quadruple the points on offer. Similarly, anybody winning a 25k tournament gets a wildcard to the main draw at their choice of 50k-100k+H tournament. A top level ITF win gets you a WTA250 wildcard. The WTA rankings, based on a year’s results, do nothing to reward current form.

    Then, I am really impressed by the current USTA method of selecting a MD wildcard for the French Open – give it to the woman who wins the most points in a series of 3 50ks held in the USA on clay over the last 3 weeks. (It should have gone to Kat Stewart, incidentally, who has been red-hot on clay this year, unless you know otherwise.) I think that something similar would be a great way for Wimbledon to select a final MD wildcard – from the 50ks in Surbiton, Ilkley and Eastbourne. Whichever of the UK contenders acquires the most points in those three tournaments gets to be Cinderella.

    And why not introduce something similar as a requirement for WTA tournament directors? Make it a requirement, that to run a WTA250, you need to find an additional 25k for an ITF tournament a fortnight or so earlier, with the additional prize of a MD wildcard to the WTA tournament for the winner. Or, you give more money than this to the ITF, if you don’t want the expense and trouble of running the ITF tournament yourself. You can run a 25k yourself, or cough up 50k as prize funds for somebody else to organise two. The WTA tournament gets something out of it too – they find themselves a fresh new talent to introduce to a wider audience; and get a chance to put their local players through their paces in advance of the bigger event.

    That’s where the money should come from – down from the WTA, who are dependent on the ITF for finding their future talent.

    I also think that the ITF could do far, far more to market its tournaments – specifically to provide videostreams. Emily’s doubles final at Midland, for example, was one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen all year. Based in an English speaking country, the LTA could actually attract an awful lot of Asian eyeballs, if it put some effort into providing videofeeds to lower-tier tournaments. I’d be amazed if there aren’t some serious sponsorship bucks in this eventually.

    Anyway, keeping everything crossed for your form and fitness over the next couple of months. Very impressive first year back – but several big chances just round the corner. Good luck!

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    1. They are some really interesting ideas and definitely the direction tennis should be going in.

      A few years ago there were feed up tournaments where the winner won a wild card in to a bigger event just like you suggested and it worked well. I don’t know why they scrapped it but it would be great to see something similar introduced. That would help players on the rise a lot.

      Streaming and betting generate a lot of income for the ITF as well so improving in this area and directing it back to the players is again a great idea.

      Lots to think about and hopefully the ITF, WTA, and ATP are doing all they can to explore different options to try and take the strain of TD’s and see tennis go from strength to strength.

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