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 🙂