Prize Money Debate

I am not sure that all of you have been able to see this interesting exchange below so take a look and get involved by leaving me a comment and I will reply.

Comment from wimbledont

Hi Naomi,

These issues come up regularly for discussion in this forum…

…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.

Reply from naomicavaday

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 TD.

I really appreciate your thoughts and continuing the debate.

Reply from wimbledont

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.

Reply from naomicavaday

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 ratio 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 world’s top 32.

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