should we be serious about equal pay in Tennis?

The folowing is a guest post, written by Derek Henderson.

In fashion and in life, trends come along all the time. Some are random. Some are not. Mostly people just follow them.

Throughout human history society has believed in some outrageous things, it is almost certain that if you owned a time machine and ventured back to the 18th century there would be things that you could not say or question in the mainstream, religion being one of them.

Despite being a relatively advanced society it is almost equally certain that 50 years from now we will look back at viewpoints from this era and laugh at the trivial nature of some of our beliefs. What is not so certain, is which of these viewpoints will be considered pointed and which laughable?

Do these two players deserve equal pay? Do they provide equal entertainment?

Which category Gilles Simon’s comments about equal pay in tennis fall into is a lot trickier to decipher than it would first appear.

“I have the feeling that men’s tennis is actually more interesting than women’s tennis,” he uttered.

In the arena of modern competitive sport winners and losers are defined easily and the battle is firm and (usually) honest.

On a grass court in London several days ago, two men hit a bouncy yellow ball back and forth between each other in the confines of white painted lines. The pressure to win was immense. Human emotions were stressed and physical boundaries were pushed. Tennis is an art form for all intents and purposes and people spend their hard earned money to watch a gallant human struggle. Losers are generally not derided for their performances (too much) as long as they have given it there all.

In the court of public opinion however, it appears that society does not play by the same straightforward rules.

Simon, was one of those who seemingly lost the ideological battle of public opinion recently by suggesting that female tennis players should not be paid the same prize money as male tennis players. He even went so far as to say that his fellow male professionals felt the same “Maybe they can’t say it, maybe they won’t, maybe they will lose, I don’t know, $2 million on the contracts if they say that.”

Simon came off court after a gut wrenching loss to confront 15 out of 16 of his post match press conference questions about the issue of equal pay for both male and females in the world of tennis.

Sharapova Fired right back: “there are a few more people that watch my matches than his”.

Stacey Allaster, chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, issued a statement in response to the latest row.

“Tennis, including the grand slams, is aligned with our modern, progressive society when it comes to the principle of equality,” Allaster said.

Is equal pay deserved or is it just socially acceptable?

This idea manifests itself in the race to spread basic human rights throughout the developing world. It is socially acceptable to believe in charities, you would have to be cold hearted to argue that a 3rd world child does not deserve food and fresh water for survival purposes. But is a charity the best vehicle through which the standard of living should be raised. Charities are notoriously dysfunctional organisations. With a large portion of funds going to service the administration, a plethora of people sit on the boards of these companies which makes them about as useful as my old Nissan Mirage. It too got me from A to B, but a lot slower than the brand new Audi A4 that was on the market in the same year.

As we have seen, the abstract arguments are a lot more nuanced. There is a tendency to oversimplify the issue and thus we resort to ideological wars, where the eventual outcome is that one side is forced to retreat for fear of being ostracised.

If we view this purely through the prism of numbers, it becomes rather confusing as to which metric should be used. Minutes on court, viewer numbers, sponsorship dollars, physical workload, perhaps a combination of all of these?

It would be nice if we could compare Gilles Simon directly with Sharapova in terms of TV viewership and advertising revenue raised during their matches, but alas the internet has let me down so I will be generous and assume that Sharapova wins this contest hands down, at least where it matters in viewer numbers and sponsorship dollars (though I have my doubts). Ultimately the glue that binds together distributed prize money.

However, even if Sharapova herself generates more revenue for Wimbledon than Simon, this is misleading. The key insight is that Sharapova’s prize money is averaged out with the rest of her female competitors. This is true for Simon and the pool of male tennis players too.

Once again stats were difficult to find. There is the unavoidable fact that male players play longer than female players due to the fact that they play to the best out of five sets, whereas the female players only play to the best out of three sets. As far as TV viewership and sponsorship dollars I do have some stats to back up this point.

During the final of the 2011 French Open 2.6% of households in the US were tuned in to the Men’s final. Whereas only 1.7% of households were tuned into the Women’s final (http://www.tennis.com/articles/templates/news.aspx?articleid=12472), ask any advertising agency and they will tell you that 0.9% of US households are worth a lot of money.

It could be argued that this is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions, But if you look at the highest and lowest rated Men’s and Women’s US Open finals you can see that the overall trend is the Men’s final has higher viewing figures, which will have a direct correlation with the amount of advertising revenue earned (the numbers next to each match represent the % of US households that tuned in).

U.S. OPEN MEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED:

1. 1980, John McEnroe d. Bjorn Borg, 11.0

2. 1982, Jimmy Connors d. Ivan Lendl, 9.9

3. 1983, Jimmy Connors d. Ivan Lendl, 9.5

U.S. OPEN MEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED SINCE 1995:

1. 1999, Andre Agassi d. Todd Martin, 6.3

2. 2002, Pete Sampras d. Andre Agassi, 6.2

3. 1996, Pete Sampras d. Michael Chang, 6.1

U.S. OPEN MEN’S FINALS, LOWEST RATED:

1. 2008, Roger Federer d. Andy Murray, 1.7

2. 2009, Juan Martin del Potro d. Roger Federer, 2.3

3. 2004, Roger Federer d. Lleyton Hewitt, 2.5

U.S. OPEN WOMEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED:

1. 1981, Tracy Austin d. Martina Navratilova, 7.7

2. 1985, Hana Mandlíková d. Martina Navratilova, 7.3

3. 1984, Martina Navratilova d. Chris Evert, 7.1

Enough with the 80s! Let’s take a look at it since 1995.

U.S. OPEN WOMEN’S FINALS, HIGHEST RATED SINCE 1995:

1. 2001, Venus Williams d. Serena Williams, 6.8

2. 1999, Serena Williams d. Martina Hingis, 6.3

3. 1995, Steffi Graf d. Monica Seles, 5.2

U.S. OPEN WOMEN’S FINALS, LOWEST RATED:

1. 2009, Kim Clijsters d. Caroline Wozniacki, 1.1

2. 2007, Justine Henin d. Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2.1

3. 2004, Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Elena Dementieva, 2.3

(http://observer.com/2010/09/tennis-television-ratings-tumble/)

I’ve kept it simple for clarity, there is a fair bit of wiggle room in the numbers behind the ticks and crosses, given that these figures only represent American audience, but it seems safe to assume that the principle still holds.

Sharapova may view Gilles Simon’s treasure chest with much disdain, she personally deserves to earn more than he does in prize money. One could argue professional tennis is selling her short by only equalling pay between the two. But when averaged out across the whole of professional tennis, Male professionals deserve to be paid much more. Market Realities necessitate this somewhat cold but true fact.

Nike pay good money for Sharapova’s on court assets

You can rail against market realities all you like, but they are what allow Sharapova to be the highest earning female in sport if sponsorship is the deciding factor.

If we allow in favour of Sharapova, then Simon has a case to bring that Nike should pay him equal amounts to wear their clothing. How far do you push superficial equality?

Little kids are eventually told that Santa is not real. Sharapova should be informed that she is not as hot a commodity, as she would believe, when averaged out with her fellow female tennis professionals.

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8 thoughts on “should we be serious about equal pay in Tennis?

  1. This article reminds me of a joke I heard at the Herne Bay Squash Club the other day, that sort of makes sense but sort of doesn’t – “Why are fish never good tennis players? Becasue they don’t like getting close to the net” – This joke only works if the type of tennis strategiser is defined at the outset. For example, if the fish was an aggressive baseline player, in the mould of the great Ellsworth Vines, then this evolutionary phobia would not be such a hinderance. If, on the other hand, the Fish was a Serve and Volley expert, a la Mardy Fish, then this joke would suffice. Perhaps a more apt presentation of the joke would be “Why is Mardy Fish not a good Tennis Player? Becasue he is ranked 13 in the world and has never won a major” Sorry to give the joke a serve, but sometimes you just gotta put the facts straight (down the tramlines).

  2. fair – well one point might be that only if they are going to do the same [amount] of work for it! Best of 5 sets for all!

  3. In the institution of tennis, which includes tournaments, semi finals grand slams etc.. Both women and men should receive equal prize money. It is up to the individual to secure lucrative sponsorship deals by public popularity which should ultimately determine the true disparity for liberal pay.

  4. It’s pretty simple to work out the level of interest – go and have a look next year at Wimbledon for the ticket prices sold by the legal touts for the Men’s Wimbledon Singles Final versus the Women’s – there will be no comparison – in fact the Women’s Final will usually be cheaper than the day of the Men’s Last 16.

    Another way is to look at the revenue brought in by women’s tour events compared to men’s (i.e. when the genders are playing separately) – again the gap is vast.

    Right now in the majors women earn the same for being far less popular and for playing for a far shorter length of time – it’s ridiculous and if it was the other way round feminists would be up in arms.

  5. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something which not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about.
    I’m very happy I came across this in my ssarch for something relating to this.

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