Has Increased Prize Money Cheapened Grand Slams?

Money. We all know it can talk. And in tennis, money can be as much of a motivating factor as winning. Recently, Wimbledon announced that its 2010 men's and women's singles champions will pocket $1.54 million--up from $1.25 million in 2009. For the men, that's more than double the prize money from 10 years ago, and double for the women from eight years ago.

In 2009, Roland Garros had a 3.05% increase in prize money for the singles champions, which amounted to  €1,060,000 in euros (approximately $1.4 million). The US Open increased it's prize money in 2009 for the third straight year to $1.6 million (a 5.8% increase from 2008). For the 2010 Australian Open, prize money for the winners topped out at approximately $1,885,600 in US dollars--up 4.12% from 2009.

We also know that stakes are much higher at Grand Slams than any other tournament. And most would argue that the quality of tennis is much better. Tournament attendance is higher. ESPN and network television provide thousands more hours of live television coverage. Advertisers and sponsors shell out big wads of cash to plaster their brand on everything the human eye can see. Note to advertisers: We get it.

But what types of messages are being communicated to the public, as well as the players when they see Grand Slam organizers promoting "record breaking" prize money each year? It's almost become an expected news item, and practically forces a prize money competition among Grand Slam tournament organizers. Tim Phillips, chairman of the All England Club was recently quoted in Reuters as saying: "It is important we offer a level of prize money which is both appropriate to the prestige of the event and which gives the players full and fair reward." Now that's an interesting message. How do you put a $ amount on prestige?

If you were to ask players who won a Grand Slam 20 years ago about prize money, they might say that it was the icing on the cake. If you were to ask players who won a Grand Slam 30 or 40 years ago, they'd probably say, "What prize money?" In fact, the first prize money check awarded at Wimbledon was in 1968, and didn't amount to much: £2,000 for the men, and £750 for the women.

Without question, increases in Grand Slam prize money since 1968  have brought the game of tennis to greater heights. But in this day and age, are players getting their "full and fair reward" or have Grand Slams tipped the money scale so far in the other direction that it's cheapening the sport?


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this article, along with your recent article about Venus at the French (which brought me to your blog). :-)

A similar train of thought crossed my mind during the WTA event held in Rome. I couldn't feel too badly for Venus' 6-0, 6-1 loss considering she walked home with 40,000 (either euros or dollars).... perhaps the 450 or so people in attendance felt differently.

I suspect the various tournament's race for prestige may end up placing the sport in a pinch.

Paula Vergara said...

Thank you!

I agree that the "race for prestige" at tennis tournaments can lead to financial problems. At the very least, they should make more of a $ incentive for all players - raise the stakes at the lower levels instead of just throwing money at the top.