Tennis Pay Gap: A Double FaultTennis is often applauded for its gender equality–a few female tennis players have become some of the wealthiest athletes in the world and the same prize money is awarded to men and women at all four Grand Slam tournaments. Before the 1970s, no one could imagine that women would be able to achieve the same prize money as men, but that changed in 1973 at the US Open, after Billie Jean King threatened to boycott the tournament. In 2007, Wimbledon became the last Grand Slam tournament to follow the other three majors in awarding equal prize money (Tignor). Because of King and other advocates, tennis has become one of the only sports to offer the same prize money for both genders at major tournaments. For this reason, it may seem that female tennis players earn the same amount as their male counterparts, but upon closer inspection, this common assumption is incorrect; women are paid less than men at many of the smaller tennis tournaments.
A gender pay gap still exists in professional tennis and women deserve equal pay at all tennis tournaments. A number of stark findings reveal that at numerous tennis tournaments, excluding Grand Slams, there is a huge inconsistency in prize money awarded to male and female players. According to a study on the pay gap in professional tennis, the median prize money that female tennis players earned in 2009 was almost $100,000 less than that of male tennis players (Flake et al. 368). This large imbalance can be explained by the substantially lower prize money payouts for women.
Flake and his coauthors, researchers at Brigham Young University, found that at tournaments exclusive to one gender, the overall total prize money disparity was $16.3 million. Furthermore, they investigated 21 tournaments where both genders shared the same venue, and noticed that women earned less prize money than men in 11 out of 21 of those tournaments. For example, at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Abierto Mexicano Telcel, the men’s prize money was $1.2 million, whereas the women’s was $220,000 (372). In fact, this occurrence is also frequent in middle level tennis tournaments. Even at the fourth-largest tennis event in the United States, the Western and Southern Open, women are paid 63 cents for every dollar that men earn.
At the Western and Southern Open in 2015, Roger Federer was awarded $731,000 for claiming the title, while Serena Williams was awarded $495,000 for capturing the women’s title (“Roger Federer”). It is unfair that at tournaments, such as the Western and Southern Open, where men and women play at the same location with the same sponsor, men are compensated significantly more. The deep disparity in prize money is partly responsible for the wide salary gap between male and female tennis players. According to data from Flake et al., the median earnings of men over their tennis career was remarkably higher than that of women (366). The gap in professional tennis is similar to the wage discrepancy in American workplaces, with female tennis players earning approximately 20 percent less than their male peers.
For tennis players in the top 100, the median pay gap between a woman and a man of the same rank is $120,624. In addition, research by the International Tennis Federation showed that 336 men were paid enough to cover average costs for playing professional tennis, but only 253 women could do the same (“Roger Federer”). This means that many women, between the ranks of 254 and 336, are in a difficult financial situation only because they are women. If those women were men, they would be able to cover their professional tennis expenses. Without a doubt, a considerable salary discrepancy in professional tennis exists. This raises the question, should professional female tennis players earn less than their male counterparts? The topic was reignited last year after controversial comments made by Raymond Moore, the former tournament director of the Indian Wells tournament.
He asserted that female players should “ride on the coattails of the men,” and continued to say that if he were a woman, he would “go down every night on his knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport” (Bieler and Boren). Moore’s remark was offensive, but he makes the point that male players are more entertaining to watch, thus men should be compensated more. However, the argument that men’s tennis is more attractive is inaccurate.
According to a survey of over a thousand adults in 2009, the popularity of women’s tennis narrowly defeated that of men’s tennis (White). More evidence confirms similar results: television and Internet ratings of male and female tennis players are close to equal, and in some cases, women have the edge (Flake et al. 374). Women’s tennis is arguably more enjoyable to watch because the rallies are longer, creating suspense and drama, which is appealing to viewers. As women battle for a long point, hitting the tennis ball from corner to corner, scrambling side to side along the baseline, slowly building up the tension, spectators turn their head back and forth, until one player finally triumphs. On the other hand, men are constantly serving aces, smashing forehands, and relying on their power, so the points are short and less thrilling.
Boom! Ace! Done. Repeat. The notion that “men’s tennis is more captivating” is a myth, so it does not justify men deserving greater compensation.