Brian Lutz / March 24, 2016

Is tennis ready to utilize its vast data resources to reflect it’s revenue (prize money) allocation?

Tennis most supportive sponsors (IBM, Nike, ESPN to name a few) all compile massive amounts of data to run their business and adapt to the ever changing market place.  Most modern business decisions use data to assess risk in developing their product and services to estimate costs and sales forecasts.

Historically, tennis has done a great job in progressive gender equality issues regarding “equal prize money”.  With all of this new information available to grow their own products (WTA and ATP) are both sides ready to maximize their potential growth with differentials that may increase or decrease their earning power year to year with an eye on long term sustainability.

Publicly, the WTA brand ambassadors seem reluctant to start this dialogue.  It makes sense from their perspective combining events with the men’s tour (ATP) has steadily grown their product.  Their fear, and it’s a valid one, by separating revenue by data (attendance, tv ratings, sponsor sales etc) they will dilute their value and lower their income.  Better to bundle it with the men’s game with dual events such as the Miami Open.  It would be like the NBA and WNBA suddenly having equal pay scale as a symbolic gesture and games being played side by side or on the same nights.

So what is the compromise? How do you allow data to reward a currently hot Men’s tennis game while not burning bridges with the WTA tour and avoiding a PR debacle?  Already the Women’s Tour has launched their cyclical argument with very little data to support their claim.

An olive branch was extended by current World #1 Novak Djokovic who used his influence to start the conversation.  He spoke fairly about both tours using baseline information to allocated revenue (prize money) and was met with defiance.  WTA pioneers such as Chris Evert and Billy Jean King citing cultural influences and cyclical arguments as the reason to stay with the current system of socialized prize money allocation.  In fairness to the WTA their current revenue pie is not the same size as the men.  Of course, neither is the WNBA compared to the NBA or female models to male models in the fashion business where women out earn their male counterparts exponentially.

Djokovic, under public pressure from the equal prize money advocates including Andy Murray, has backed down quickly from his proposed “performance model” not wanting to get into a public debate at the height of his career earnings potential.


So the question is on the table:  How do both WTA and ATP both get what they want?  How can we create a win-win scenario that incentives the ATP while allowing the WTA to not lose potential earnings during its current downturn in popularity?  How long should one tour curb its value while “subsidizing” the other lagging brand?

Is tennis ready for and open marketplace?  The NFL has a socialist model to create parity with an injection of capitalist incentive.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers benefit from the aggressive brands in Dallas, New York and now Los Angeles without taking significant risk.  Does this subsidy help the NFL brand as a whole? Their growth seems to validate this thinking.  In the 90s NFL started allowing risk taking teams to keep larger portions of their sponsor revenues to themselves as an incentive without driving down the value of small market teams in Tampa and Green Bay.  They equally shared TV revenue league wide as well as expansion revenue.  But when Jerry Jones leveraged his brand with his Pepsi sponsorship deal in the 1990’s he didn’t have to split it with 31 other owners. Note, he fought to get it that way.  Of course, there was no gender issue underlying his ambitions only sales incentive.

Can tennis use a similar hybrid performance model without being labeled sexist?

Brian Lutz / Backhand City