Sports Illustrated‘s Rick Reilly was outraged last week at Venus Williams being shortchanged after winning Wimbeldon. While men’s champion Goran Ivanisevic walked away with a $705,109 purse while Williams received only $652,186 (as Reilly puts it, “she earned about a Lexus less.”
Reilly goes on to badmouth the mens’ tennis game which many people perceive as dull because of the incredible athleticism of the players. “The men hit 140-mph aces nobody can see, and then ask for a towel,” Reilly writes, “Everything is serve and towel, serve and towel.”
But that athleticism also explains, in part, the pay differential. It is a legacy of the period before the rise of the Williams sisters and today’s group of women’s tennis players when athletic conditioning was simply not a priority for female tennis players. Even today, almost all women’s professional tennis tournaments rely on 3-set matches rather than the men’s more demanding 5-set matches.
At Wimbeldon, for example, Ivanisevic played 28 sets of tennis while Williams played only 14. While Ivanisevic was compensated about $25,000 per set, Williams earned more than $46,000 per set of tennis she played.
So when Reilly and others complain that the ratings for women’s tennis is higher than men’s tennis, he forgets that there are far more hours of men’s tennis to broadcast than women’s tennis.
That being said, however, as John McEnroe has already predicted, women’s salaries in tennis are likely to eclipse men’s salaries soon based largely on the dictates of the market — women’s tennis is a better product at the moment and women’s compensation has been increasing accordingly.
On top of that, the women tennis players are cleaning up when it comes to endorsement deals. Williams recently signed a five-year, $40 million endorsement deal with Reebok. Compare that to men’s superstar Andre Agassi who was only able to wrangle $10 million, 10-year deal from Nike a few years back.
Disadvantage, Women. Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated, July 10, 2001.
Beauty and the Bucks: Do Looks Lure Endorsement Dollars in Women’s Tennis? Catherine Valenti, ABCNews.Com, July 13, 2001.
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