The Inequality That Gets Ignored

The obvious discord and discontent over the distribution of prize money at tournaments that aren’t one of the four Major Slams seems to be an issue that is increasingly gaining traction, particularly among individuals ranked around 150 in the world and below. These players are having a hard time breaking even–let alone profiting from their talents–despite the fact that they are world class athletes. These hardships plague both the men’s and women’s tours; however, the general grumbles seem to be emerging from the men. Why is that so?

I say this because if men ranked around 150 and below are struggling then the women must be absolutely pulling their hair out. After gathering data it became clear as day that the women are significantly disadvantaged as you slide lower and lower down the tennis hierarchy. That being said, where are the prominent female voices in all of this?

I ask these questions from a completely objective standpoint. As many of you know (especially if you follow me on Twitter), I almost exclusively follow the ATP Tour; therefore, I’m not attempting to make this an issue of sexism. My main concern is that of gathering data, facts, and valid information that can potentially shine on a light on these situations and further answer questions that may arise from all of this.

Please note all prize pool totals collected include doubles. Often players will play both singles and doubles and I’ve therefore decided to include both. The data itself that was analysed was between Jan 2019 to the end of Oct 2019.

The below table shows the number of $15k and $25k events for both men and women.

Men’s Prize Pool  Tournament # $ Total Women’s Prize Pool  Tournament # $ Total
$15k  330 $4,851,000 $15k  233 $3,425,100
$25K 153 $3,748,500 $25K 189 $4,630,500
Total 483 $8,599,500 Total 422 $8,055,600
Prize Pool Differential Between Men & Women $543,900

If one broadly looks at the data available for the period beginning Jan 2019 to the end of Oct 2019, it’s clear that there are a higher number of men’s events available at the $15k level (330 vs 233), with the reverse being true for women at the $25k level (153 vs 189).

As the total number of male players on tour is much larger it stands to reason that more tournaments would be the case at the $15k level – especially when you consider the fact that there are times when the qualifying draws of some women’s events don’t even fill.

The reasoning for females having more tournaments at the $25k level will be discussed further on. It’s an argument I believe does not hold much weight.

The Men’s Challenger and Women’s $60k+ ITF levels

As you move into the ATP Challenger level and compare it to the female equivalent, it’s at that point that the issue becomes overwhelming obvious and quite frankly disturbing. I believe once you see the numbers below you’ll also question what the ITF and the WTA are doing in order to minimize the disparity.

The first thing to do is to establish the prize pools and tournament types at these levels. The ATP numbers their tournaments differently as you’ll see below. For information on where I got these numbers please see the end of this blog.

Men’s CH Events Women’s ITF Events – (actual prize pool numbers on the right)
80 $54,160 $60k $57,000
90 $81,240 $80k $76,000
100 $108,320 $100k $95,000
110 $135,400 $125k (WTA) 125000
125 $162,480

As we can see the men have a greater variety of tournament sizes (in effect an ‘80’ tournament offers 80 points to the winner, ‘90’ gives 90 points and so on), but that’s not particularly relevant. It’s when you then look at the numbers of tournaments available at the different levels for both men and women that it becomes concerning.

Men’s CH  Tournament # Total $ amount Women’s ITF  Tournament #  Total $ amount
80 91 $4,928,560 $60k 49 $2,793,000
90 21 $1,706,040 $80k 11 $836,000
100 11 $1,191,520 $100k 11 $1,045,000
110 6 $812,400 WTA $125k 9 $1,125,000
125 19 $3,087,120
148 $11,725,640 80 $5,799,000
Prize Pool Differential  $5,926,640

The men have a gigantic $5,926,640 extra in prize money to compete for as well as nearly double the number of tournaments available to them (148 vs 80). We will look at this in more detail. Let’s start by discussing the fact that there are 12 weeks out of the 10 months of data collected that feature ZERO women’s events. During that time there are 23 ATP Challenger events going on.

As the graph below will show, you can see the distribution of men’s challenger events (highlighted in blue) vs the equivalent tournaments on the women’s tour (red line).

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 1.38.57 PM.png

There is also an element of complete randomness to the women’s calendar. This is highlighted by the month of April 2019, which we can look at:

For women:

Apr 1: $80k Florida (USA)

Apr 8: $60k Istanbul (Turkey)

Apr 15: $80k Alabama (USA)

Apr 22: $80k Charlottesville (USA)

Apr 29: $100k Charleston (USA), $80k Gifu (Japan)

 

For men:

Apr 1: $162,480 Mexico, $81,240 France, $54,160 Spain

Apr 8: $162.480 China, $54,160 Spain, $54,160 Italy

Apr 15: $162,480 China, $108,320 US, $54,160 Mexico, $54,160 Tunisia

Apr 22: $54,160 China, $54,160 US, $54,160 Mexico, $54,160 Italy

Apr 29: $135,400 Mexico, $54,160 US, $135,400 France, $54,160 Czech Rep, $108,320 South Korea

Let’s be clear about what this shows us. Women have one country that will host tournaments in consecutive weeks (USA). Men have China, USA, Mexico as well as tournaments in multiple European countries in 4 out of the 5 weeks in that month.

What impact can this have? It’s often noted that it can be easier to get into a $60k draw than a $25k for women. Why is this? Well let’s assume a hypothetical situation in which you’re a player who plays $25k events often. You might sign up to the $60k in Istanbul on the off chance that you sneak into qualifying, but you know the chances are highly unlikely. 

In meantime in the week both before and after Istanbul you’re due to play in Italy (there were 3 consecutive weeks of $25k events there) and have also scheduled yourself to play in Italy during the week of Istanbul. When the initial acceptance lists come out, you’re 20 spots or so away from qualifying in Istanbul. What do you do?

Does it make any sense to risk flying to Istanbul in the hope 20 people pull out so you can play qualifying when you’re in Italy already and can be for the next three weeks? Just think of the costs and risk involved in flying to Istanbul and not getting into the tournament. In a lot of cases, how can these players justify it when money is tight anyway?

By having such sporadic events where there is no back-to-back tournaments in the same location you are putting players off attending. They can’t justify the risk.

 

In having far fewer comparable tournaments, the tournaments lower down at the $25k level can often be significantly stronger than their male equivalents for females. An example of this can be found in next weeks schedule (September 16th):

Men’s Challenger tournaments: 6

Women’s equivalent: 1

Even if you factor in the main tours, the WTA has 3 tournaments and the ATP has 2 tournaments in that week, so it’s not as if that could somehow be used as a justification for why there is fewer events. Consequently the initial acceptances at the $25k level look significantly different:

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 1.49.12 PM.png

 

What’s the downside with this? Well you’re now in a position where you’re competing for the same money as men at the $25k level, but in tournament fields that are comparatively much stronger. At the same time, players of equivalent ranking in the men’s game are playing events for much greater prize pools.

This problem is compounded when you realise that the men also get hospitality at the Challenger level, whilst females  do not have the guaranteed equivalent at their events. This is another cost women have to incur that the men don’t. At the level we’re talking about, this is significant sums of money to the players involved when you’re traveling for approximately 30 weeks of the year.

It’s important to make it clear that the ATP made hospitality a condition of all their tournaments for 2019. Why has nobody at the WTA/ITF worked hard to do the same for the women?

 

Thus far we’ve therefore established there’s fewer tournaments, less prize money available and a more scattered and random schedule. What’s another result of all this?

Well, it’s worth looking at comments made during an interview with Jackie Nesbitt, Executive Director, ITF Circuits and Andrew Moss, Head, ITF World Tennis Tour in February of this year.

“We also learned that average costs for players are around $40,000 per year for travel and accommodation, but only a very small number – about 336 male and 253 female players – were managing to break even, and that is before factoring in coaching costs.”

“To give an example, fewer women break even because there are fewer women’s tournaments at $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000 level compared to men. For every one women’s tournament there are two men’s Challenger events. Our focus is therefore on getting more money into the women’s game and we are pleased to see that in 2019 we have eight more women’s tournaments at $25,000 level and above than in 2018.”

The ITF recognises the problem, but what are they (and the WTA) doing about it? If questioned I am sure the WTA will pass the responsibility onto the ITF, but at some point if the ITF cannot find a way to bridge the gap surely it’s the duty of the WTA to look to step in and help?

It’s disingenuous for the ITF to argue the point that more $25k events for women are some kind of success. For starters a big reason for the increased numbers of $25k events was as a result of the ill-fated World Tennis Tour (Jan – Aug 2019, RIP). Federations were upgrading female events to $25k (Japan did it in particular) because the WTT structure was a disaster and $15k events had become almost useless.

In any case as my numbers show, there are 189 vs 153 events at the $25k level in favour of women. That works out at a difference of 36, which means there is less than 1 per week on average for women more than men. It’s such a small difference as to be almost irrelevant.

One of the differences in the tours to adjust for all of this is that women’s $25k events award more points to the winner (50 vs 20 for men). The idea of this is to account for the lack of tournaments in the $60k+ region and to help move women up the rankings more quickly.

Again, if we look at the data and accept there’s less than 1 extra $25k per week, does it make a big difference in doing that? How many women does that actually impact?

One thing to note that took place as I was looking into the data and writing this blog was an announcement from Oracle that an additional 50 events (25 each for men and women) are to be created in the United States. Currently we do not know at which prize levels, but have been told it’ll go from $25k through to $108k events.

This is great news obviously, but ultimately it doesn’t actually change the disparity or close the gap in tournament numbers.

Whilst it would be churlish to pretend this isn’t still fantastic and Oracle are to be applauded, it’s important not to let the announcement cloud the reality of what is going on in the women’s game. I don’t believe an additional 25 tournaments over the course of the tennis season is going to profoundly change things. I welcome Oracle’s investment and I’m glad they’re getting involved, but there’s a lot more to be done on this topic.

That said, what can be done? I don’t have all the answers and that’s not the point of this blog. I am merely putting out some data (there’s plenty more I could use but this is already too long) and letting you decide how you feel about it. It may be the case I am wrong and people don’t see an issue with things as they stand; however if you do, then we have to question how we move the sport forward for both sexes.

Let’s be clear this isn’t a simple issue. Tournaments are given minimal help from what I can tell (or they’re paid for directly by federations) and it’s often incumbent upon them to find the means and the ability to host the events. It may simply be the case that for many it makes no financial sense to host a women’s event when they have such limited budgets. You may see that as sexist, but I’ve spoken to women who themselves accept men are more of a draw.

If that’s the case, it’s that issue that needs addressing. How do we move the women’s game forward and make it more attractive? How do we carve out more opportunities? 

One thing I would like to see is the live streaming sorted out. The ATP offer coverage of EVERY single Challenger match whilst it’s extremely rare on the ITF tour.

I’ve grown to love watching some male players simply by being able to see them regularly as they toil away in the challengers. I couldn’t do that with the women’s game as the option to see them in action doesn’t exist to nearly the same degree. How does anything improve with such limited visibility? It’s 2019, this should be a non-issue.

It’s also worth noting that the ITF sells live scoring data to the tune of $14m per year. How much of that is pumped back into the professional levels? Does any of it provide financial assistance to help tournaments run? These are questions to which I can personally find no answers. If they exist I’d love to see them.

I believe it to be critical not to look at the data and decide the men have it better so why are they complaining? Things need to improve for BOTH sexes.

Importantly if the data looks as bad to you as it does to me, then we need strong female voices posing the difficult questions and demanding answers from both the ITF and the WTA. Because at present, I can think of none.

That’s almost the saddest bit about it all.

 

 
(1) I have taken the men’s ATP Challenger prize pools directly from the ATP website. On the website it states the total prize pool figure for the tournament. I have then converted European prize pools into dollars in order to make it easier to understand.
The women’s ITF prize pool figures were taken direct from the ITF handbook.

 

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