The Model Is Broken: Revamping Tennis (With Potential Solutions)

One look at this chart is all you need to see…

atp and wta average salaries

But this isn’t just a tennis problem — it applies to many other sports across the world.

This post is based on Vox’s video and my previous briefing “The Death of Individual Sports”.

Let’s Dive In 👇

Tennis vs. Traditional Sports

When you think of most sports leagues you imagine teams owned by billionaires and wealthy players.

Tennis has the opposite problem.

It’s extremely fragmented with different organizations acting alone:

  • ATP Tour (men’s)
  • WTA Tour (women’s)
  • US Open
  • Wimbledon
  • French Open
  • Australian Open
  • International Tennis Federation

And while this makes it difficult for everyone — the players bear the brunt of this.

Take a look at rising superstar Carlos Alcaraz:

atp prize money vs nba, mlb, nfl salaries

Despite being one of the most successful athletes in the world, Alcaraz earned $10M from tennis last year.

This is comparable to role players in the NBA, NFL, and MLB.

And don’t forget…

Carlos Alcaraz is responsible for his own expenses such as:

  • food
  • travel
  • coaches
  • physical therapy
  • and a bunch more

Alcaraz does well in the grand scheme of things (and has the benefit of big endorsement contracts)…but most tennis players are in less than ideal situations.

average contracts in pro sports
Skew of salaries in sports

Being completely honest…

Tennis has been lucky stars have risen in the ranks such as Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal.

men's grand slam winners dominated by federer nadal djokovic

One could argue more luxury in the form of guaranteed contracts and paid expenses might eliminate that “fight for survival” mentality…

But I think that would be overlooking the immense drive of these athletes — despite all the money, Lebron James never got comfortable with average.

Comparing Tennis to Other Leagues

We mentioned that tennis is extremely fragmented…

When you add all the tennis properties together — their revenues are substantial.

revenue by major sports leagues comparison graph

I think it’s fair to say they leave a bunch of revenue on the table by not being a unified organization.

Think about the:

  • media contracts
  • league-wide sponsorships
  • documentary style opportunities

Fragmentation is not good for “sports” as a unified organization.

With all the new independent soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, and cricket leagues I think other sports may be in the same position.

What Can Tennis Do?

Individuals and executives on the business side of tennis know that a target is on their back.

Several players have said they would be fine with taking Saudi money after years of underpayment.

Last year, a group of players got together and launched The Professional Tennis Player’s Association + Winner’s Alliance.

ptpa tennis

It’s wild to think that tennis had no union/player representation for all these years and didn’t come together for more money.

We’ve seen record payouts in tournaments over the last few years…

But it still doesn’t address the main problem.

How do you create a sustainable system that allows players to rise the ranks without worrying about how they’re going to pay their next bill?

And even if this does get addressed…

Will payouts be around 50/50 like most other leagues?

revenue sharing agreement between professional sports leagues

Time will tell.

Going Forward

New racket sports like pickleball and padel have jumped right to the team model.

I’m curious to see if/when tennis comes together as one and revamps its fragmented space into something more cohesive.

tennis is dying

Golf had no choice but to innovate — the Saudis forced their hand.

Tennis seems to be in a similar predicament.

With a bunch of emerging & alternative sports leagues popping up…there are a ton of learnings to be had over the last few years.

Industry Trends & Analysis

The future of sports delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Related Articles

Industry Research & Analysis

Trends, news, & companies shaping the future of sports delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Industry Research & Analysis

Trends, news, & companies shaping the future of sports delivered to your inbox every Thursday.