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A Not-So Average Fortnight in Economics: Wimbledon and the Other Side of Pro Tennis

It’s the first week of Wimbledon, and all around London and its outer boroughs, shops and businesses proudly tout their Wimbledon-ness to welcome athletes and guests to the much- awaited sporting event and tradition for tennis lovers all over. This annual event is not only a major tennis tournament, but also brings huge revenues for its players (and I mean, millions of pounds), London, and local businesses as well.

The city of London and its outer boroughs dressed in Wimbledon-style.

It’s no secret that winners benefit the most from the tournament, with these players earning at least £400,000 to £5,000,000 in prize money. Clothing endorsements and sponsorships offer the most money, amounting to as much as £16,000,000. Coaches get hefty bonuses as well with most earning roughly six figures from the tournament alone.

But the monetary benefits are not limited to players, their staff, and coaches. The tournament is expected to infuse £200 million to the capital in those two weeks, thereby making it the most important sporting event in the country. The tremendous amount of players, event staff, and spectators alone will spend millions of pounds on accommodations, transportation, and of course food—about 190,000 portions of strawberries and cream are served every year at Wimbledon. All of these add to a much needed boost for the UK, especially at this time of economic recession. Accommodations see a major uptick in these two weeks of the tournament as well. In fact, AirBnB offers incentive for hosts to rent their space out for the next two weeks, especially if they have a room or two to share with each host receiving £1,000 on incentives.

Fun fact: 190,000 portions of strawberries and cream are consumed at Wimbledon each year. One of the many traditions that Wimbledon has continued to uphold since 1877.

However, my Average Joe mind can’t help but wonder: Does this benefit and prestige extend to everyone who partakes at Wimbledon?

Let’s take the 250 ball boys and girls at Wimbledon—these teens are only paid a given fixed stipend of £200. Some get injured (very rare), but I suppose keeping your Ralph Lauren uniforms and being close to these tennis superstars may just be worth it.

But what about the typical “rank-and-file” tennis player, and I mean those that are really, really good but just not good enough to make it to the top 100? These folks often do not make enough as professional tennis players, often needing to take on side jobs to sustain themselves financially. Kiranpal Pannu, who ranks 664, and many others like him take on jobs on the side, sharing accommodations with fellow players and relying on the generosity of family to get by. Take the case of Jamie Loeb, ranked 265, who only made $3,000 even after winning $25,000 at a tournament.

Jamie Loeb looking triumphant after winning a tournament. The economics of it hasn’t really sunk in just yet.

One may ask then, where’s the economics in all of these? Well, economics is the science of incentives, i.e. the decisions that we make for our own benefit. In this case, the prize money is just too tempting, too good an incentive to refuse for these so called rank-and-file pro players, so much so that they often play injured and refuse medical care.

2022 US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz earned $10 million in prize money alone—the monetary incentives are just too tempting.

The role of economics is to create policies to solve problems and to create a more equitable solution, which is what the top 100 players have started to advocate for. Enter the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), established in 2020 by top tennis players to help address the major gap and inequities of the sport. Possible solutions that were floated were a base salary, change in the distribution structure of prize money, licensing agreements as a bloc, and increasing total prize money among others.

Changes are underway and pro tennis players are “rallying” to save the sport that they love in light of these financial challenges. I sure do hope that, as an Average Joe who possesses a not-so average interest in sports, that they figure all this out before we miss out on the next generation of Federers and Williamses so that I, too, can partake in the tradition that is Wimbledon.


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