The foot soldiers got a boost Tuesday when the All England Club announced an overall prize money increase of 10 percent for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.
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Instead of the champions getting another boost to their overloaded coffers, it was qualifiers and first-, second- and third-round losers who will benefit most. Players losing in any round of qualifying will receive a 21 percent increase while first-round main draw losers will gain a rise of 26 percent. In contrast the men’s and women’s champions will see prize money rise just 4.5 percent from $1,716,000 to $1,794,000 (or 1.1 million pounds to 1.15 million).
There is no need for the tournament’s also-rans to look far to find their benefactors. It was the request from Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to meet with all four Grand Slam chairmen that sent AEC boss Philip Brook and his colleagues scurrying out to Indian Wells in March to meet with the game’s top four superstars.
No doubt talk of strikes from some more militant members of the ATP had helped concentrate the minds of the four Slams, but the outcome has certainly shown the benefit of properly constructed dialogue.
The French Open recently announced prize-money increases along similar lines, and now it remains to be seen what the US Open and Australian Open will do. It will be a surprise if they do not follow suit. Whether the players will be satisfied with these increases — which still leaves them taking far less from their major events than MLB or NBA players, for instance — is unclear.
However, communication has been established and Brook was obviously impressed by the players’ outreach. "It is unusual in any professional sport to have the top stars becoming so personally involved," he said, confirming that the meeting at Indian Wells had been conducted with just the players and ATP CEO Brad Drewett, with no agents present. "I regard them as high-quality people with great integrity working, not just for themselves, but particularly for the lower-ranked players. They seemed to be genuinely concerned about doing what they felt was right for their sport."
The women players are also in debt to Federer and his colleagues because, with equal prize money across the board, they will be benefiting, too. Brook refused to be drawn when questioned as to whether he felt this was a logical distribution based on public appeal. "We agreed to equal prize money for the women in 2006 and see no reason to change that," he said.
Brook emphasized that, despite the difficult worldwide economy, the Club still expected to show a healthy profit from this year’s Championships, especially as a result of renewed contracts with Rolex and others sponsors and a new US television deal with ESPN — not to mention any additional revenue that will come from staging the Olympics at the end of July. This means that the Lawn Tennis Association, which had its funding cut by Sport England because of falling participation in the sport, should still expect to receive a handout of about $46 million from the tournament profits, as it does every year.
When one adds the total prize money pot of $25,116,000 plus the considerable running costs, it can be seen that the All England Club — a private club with just 350 members — run one of the most profitable two-week businesses in the world.
And when the first-round loser in the men’s or women’s draw takes home $22,620 plus a per diem of $312, they might look a little less enviously at their more talented colleagues battling on into the second week.