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April 11, 2012

Economic Realities of Being an ATP Touring Pro

Outside of the top 4 ranked players, professional tennis is much less financially rewarding than other global sports. That's one reason you see so much turnover below the top 25, it's either up or out. 

StackInterviewtennis12Sergiy Stakhovsky, ranked 72nd in the world, describes the finances of typical ATP touring pros in an interview with Ukrainian website LB.ua, translated by an amatuer blog  Let, Second Serve. Stakhovsky traveled to the U.S. for the back-to-back Masters 1000s at Indian Wells and Miami, won one round, and lost a net $11,00 for his efforts. 

Don't feel too bad for Stakhovsky. He nets something in or near the low six figures a year but, as he notes, at 26 he only has a few more years on the tour, and when he retires from tennis he'll get no residual benefits, no enduring sponsorships or appearance fees that pad the post-retirement of the few, top stars. 

For perspective, the 97th-ranked WTA player, Coco Vandeweghe, lost over $43,000 in 2011 on gross winnings of $157,000-plus.

Stakhovsky as translated by Let, Second Serve:

In a year, I spend 170 thousand Euros on the “game expenses” category. Last year, only the tickets cost me 85 thousand {airfare}. I earned $428 thousand. Take out 30%, on average, for taxes.

Let’s say, I retire at 32 years. Say even that I earn a net of 500 thousand Euros by that time. But I need to live off this money for the rest of my life. And the name “Stakhovsky” won’t work for me in this country, that’s for sure....

 If you travel with a coach – you’ll be in a small “plus”, $20-30 thousand per year. And those are the 100 best people in this sport all over the world. If you take the 100th soccer player, the 100th golfer, any sport that’s on TV – their salaries will be immeasurably greater. Even the 100th soccer player in Ukraine earns more.

The differences in compensation, become a self-fullfilling barrier for lower-ranked playes. The top players have coaches, full-time phyios, even full-time nutritionists. Many of the players below the top 50 can't afford a full-time coach. That's why you see programs, such as that of Addidas, to provide shared resources to touring pros. 

I had a fitness trainer with me. In addition, my management company has a physiotherapist, who travels with several players at the same time.

Tournaments pay out much less of their gross as prizes than major, team sports pay in compensation to players:

... the Grand Slam tournaments, as we know, pay the players an abnormally low percent of their earnings. For instance, the US Open spends 4-6% of their profit on prize money. The ATP tournaments – around 30%. Since 2004, the prizes in the big tournaments rose less than the inflation.

Andy Roddick has said he would like to see a real players' union, unlike the ATP Players' Council, which is merely an advisory board. But, that's a classic case of be wary of what you ask for, you just might get it. If there was a strong, ATP players' union, the majority of members would want more compensation for players below the top ten. 

Despite Stakhovsky's numbers, wouldn't you be tempted to trade places? <g>. 


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