Should The Grand Slams Spread The Wealth More To The World

By Dan O’Connell

In 1986, Wimbledon established the Grand Slam Development Fund, when they donated 100,000 pounds to the International Tennis Federation.  In 2012, Grand Slam nations provided the Grand Slam Development Fund $400,000 each, or $1.6 million.  Since 1986, Grand Slam nations have donated $40 million, with a main purpose to allow the ITF to employ ten full-time development officers to assist over 180 nations in a variety of programs.  It was my honour to serve as the Fiji based ITF Pacific Oceania Development Officer from 1991-2011.  The Grand Slam Development Fund is an outstanding success story that might be expanded; especially in the much needed area of increasing the number of players who make a living playing professional tennis.

The Grand Slam nations are the envy of all tennis nations, as they earn an enormous annual profit.  The United States, England, France and Australia are the lucky hosts of the Grand Slams and they do an exceptional job of hosting their prestigious event.  According to the New York Times, in 2010, the United States Tennis Association revenue was $243 million with an estimated 80-85% coming from the US Open.  It has been reported the US Open produces the largest economic impact than any annual international sporting event in the world.  It is estimated the four Grand Slam nations share a total of $300 million in profits.  99% of the profits are used to improve their domestic programs.

Is too much of the Grand Slam profits going to these four nations?  The $1.6 million Grand Slam donation to the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund is less than 1% of the profit.  Is this fair to world tennis?   If we are a society built around moral capitalism, could each Grand Slam nation donate $5 million of their profit to the Grand Slam Development Fund?   With this extra support the Grand Slam Development Fund might place $20 million into prize money, to support a new lower level professional circuit.  Or, a different option might be for the ITF to double the number of their Future Events and ITF Women Circuit Events, increase prize money from $10,000 – $15,000 to $30,000 and allow first round winners to earn some prize money.  With $20 million of additional prize money for worldwide tennis, 400 more professional players might average $50,000 a year in income.

Questioning the wealth of the Grand Slam nations will grow stronger.  Recently, professional players complained about the distribution of the Grand Slam funds.  Player pressure quickly resulted in the Grand Slam nations understanding they needed to share more of their pot of gold.  US Open prize money will increase to $50 million in 2017, while in 2008 the US Open prize money was $20 million.  The current US Open TV rights collect $40 million a year, but in 2015, the new ESPN TV deal provides the US Open over $70 million.  The new TV deal will cover the differenced for the player prize money increase.  Attendance might continue to rise as will the cost of tickets to attend the US Open.

If 100 PGA golf professionals earn $1 million, should tennis have more than 25 players earning $1 million?  If NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL professional athletes share the same ratio of player revenue to total revenue, in the 43% to 50% range, why do the Grand Slams provide tennis professionals 20% of prize money?  Public opinion understands tennis players deserve a larger slice of the financial pie.  Some question “how much” best players earn, but everyone agrees; a way must be found to allow more players to earn a larger piece of the financial pie.

Could the next financial struggle within worldwide tennis see mature nations pressure the Grand Slam nations to share their profits, with new worthy programs administered by the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund?  If the ITF Board of Directors cannot find a way to spread the wealth of Grand Slams, could nations begin to question traditional ways of the past?

Many nations have infrastructure required to host a Grand Slam event.  Should the Grand Slam venues rotate, allowing different nations to host?  Of course the Grand Slam nations should not rotate; however, now grown into huge international successful events, can the Grand Slam nations share more of their wealth to help world tennis in a meaningful manner?

The problem is the Grand Slam nations will not want to share their profits, as it will reduce their domestic program.  What is best for the future of the game?  Should we spread the wealth to allow many other mature nations to create new professional events?  Instead of four nations spending $300 million on their domestic programs, can the Grand Slam nations help the world and spend only $280 million? A $20 million donation will grow the number of players playing professional tennis.

Since I was a Peace Corps tennis coach in the 1970s, my passion is tennis in the developing world.  I want to believe better days are ahead, but that will only happen if the Grand Slam nations share more of their profits.  The question tennis nations need to ask is: why does the ITF Board of Directors allow the Grand Slam nations to continue to provide less than 1% of their profits for worldwide tennis development, when you consider larger profits these nations have earned in recent years?

If we are to redistribute tennis wealth, the first concern is to support professional players.  Instead of only 200 professional players earning a respectful income, can we find a way for 400 players to earn a meaningful income?  $20 million will go a long way to reach this goal.  The second concern is to provide the developing world more money to grow the game.  Tennis in the developing world would benefit so much if our leaders, the Grand Slam nations, provided $1 million each, instead of only $400,000.  If worldwide funds can filter down to the developing world for tennis as they do for soccer, tennis will continue to be a meaningful game for all nations in our world.

Times have changed and the estimated profits of $300 million gained by the Grand Slams are far greater today than 20 years ago.  They share a huge profit, year after year, after year.  Is the $1.6 million provided by the Grand Slams to the Grand Slam Development Fund a fair amount?  For the good of the worldwide game, should the ITF consider introducing a 5% – 10% Grand Slam hosting fee, to be used to develop world tennis?  Let’s have fair play in sports – worldwide!

These are my personal views based on an international tennis career that began with the United States Peace Corps and led to three decades based in Africa and Oceania, working a bit with the former United States Sports America Program and an outstanding career with the International Tennis Federation. 

Roland Garros

Roland Garros