Total prize money distributed in the male professional tennis industry has for the first time broken through the $3 billion barrier this year, reveals an analysis by Consultancy.uk. Earnings are not surprisingly skewed heavily in favour of the best players – more than 90% of the total has been racked in by the globe’s top 1,000 players, with the top 100 elite tennis masters taking home nearly half of the total prize money. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are by a large distance the richest tennis professionals in modern history.
Over the past decades the game of tennis has professionalised into one of the most advanced, popular and commercial sports of the world. Several studies over the years reveal that tennis nowadays is the number #3 sport globally in terms of fan base and popularity (an estimated ~1 billion fans), trailing just football and field hockey, although pundits highlight that tennis can probably call itself the world's most universal sport – the game is found in the top 7 sports across all continents.
With the rise of the commercial influence in tennis – a trend visible across the full professional sporting arena – prize money has seen an explosion since the launch of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in 1972 and the establishment of the ATP Tour in 1990*. For example: in 2000 Wimbledon’s total distributable prize money stood at just over £8 million, while in comparison, the players of this year’s edition enjoyed £26.75 million amongst themselves, with across the board – from Grand Slams to Master tournaments (Tour Masters 1000), to the regular tournaments (Tour 500 and Tour 250) and even the Challengers – similar developments visible.
Up to the start of this tennis season, which was concluded by the ATP World Tour Finals in London and the Davis Cup final, the ATP had distributed roughly $2.88 billion in prize money. In 2015 an additional $151 million was paid to the more than 5,000 active professional tennis players, lifting the overall total to just over $3 billion.
As is the case in any highly commercialised sport landscape, the distribution of income is skewed highly in favour of the most successful players. An analysis by Consultancy.uk, based on player data, reveals that the 100 best earning male tennis professionals in modern history have racked in 22% of the total, with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal by a large distance leading the pack.
To date Federer, the man with the most Grand Slam finals (27) and Grand Slam titles on his name (17), leads the rich list with a total prize money income of $97.3 million, although his main on court rival, the Serbian Novak Djokovic, on the back of an impressive 2015 now trails the Swiss artist by just $3 million. The top 5 is completed by Roland Garros king Rafael Nadal, 14 times Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras and Britain's hero Andy Murray. Other big earners in the top 10 are Andre Agassi, Spaniard David Ferrer, Djokovic’s current coach Boris Becker, Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Czech Republic star Tomas Berdych, who ended this year #6 on the ATP Singles Ranking.
The top 20 of the best earning male tennis professionals includes several other big names, such as Ivan Lendl, Sweden’s Stefan Edberg, ace giant Goran Ivanisevic, Michael Chang and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the highest ranked Frenchman on the list. Jimmy Connors, the man with the most titles behind his name, 109 (Connors retired in 1996 at the age of 43), ranks 65th, with $8.6 million in prize fees, illustrating the financial boom that tennis has received over the past two decades. 11 of the top 20 players are still active, with Ivan Lendl the only of those that has earned his prize money in the 80’s and early 90’s John McEnroe, the number 4 on the list in terms of titles (77), and Björn Borg, the number 7 (63), scooped $12.5 million and $3.7 million respectively.
Nearly half of the $3 billion total has been shared among the top 500 players, with number 500 on the list, South African doubles specialist Jeff Coetzee, taking home a total of nearly $1.2 million in career prize money so far. The top 1,000 players account for a staggering 93% of the share, leaving $74 million behind for the approximately remaining 22,000 players that according to the ATP have lifted a racket in modern day professional tennis.
Sponsor and advertising income
The prize money is however not the only income for professional tennis players. Data shows that, at least for the top players, sponsor and advertising income easily outserves prize money income. According to Forbes, besides the $9 million earned from tournament money, in 2015 Roger Federer racked in $58 million in other income, making him the world’s fifth best earning sports athlete, after boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, and footballers Chritiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Novak Djokovic, the current number ATP #1, ranks #13 on the list.
* In 2009 the ATP Tour was rebranded as the ATP World Tour.