Women’s Pay Inequality in Professional Tennis

By Aiden Hallihan

Across all professional sports, men have generally had the upper hand when it comes to cashing in on their winnings. Unfortunately, there are many sports where women are not even considerably close in terms of net income earnings compared to popular men’s sports. Such sports include: professional basketball, soccer, and hockey (Flake, Dufur, & Moore, 2013). Gender inequality is something that is far from being solved; however, in professional tennis women are narrowing the pay gap.

Growing up as a casual tennis fan, I have seen many Grand Slam titles in both the men’s and women’s division that ended up being thrilling, nail biting matches. From my perspective, I never looked at men’s tennis as being a more exciting game to watch. In fact, at one time men’s tennis was far more predictable, whereas with the women it was always a toss-up between who would win each tournament.

Over the years the prevalence of women’s tennis has skyrocketed. It is now the most popular women’s sport in terms of TV ratings and income (Flake et. al).  Four of the top 5 highest paid female athletes are tennis players (excluding advertisements). It is no coincidence that only three women cracked this year’s Forbes 100 Highest Paid Athletes list, and all three – Maria Sharapova, Li Na, and Serena Williams – are tennis players.

Women and men both have the option to play in 21 tournaments throughout their respective seasons. There are 4 Grand Slam tournaments and men and women receive equal payouts in these popular, nationally televised events (Flake et. al). However, the remaining 17 events see men make a lot more money than women. A popular rationalization used decades ago by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for men earning more was that they “work more” (Flake et. al). To me this is ironic because men play 3 sets in non-Grand Slam tournaments just like women. Only in Grand Slam events do men play 5 sets. Serena Williams once said on the hope of a possible change, “All the women players have agreed to it, but it’s not what [the tournaments] want at this time”.

I personally see no problem with women playing the same amount as men. As we have discussed in class,  why shouldn’t a women play as much as their male counterparts when it involves same sex competition. I think at the youth levels the rules should be the same so when the players grow up it will not seem like they are treated unfair. It would improve the gender equality and it would be a step in the right direction to equal values The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has 8 out of a possible 11 board members who are men which, in my opinion, may influence the decision to oppress women from playing the 5 rounds in Grand Slam events.

In a 2009 study, women earned on average 23.5 % less in net income compared to men’s tennis players on the season. (Flake et. al). For every non-Grand Slam tournament win, results indicated that women earned 23.4% less than their male counterparts. A myth exists that women’s tennis is less viewed than men’s, when in fact, women’s tennis actually attracts around the same amount of viewers. Does women’s tennis attract so many viewers because it involves flexibility, agility, nimbleness, intelligence, and a high pain threshold, which are characteristics of a stereotypical female as discussed in class? Not to take anything away from the sport, but I firmly think that there are men who watch women in short skirts play tennis just so they can see the women and not appreciate the sport; which is a sad reality.  In my opinion I believe this has some impact that influences television networks to use sex to sell women’s tennis.

Unfortunately, not many women’s sports that are overly aggressive or express “masculinity” are televised. As the sport of women’s tennis increases, hopefully tournament payouts will not be an issue in the near future. Professional tennis is the best hope at achieving gender equality in my opinion and one can see that the gap is narrowing.  All one has to do is look at the increasing popularity of rising Canadian tennis stars such as Eugenie Bouchard and America’s  Madison Keys – two young tennis players with the future of tennis rested on their shoulders. Ideally if women receive the same payouts as men in professional tennis it will help promote gender equality across other professional sports.

References:

Flake, C. R., Dufur, M. J., & Moore, E. L. (2013). Advantage men: The sex pay gap in professional tennis. International Review For The Sociology Of Sport, 48(3), 366-376.

http://www.wtatennis.com/board-of-directors

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/magazine/venus-and-serena-against-the-world.html?pagewanted=3&_r=0

http://time.com/3273225/why-womens-tennis-most-popular-womens-sport/

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7 responses

  1. I really enjoyed this Aiden,

    It astonishes me that the rationalization behind men being paid more is because men they “work harder.” As you mentioned, this seems very ironic that men play more sets than women. Another notable example is in relation to body checking in hockey. One could argue that these body checks would be relative; a woman would be able to handle the hit from another woman, just as a man can handle the hit from another man. These rules and regulations set in place reinforce gender inequalities that manifest in the sport world and other domains.

    I also agree with your opinion regarding why female tennis matches may attract the same amount of viewers as male tennis players. I recently watched a clip of a male news reporter interviewing Eugenie Bouchard after a match. He asked the Canadian 20 year-old athlete to “twirl, like a pirouette,” to showcase her outfit to the crowd. He did not mention anything about her success or achievement as an extremely talented athlete. A reporter would never ask a male tennis player to parade their outfit. Naturally, women uphold these ideologies held in place by social and cultural practices. Failing to do so may only contribute to the gap in payouts and media coverage. If the media continues to sexualize female athletes they will never achieve equal treatment.

    -HV

  2. Great Post Aiden,

    You mentioned lots of interesting facts that I was unaware of regarding women’s tennis. I have noticed that tennis is one of the most common women’s sports that I have seen on television; however, I was not aware that they were paid close to the same as men. It makes sense that when media has nearly equal coverage of men and women for a certain sport, that there will be similar interest, leading to higher pay opportunities for women. This is similar to the post by Matthew that mentions women’s curling being televised nearly the same amount as men. In his post, he mentions that the increased media coverage led to a huge increase in interest and the women’s events eventually were attracting more viewers than the men’s curling. This shows that maybe viewers are not only interested in the sexual aspect of women’s sport, since curlers are fully clothed. I think that curling and tennis are great examples of women gaining gender equality in sport, and that media should see that there is demand for other sports and increase coverage on these other women’s sports.

    Chris M

  3. Great Post Aiden,

    You touched on a lot of interesting points regarding women’s tennis. I grew up as a big tennis fan as well, but I had no idea of these facts that you stated in your blog. I was blown away with the statement of men being paid more because they work more. As you mentioned, this is ironic since men play the same amount of sets in a non-grand slam tournament like women do.

    I also agree with the fact that many male sports are seen as more interesting/exciting or more entertaining, however I think that women’s tennis is very entertaining. As you mentioned, men’s tennis at one time was far more predictable, I believe that is the truth. Still today, if I were to watch Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic play against any other player that isn’t ranked within the top 5 of the world, they are more than likely going to win, and usually it’s in 3 straight sets. Where as with women you never really know what you’re going to get while watching tennis, there are still very big upsets that happen, which makes women’s tennis exciting to watch. For example, I am a very big Eugenie Bouchard fan, who is ranked in the top 10 in the world, but when she played Shelby Rogers in the Rogers Cup, Shelby Rogers ranked 80th in the world upset the 8th ranked Bouchard. With that being said, I think that this is a great example for women to gain gender equality in sport, and I think that there should be more coverage on other women’s sports as well.

    Kayla P

  4. Really interesting post Aiden,

    As Hannah mentioned, it is astounding that male athletes are paid significantly more than females due to ‘working harder’ yet there is no substantial evidence of them doing so. Both male and female athletes must train, and take care of their bodies in the same manner for them to reach such a successful level.

    I agree with what you mentioned about women’s tennis becoming more prevalent with the media, and TV coverage. It’s great to see that tennis is narrowing the gap of not only the net income but also media, which gives women the opportunity to show just how exciting the matches can be. Tennis allows viewers to experience eye-catching talent from both genders, as most games of the games are exciting and intense. However, as Kayla mentioned in the above comment, the biggest upsets are known to be in the women’s matches. Not being able to predict the outcome, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats. This could be one of the reasons for the viewing rates being so high in comparison to other sports?

    It is still a shame that in some cases men only care to watch the women’s game because of their outfits, or reporters mention what they wear rather than the performance. Hopefully in the near future sports will continue to take strides to achieve gender equality, and women will not have to sell their body or appearance to purely gain bigger audiences over showing off talent.

    Lucy P.

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