“Equal pay is as much a myth as it is a minefield” – Why is equal pay in Tennis such an issue in our modern day society?

By Callum F.

Equal pay in general has been an issue for years, and it will most likely still be an ongoing debate for many more due to the current political environment. However, equal pay in sport is also a big issue that is being pushed more and more to the fore, with tennis being the ‘leading light’ in this situation.

For years, influential female tennis players such as Billy Jean King, Chris Evert and Serena Williams have made claims that women are entitled to just as much prize money as the men are, as they are playing the same sport, and doing exactly the same thing, and in the four Grand Slams at least, at the same tournament time. Therefore, equal pay surely makes perfect sense. Serena Williams is just as capable as Roger Federer at hitting a ball over a net, so why is it such an issue? 

The main problems preventing equal pay are revenue, media exposure and the inter-relationship between them and the limitations surrounding them. Godoy-Pressland and Griggs (2014) argue that; ‘The relative exclusion of women’s sport in the media serves to frame women’s sport as less important than men’s’. Media exposure and the perception that creates drives popularity which drives revenue and thus this relative exclusion then results in women’s sport’s inability to earn equal revenue, both from tickets – numbers and prices – and from sponsorships, as men’s sport and therefore pay equal amounts to the competitors. If the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) paid equal prize money as the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) across 12 months, they would be bankrupt within a couple of years, simply due to the relative lack of revenue that the WTA brings in from advertising, sponsorship and the media compared to the ATP. As well as the higher profile that the men’s game has traditionally enjoyed over the women’s, there is also a much higher level of competition at the top of the  men’s game, contesting titles and the top ranking places, than in the women’s. This also drives the level of income generated.  Sport has become more of a business than ever before, so the income/expenditure ratio is key and currently, the men’s game is far more valuable than the women’s, so higher levels of expenditure are possible meaning ultimately that the men get paid more. 

While this argument has been going since the 1960’s, it has become one of the biggest topics in tennis, even more so in the past couple of years. Raymond Moore, (former CEO of the tournament Indian Wells) was the man to instigate this recent debate, when he was quoted as saying ‘If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport.’ and how ‘the women ride off the coattails of men’ . While both remarks were wildly inappropriate and resulted in Moore’s immediate resignation, it sparked a large debate amongst the players themselves, something which hadn’t been seen since the 60’s. 

The majority of the top male players were all in agreement that the women should receive equal pay, simply because they do the same job. Sir Andy Murray was one of these, openly stating that he was a feminist and fully supported equal pay. However, his long term rival Novak Djokovic voiced that women shouldn’t be paid as much due to the revenue income. This in itself sparked another debate, why does the male’s opinion on this matter so much? Surely the women’s arguments should be heard more, as they are in fact women! 

Sherry (2015) writes that ‘Women’s sport continues to be viewed through the prism of male hegemony in various ways’. The fact that it is taking the men’s opinion on the tour to start making a difference supports Sherry strongly. Why does it still take a male opinion to cause a debate, especially in the ‘modernised society’ that we live in. It points towards a case that the male opinion in sport, and seemingly business is still more important than the women’s, but perversely it may be that very opinion that will finally get women equal pay in tennis.

To conclude, equal pay in tennis has to become a reality sooner rather than later, as there is no strong argument as to why it should not happen. Both bring in the spectators, and both bring in millions of dollars in revenue, so why shouldn’t it be shared equally? While it is realistic in theory, the reality of the situation is that equal pay will not happen unless the ‘sport’ of Tennis becomes less of a business, focusing on how much money can be made and where, and simply reverts to being a sport to entertain. Until that happens, the argument surrounding equal pay will become even more ridiculous and further out-dated. 

Sherry, E., Osborne, A., & Nicholson, M. (2015). Images of Sports Women: A Review. Sex Roles, 15.

Godoy-Pressland, A., & Griggs, G. (2014). The photographic representation of female athletes in the British print media during the London 2012 Olympic games. Sport in Society, 17, 1–16


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.


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.