First appeared in BOXSCORE
By Aron Solomon
This week in Montreal is an international Tennis Federation (ITF) men’s 25K ($25,000 total prize money) tournament (M25). At the same time, in other parts of the world, there are two other 25K tournaments and a couple of 15K tournaments.
In the big leagues, Indian Wells, the unofficial 5th Grand Slam, kicks off on Wednesday.
The winner of the men’s ATP Tour singles draw at Indian Wells will walk away with $1,262,220 (parenthetically this is one of the far too few tournaments that offer the same prize money for men and women).
Here in Montreal, the winner will take home $3,600 (not a typo).
The draw has no scrubs. Several of the excellent players in the main draw are ranked in the world’s top 600:
According to the ATP, there are around 2,500 professional tennis players who compete in ATP Tour events each year. However, and quite obviously, not all of these players earn a living solely from playing tennis.
The earnings of professional tennis players can vary widely depending on their level of success, sponsorship deals, and other sources of income. While the top players earn millions of dollars each year, many players outside of the top 100 rankings struggle to make a living from tennis alone and may need to supplement their income with other jobs or coaching.
The earnings of a professional tennis player ranked between 500 and 1,000 in the world can vary widely depending on their success in tournaments, sponsorship deals, and other sources of income. Generally, players in this ranking range may struggle to make a living solely from playing tennis and may need to supplement their income through other means.
According to a 2019 report by the ITF, the average earnings of male players ranked between 501 and 1,000 was around $25,000 USD per year. Female players in the same ranking range earned an average of around $17,000 USD per year.
This tweet from a Sports Illustrated tennis writer, ironically from Monday, the first day of the Montreal as well as Indian Wells (officially the BNP Paribas Open, to which no one aside from the sponsor refers to it) qualifying matches, places everything in context:
Just as a simple point of comparison, in the National Football League, there are approximately 1,700 players. The average NFL salary is $2,700,000.
It’s important to note that these tennis figures are just averages and that the earnings of individual players can vary widely. Some players may earn more through sponsorships or prize money, while others may earn less. Additionally, players must pay for their own travel, training, and other expenses, which can impact their overall earnings.
Where things get interesting for these players is when their ranking catches the eye of sponsors. That’s one of the first tangible milestones to indicate that they are at least on the road to making it.
Attorney Rich DiTomaso, observes that:
“Endorsement contracts are based on the brand being seen because of the athlete’s profile and success. Those who toil in the minor leagues of tennis are chasing their dream, but it takes a while until corporate sponsors begin to chase them.”
For the top players in Montreal this week, they are at least knocking on that door with potential life-changing endorsements within reach.
Moving from 338 into the top 150 is do-able for someone who gets on a nice run at the ITF level. Especially for players who might only have a world ranking of 200-300 but might be the best tennis player in their country, they would be interesting for local and national sponsors.
In Montreal this week, for example, the 13th seed, Osgar O’Hoisin, is the number two player in Ireland. While his world ranking is 762, in Ireland he would be a very well-known tennis player. This is something brands look for.
As far as the actual level of tennis at an M25 event, it’s super high but not without its pain points.
In the first round of qualifiers I watched a talented 16-year-old take on a college tennis graduate nine years his senior. It didn’t go well but was a good learning moment for where he needs to eventually be.
Of course things don’t always work out in tennis or any other sport, even when you’re really talented. Here’s a look at the ranking history of one players, in their mid-20s, who won his first-round qualifying match:
Moving from a career high of just under 1,000 to a place where tennis can make you a reasonable living is a very long journey. Chasing the dream is something athletes of all sports have in common. The tennis chase is one of the most arduous in all of sport. Watching it happen at the grassroots professional level is always eye-opening.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.