Friday, October 12, 2012

Grand Slams and Equal Pay

by Savannah


There are bloggers whose thoughts I read and have forgotten as soon as I've finished. Most of the stuff they write is what the tours and top agencies want them to write. You know the ish. "Great new player" who in six weeks everyone is asking "whatever happened to player x"?

But there is a topic that won't go away and that is the equal pay for the WTA issue.

I wrote a few weeks ago that I thought Gilles Simon had a valid point - that the ATP was doing all of the heavy lifting while the women sat back and reaped the benefits of their work.

I'm a minor player in the tennis blogging business and a known crank so I didn't get too much flak for my views. One of the original tennis bloggers has come out with the same perspective I did, and all hell has broken loose.

What did this guy say that has WTA fans and apologists apoplectic? I'll quote from his column. The link will be at the end of this post. tennis, the men of the ATP have stepped up in a big way for their female peers in the WTA. That’s one of the more interesting if less obvious takeaways from the recent announcement by Tennis Australia that prize money for the 2013 Australian Open will be increased by $4.15 million to $31.1 million.

Under the equal prize money agreement, that means two million and change for the players from each organization.

The curious thing is that the WTA has been almost invisible in this entire process, from the time the ATP decided to make a concerted push to secure a greater slice of Grand Slam tournament revenues right through the obligatory post-bump comments and press releases.

Could the WTA really have been as unengaged in the process as it appears? It seems so. (A WTA source is refuting a Tweet from ATP player Sergiy Stahovsky that the WTA recommended its players not to support the ATP.) And that inevitably suggests that equal prize money is essentially an entitlement. Why should the WTA have to negotiate or lobby or threaten job actions when they can let the ATP do all that and then simply rake in the benefits because paying equal prize money is the “right” thing to do?

This brings us right to the heart of the “equal prize-money” issue. The reason this topic has been controversial is because you can look at it through different lenses that give different views. One lens might be called the “social justice” lens, through which the details are viewed in terms of an ongoing struggle for gender equality.


Let’s call the other lens the “competitive market” lens (you could also designate these “idealist” and “realist” lenses). Viewed through this lens, the picture isn’t quite so sharp, and the history of the recent Australian bump illustrates it.


The Australian bump was the result of a dialogue that began at Indian Wells, when ATP executive chairman and president Brad Drewett invited representatives from each of the four majors to a meeting with the top four ATP players to discuss future compensation. By then, as we all knew, the ATP natives were restless and some were even tossing around the “b” word (boycott).

The WTA was not a party to that meeting, nor to any of the further discussions the ATP had with Grand Slam representatives. Stacey Allaster was too busy this week to give me a few minutes on the phone, but agreed to give me a statement about the Australian bump.

I specifically requested that she address the degree to which the women felt militant about the prize-money levels at the Australian Open, what they did about it, and the degree to which they engaged with the ATP on the subject. But this was the only reply I received:

“We continue to work with our partners to ensure prize money across all events on the calendar—both WTA and Grand Slams—increases at a level to fairly compensate our players for what they bring to the sport. We applaud Tennis Australia’s commitment to equal prize money and vision to continually raise the bar for the athletes and fans of the game. We continue working with each Slam, maintaining a consistent dialogue and updating the players accordingly.”

But the reality is that while equal prize money has long been the goal of the WTA, and understandably so, there was no indication whatsoever that the women players were, like the men, disgruntled (other than the informal public relations campaign to press for equal pay), and prepared to do something about it.

And there certainly was/is no united ATP/WTA front for negotiations, no joint committee. In the aftermath of the Australian bump, a number of players, including Roger Federer, were quoted expressing their satisfaction with the deal and declaring their ongoing determination to continue down the negotiating path. The only player who publicly said anything about the increased compensation from the women was Maria Sharapova (and that came in a canned quote, via the WTA):

“The Australian Open has always taken great care of both players and fans, and been dedicated to making the event a fantastic experience for everyone. Today’s announcement is another example of Tennis Australia’s vision to lead and look after the players. I greatly appreciate this very significant investment in us as athletes and their continued commitment to equality. I can’t wait to be in Melbourne to play the Australian Open this coming year.”

That’s a pleasant, gracious comment. But contrast it with the words of the guy who did the hard bargaining, Drewett:

The ATP has had encouraging and positive discussions with Tennis Australia regarding the long term plans for player compensation at the Australian Open. Tennis Australia deserves credit for the way they have recognized the significant input the players have in the success of the tournament.

I’m delighted the players have given their full support to the ATP leadership during this process with the Australian Open, as well as backing our decision to pursue this issue through constructive dialogue. I am confident that the ATP and our players will remain committed to the ongoing discussions with the other Grand Slam tournaments."


The ATP got its message across at Indian Wells—and not least because the top four men, setting naked self-interest aside, agreed that their priority was raising prize-money across the board, not just for the top performers (and that’s an enormous break with the traditional lack of solidarity between the top players and journeymen).


The question that’s going to simmer among the ATP men, even if most of them know better than to go all Gilles Simon and talk about it, will be: “Why should we negotiate for the WTA, and immediately give up half of what we can bargain for?”

That’s a relevant question for a very practical reason: Tennis has separate male and female player organizations and it doesn’t seem likely that they will be merged any time soon.

Being against the WTA's bargaining position on this matter doesn't mean that you're anti gender equal pay or women's tennis. If you've worked for a living you understand clearly what's at stake here. Say a widget plant's workers decide to strike for better pay and working conditions. Some of the workers decide not to honor the strike and cross the picket line for personal reasons. The plant, realizing that it can't work with just management and a few of its workers comes to it's senses and grants most if not all of the workers demands. Is it fair for the workers who didn't strike to reap the benefits gotten by the sacrifice of those who did? I don't blame the ATP players for being upset. And it's blatantly dishonest for the WTA to act as if anyone attacking their passive stance is against gender equality and pay.

I'm glad that this blogger has come down on my side of the argument. I've been arguing against a lot of the positions the WTA takes, or hasn't taken, for as long as I've been writing this blog. I've criticized their lack of marketing, their apparent business plan, their inability to capitalize on their TOUR and not just specific players. Their inability to do adequate marketing of their tour results in the sad visual of friends and family sometimes being the only people watching a match that should be drawing a huge crowd.

For the complete blog post please go HERE.

No comments: