Over the past week, the ATP announced a new initiative, ‘Baseline’, aiming to provide financial security for male players inside the top 250.
The plan will see those who experience declines in form or miss events through injury reimbursed to a monetary benchmark.
It’s a positive step. But ultimately, it will only affect “between 30-45 (male) players” and will do no favours for those deeper in the rungs of professional tennis.
For players outside that top 250 range, funding continues to be a significant challenge, and we are beginning to see more athletes seek innovative – and somewhat extreme – methods to support their careers.
Over the past twelve months, an emerging trend has seen many players create ‘GoFundMe’ campaigns – asking for charitable donations online to help cover their tennis expenses.
The platform which commonly helps raise funds for victims of health and social issues has overtaken the role of tennis federations in becoming a revenue stream for professional players.
Andre Illagan – a 22-year-old University of Hawaii graduate with an ATP ranking of 739 – created a personal ‘GoFundMe’ page three weeks ago and has since received over $21,000 USD from 61 donors.
Andre detailed his expected annual costs for the 2024 season to be between $45,750-$75,000 (USD), broken down by accommodation, airfares, transport, food, and equipment – a figure which will very likely exceed his yearly prize money on tour.
In addition, 23-year-old Aussie Destanee Aiava took to the ‘Australian Tennis Community’ Facebook page earlier this month seeking “any sponsors looking to help out a broke tennis player”, further adding that she “will be stopping by next year if [she] can’t get the funds”.
It is profound that Aiava, who currently sits inside the WTA singles top 250 is struggling financially and may be forced to pass up her dream as a result.
And if Destanee (at #250) is contemplating retirement, spare a thought for the professional men and women ranked in the 1000 places below her.
The ATP, WTA, and ITF have a collective responsibility to improve financial support for players and enable more to earn a living from the sport.
Comparative to codes such as the NBA, where 490 players earn $1 million USD or even the AFL, with an average player salary of $406,000 AUD across 650 players, tennis – with a global audience can do significantly better.
It begins with stronger marketing of lower-level events to establish profiles and personalities for more players, allowing for not only revenue increases, but brand deals and sponsorships.
And while small progressions continue to be made at the top, I would love to see an innovative player investment model that allows fans to help fund careers with the incentive of a return in the long run.
Golf has built a successful model in this space, allowing fans to buy-in to talent with the hope of earning a payout down the track, benefiting both players and potential investors.
While tennis is yet to embrace the concept, 20-year-old Felix Mischker – a youtuber from Great Britain utilised ‘Fantium’ – a player investment platform – and raised over $50,000 earlier this year to fund his tennis journey.
Ultimately, regardless of whether fan investment and donations can develop into viable funding alternatives, tennis needs major change from the ATP, WTA, and ITF to support a wider range of players.