People often come up and tell me how much money I make in a year, which is funny because I don’t think it’s something I’ve ever said to someone. They’re rarely accurate, but it happens so often that I think it’s worth explaining exactly how pro tennis players make money (to be followed by a much different, sadder post called: Expenses). My hope here is that pulling back the curtain a bit on my revenue streams will help explain some of the dynamics of the tennis industry, and maybe pro athletes in general, both with regards to how players earn but also in terms of where brands see value and choose to invest.
The obvious one is prize money. I earned approximately $4 million in prize money in 2018. I won the Miami Open, I made the semifinals of Wimbledon; this was the best year of my career and I finished #10 in the world. Clearly, this was a great prize money year. The only catch is that at the beginning of each season you’re guaranteed none of it. There isn’t a salary in tennis. There’s no base + commission structure. No year-end bonus (though, more on that below). I know a lot of my friend’s jobs would have a different feel if they had to battle colleagues every day to see who earns an income. Additionally, my 2018 was a Top 10 year, but on the ATP Tour when you drop down into the Top 50, Top 100, the economics of prize money become very different.
The second revenue stream we have is sponsorships. Tennis sponsorships differ from, say, a basketball sponsorship in that each player is a franchise that can be branded on his or her own. For me, sponsorships encompass everything from Fila, which I work with on apparel and footwear, to Ebix and Tamko, with whom I have patch deals. I’ve played with Prince racquets my entire career. The way I view it, sponsors work with me so they can be a part of the important moments in my career. They invest in (and, I want to be clear, they also support) the promise that I’ll reach the big rounds of tournaments, get to the primetime matches on center court, and earn the TV and media exposure to give them a strong ROI on their investment. They put a marketing valuation on some combination of my game, my personality, my appeal, my audience reach, and they invest in me to provide value to them. There’s risk, of course. If I bow out early at a major suddenly their logo doesn’t get shown to millions of people around the world, but then when I play the longest match in the history of tennis their logo lives on forever in a museum. I think it works out.
Sponsorship deals come with incentives and reductions, as well. If I fall out of the Top 20 I might trigger a reduction in the base sponsorship compensation, though in that same contract I’ll also have bonus incentive for reaching the finals of a Grand Slam (which would be valued differently than the bonus for reaching the finals of an ATP 1000 event, or an ATP 500, etc.). The markets and audience appeal is important, and for American players these deals often put a higher incentive on US-based events.
The way I see it, the prize money is a reflection of my on-court performance, but the sponsorships are something more personal, connected more to people and fans, and to my values. A tournament pays me to show up because the fans want to see me and I move the needle at the box office? That’s amazing. It’s good for tennis, good for me and good for the event. If a sponsor wants to pay to put their company name on my shirt because they think I’m a strong ambassador for their brand? Heck yes. It’s an honor, you know?
What I try to remember is that once I retire in 2035 (just kidding), my revenue streams will change. Prize money disappears. My sponsorships and appearance fees suddenly have a different look. The revenue I generate today needs to be robust, and considering the risk involved with a tennis player’s income, it also needs to be diverse.
Plus, did I mention expenses?