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  • Alistair Tait

Still Confused About Tennis

Yesterday’s blog on why tennis gets so much coverage as opposed to golf elicited numerous responses, many of them well-thought out. However, I’m still no clearer as to why Emma Raducana can now expect earnings beyond the ken of most ordinary folk when a woman golfer who had pulled off the same feat wouldn’t even come close to such riches.

Especially when you consider golf is far more popular as a participation sport in Great Britain than tennis. The figures don’t lie.

Statista quotes figures from Sports England which estimate approximately 739,900 people played tennis in England in 2020. Those figures account for people playing twice a month. Statista quotes 883,500 for golf.

According to KPMG’s latest Golf Participation Report, there were 868,175 golf club members in Great Britain in 2018. A 2017 annual report from the Lawn Tennis Association put British tennis club membership at 760,762.

If anyone has more recent figures then please send them to me, but I can’t imagine tennis club membership has boomed to the extent there are more Brits playing the racket and ball game than the stick and ball one.

Tennis interest is sure to receive a boost following Raducanu’s historic victory, but will tennis club membership overtake golf membership numbers, especially considering the boost golf received during the pandemic?

Doubtful. So, again, if golf is more popular than tennis, why are experts predicting Raducanu could potentially become the first billionaire British sportswoman when the same wouldn’t be said if a British woman had replicated Raducanu’s achievement on the fairways?

Raducanu earned $2.5 million in prize money for her U.S. Open victory, the same as men’s champion Danill Medvedev. Equal prize money in the tennis majors is now long established. As we know, the same isn’t true of golf.

The R&A stepped closer to prize money equality this year by boosting the AIG Women’s Open purse to $5.8 million, making it the richest tournament in women’s golf. It will grow to $6.8 million next year. The U.S. Women’s Open has a $5.5 million prize fund, the Women’s PGA Championship and Evian Championship $4.5 million, and the ANA Inspiration $3.1 million.

The men’s majors clock in at $11.5 million for the Masters and Open Championship, with $12 million for the PGA Championship and a $12.5 million U.S. Open.

Suffice it to say, our game still has a long way to go to reach parity with tennis. Which begs the obvious question: why can tennis institute equal prize money in the majors and not golf?

Martin Slumbers deserves credit for making getting more women and girls into golf one of the central tenets in his role as R&A chief executive. He recognises a move towards equal prize money is part of that, hence the Women’s Open prize fund increase. In announcing the increase, he said:

“We are taking action to make change happen and sending out a strong signal that more needs to be done by everyone involved to grow women’s golf.
“It needs greater investment and support from golf bodies, sponsors, the media and fans to help us grow the game’s commercial success and generate the income and revenues necessary to make prize fund growth viable and sustainable.”

He’s right, the women’s game does need more investment. Justin and Kate Rose have helped on that front with their generous sponsorship of the Rose Ladies Series. Hopefully the success of that circuit inspires more companies to follow suit.

Sadly, following Raducanu’s win, potential sponsors might be leaning more towards tennis than golf. But the question still remains, why does tennis get so much more attention?

Here’s a question I’ll leave to ponder following the preceding sentence. The Open Championship has not been on free to air television since 2017, when Sky Sports bought the rights for an estimated £75 million. It ended 61 years of years of free to air coverage. Yet there was hardly a murmur of disapproval. Can you imagine the outcry if Wimbledon was taken off the crown jewels list of sporting events that must be shown on terrestrial TV? The protests would be colossal.

Again, what does tennis have that golf doesn’t?

#JustSaying: “I had long thought that the mechanics of the tennis swing had been exhaustively analysed until I took a look at existing golf manuals. I wouldn’t be surprised if more has been written about the mechanics of the golf swing than just about any other human movement.” W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Golf

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