Why there is Only One Truly Successful
Professional Women's Sport
For the first time in history, this year's Wimbledon Championships will award equal monetary prizes to the winners of the Men's and Women's tournaments. This may seem like it was an easy decision for the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. However, keep in mind that professional women tennis players have received inferior awards to men players at Wimbledon since the very first championship matches were held in 1884. The women's champion that year received a flower basket made of silver that was worth 20 guineas, while the men's champion was awarded a gold prize worth 30 guineas.
This decision by Wimbledon not only brings the famous tournament in line with the other Grand Slam tennis tournaments, but also is one more indication that tennis is the only professional women's sport that has become as successful as its male counterpart.
What about Recognizable Faces?
With all the attention a few select female sports figures have received in the past couple years, you may beg to differ. Oh sure, Danica Patrick has been on a recent cover of Time Magazine, and Laila Ali is following her famous father's footsteps into the professional boxing ring. But, how many women athletes, professional and amateur, choose to make their living climbing into million dollar race cars or punching other women in the face.
Not So Equal Pay
Moving beyond the notoriety factor, you may counter that a lot of professional women golfers earn hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars each year. Which is a true statement, given that the total prize money being awarded in 2007 on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour (LPGA) is more than $54 million, and the current leading female golfer, Lorena Ochoa, earned just over $2.5 million in 2006.
However, the total prize money for the Men's Professional Golf Tour (PGA) is well over $300 million, and the top male golfer, Tiger Woods, earned just about $10 million in 2006 tournament winnings. So, even in this popular sport that features well known tournaments and recognizable players, there exists a huge disparity in potential prize money and annual earnings between the sexes.
More Media Exposure
This leads back to the argument that tennis is the only truly successful professional women's sport. In addition to equal awards for both men and women, the sport receives equal media coverage for both sexes. This may have to do with the fact that tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time. Even so, no professional women's sport other than tennis, including basketball and golf, receives national and international media coverage equal to their male counterpart. In addition, there are just as many advertising dollars going towards the sponsorship of women's tennis matches as there are for men's matches.
This brings-up another point. Women tennis players are currently much more sought after by Madison Avenue than male tennis players. This wasn't always the case. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Andre Agassi were advertising spokesmen for multitudes of products back in their prime. However, Maria Sharapova earned more than $19 million in salary and endorsements in 2006; while the no current leading male tennis professional even approached the endorsements earned last year by Serena Williams ($10 million) or Venus Williams ($7 million).
In addition, the July 2, 2007 issue of Forbes magazine reports that Roger Federer, who has won three Grand Slam tournament titles for the second time in three years, has earned a total of $29 million this year. This is slightly more than the $23 million that Maria Sharapova has earned, and she has only won two Grand Slams.
Give Me the Reason
So, why has professional women's tennis been able to achieve a level of national and international success that other female sports have not? One reason is the fact that there is almost equal participation by males and females across the country. Of the current 11 million regular tennis players in the United States, 6 million are male and 5 million are female. This means that the audience for professional tennis in the United States is fairly close to split down the middle.
There are, however, two other (not so obvious) reasons to consider. The first is that tennis is accessible. Unlike golf courses, tennis courts can be found at most high schools, public parks, health clubs, and recreation centers. Young women can easily participate in recreational tennis matches, and thus pick-up an appreciation for the sport very early in life. Ask yourself, how many girls have access to golf courses, boxing rings, or race cars.
Most Important Factor
Professional women's tennis rivals professional men's tennis in terms of tournament awards, annual earnings, media exposure, and endorsement opportunities. The most important reason for this is the fact that female tennis players are just like you and me. You can argue that professional women's basketball has a lot of the speed and excitement of professional women's tennis. However, most of the top WNBA players are exceptionally tall women. Size matters in women's sports such as basketball and volleyball.
Tennis can be mastered by women through commitment, effort, and talent. It's not a sport where by the tallest, biggest, or strongest athlete has inherent advantages. We enjoy sports that reward merit. We also enjoy watching individuals just like us excel in very exciting competition. This is why tennis has become the one truly successful female sport in the 21st Century.