Orville Higgins: Should women bow to men?
The issue of equal pay for women players is now the hottest topic in tennis circles. It started with the chief executive of Indian Wells, Raymond Moore, saying the Women's Tennis Association was a "lucky organisation" that "rides on the coat-tails" of the men.
Moore went on to say: "If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have."
He later apologised for those comments, saying they were in "poor taste and erroneous". He was right. The going-down-on-the-knees analogy was insensitive.
To add fuel to the fire, the sport's best player at the moment, Novak Djokovic, said a few days later: "... I think that our men's tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men's tennis matches. I think that's one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more."
Djokovic seems to be spot on here, assuming, of course, that the stats are showing that the men's game does attract more paying spectators. He went on: "As long as it's like that and there are data and stats available upon who attracts more attention, spectators, who sells more tickets, and stuff like that, in relation to that, it has to be fairly distributed."
The use of the term "fairly distributed" could be seen to be confusing and a little paradoxical here. But what Djokovic is saying is that the money must be distributed fairly based on which gender generates more. Again, I don't see how anyone can argue against that.
Serena Williams, however, was not amused. Quite truthfully, nobody expected her to be. In a no-holds-barred response, Serena said, "Those remarks are very much mistaken and very inaccurate. Last year, the women's final at the US open sold out before the men's. I'm sorry, did Roger play in the final, or Rafa, or any man play in a final that was sold out before the women's final? I think not.
"There's only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man. As women, we have come a long way. We shouldn't have to drop to our knees at any point." Serena's statement could be interpreted in other ways that have nothing to do with playing tennis, but I digress.
How should we view all this. Serena's example that the US open final sold out before the men's final seems to me to be one arbitrary example. I don't know what the data are, but from a layman's position, I feel that there is greater spectator interest and, therefore, greater ticket sales in the men's version, generally, than in women's tennis.
Federer against Nadal, or any of those two against Djokovic, seems to have been a bigger draw over the last decade than the clash with any two women. It shouldn't be hard to get the figures, and if it is proved that the men do put more bums on seats, this should, effectively, be the end of the argument.
Generally speaking, men's sport attracts more spectators than female sport. It's just a fact of life. That's true in football and cricket and track and field and basketball. Tennis might be slightly different, as Serena herself has pointed out, as there are times when the interest on the female side is just as high. Even in tennis, though, I believe the trend holds that men get more people through the turnstiles.
One of the things that have been pointed out is that men play best-of-five sets at these Grand Slam tournaments, while women play best of three. The male players, then, are actually likely to put in more work physically. The female tennis players who insist on being equally paid have apparently not taken that into consideration.
Somebody conducted a study and revealed that Djokovic and Williiams both won three Grand Slams last year. Novak's total prize money was £6.5 million, while Serena's was £5.46 million. The interesting thing is that he played a total of more than 4,000 minutes, while she played 2,412 minutes. When the breakdown was made, Serena was earning £2,262 per minute, while Novak was earning £1,623 per minute.
So in real terms, Serena Williams does earn more than the top male player for actual minutes played. She needs to take that into consideration.
Whose side are you on? In the little tit-for-tat between the best male and female tennis players around, for me its advantage Djokovic!
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to email@example.com