Monday, 21 March 2016

The BBC spins the facts about women's pay in tennis - which should be halved at once

I said, you're rubbish and overpaid
Novak Djokovic followed yesterday's massacre of Milos Raonic in the Indian Wells final with some controversial remarks about the amount of prize money on offer to women players. The facts are simple: in big tournaments, where women's matches are scheduled alongside men's games, women get the same prize money. In smaller, all-women tournaments, the prize money is less than men get at smaller men-only tournaments. The reason for this is simple - thanks to the extraordinary feats of Nadal and Federer, and their compelling long-term rivalry, the men's game attracts big audiences. These two great players are in the twilight of their careers, and, especially with Nadal's startling and possibly permanent loss of form, their rivalry no longer matters. But the game is still benefitting from its aftershock. The women's game has also had two big stars for the past decade - one of them is the highest-paid sportswoman in the world - but they haven't benefitted the distaff side of the sport. Why?

Mainly, I suspect,  because the male tennis fan who fancy Sharapova and the female fans who admire her glamorous film-star looks can't be putting up with all that repellent shrieking, and while she is undoubtedly attractive, her tennis undoubtedly isn't - let's face it, she just isn't that good. And the recent drug scandal won't have helped. As for Serena, well, she seems to have learned to be graceful in defeat recently - and she's evidently a lot more popular with her fellow players than the Russkie beanpole - but that doesn't really offset the years of unattractive behaviour and whining, "poor li'l me" self-absorption or the fact that she's built like a Soviet-era shot-putter. Let's face it, non-Americans find her hard to warm to. None of this might have mattered if the two superstars of the women's game had managed to sustain a decent rivalry, but Williams has beaten Sharapova 18 times in a row, a streak which has now lasted for 12 years. As for the rest of the field, well, how many people actually know what Agnieszka Radwanska looks like, or could tell her apart from, say, Victoria Azarenka?

But onto the BBC's presentation of the facts regarding the fairness or otherwise of women's pay parity with men. I was intrigued by how these three items were misleadingly linked together in their online report:
At the US Open, the men's final drew 3.3 million viewers, compared with 1.6 million for the women's final
However, in the previous two years, the US Open women's final was watched by more viewers than the men's.
Men's finals generally garner more ticket sales than women's finals. However, in 2015, tickets for the US Open women's final sold out before the men's
Why this obsession with US Open finals? It's simple - no other tournament would yield the same results, because the Americans don't have a Top 10 male player: the best they can manage is John Isner, who is currently ranked 13 in the world, and who has about as much chance of winning a grand slam as I do. In the women's draw, they have Serena Williams, their one true tennis star. The reason the women's final was watched by more TV viewers than the men's in 2013 and 2014 was that Serena Williams played in both (and won them). The reason the 2015 women's US Open final sold out ahead of the men's is that Americans wanted to watch their heroine going for a calendar grand slam. The reason the men's final ended up being watched by over twice as many viewers as the women's despite those early ticket sales was that Serena went and got herself knocked out of the tournament in the semi-final, resulting in a final between Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci, two fairly obscure Italians (one of whom won in two sets) - to be honest, I'd rather watch Mrs. Brown's Boys, which I loathe.

So nice try, BBC egalitarians - but it really won't wash. Right now, women should be receiving approximately half the prize money men do, because that would be a fair reflection of their drawing power. If the women's game ever recovers, and tennis fans can be made to care about it as they did when it featured players like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, then their prize money should be bumped up. If the women eventually become a bigger draw than the men, they should get more money than the men.

As for Djokovic, he should be careful. As I said earlier, men's tennis is still basking in the afterglow of the Federer-Nadal duopoly. Those two are still ranked in the Top 10, but Federer is 34 and Nadal seems to be in terminal decline, and his great rivalry with Djokovic would appear to be over - The Serbinator has won 10 of their last eleven matches. With Federer and Nadal seemingly both heading for the exit, men's tennis could find itself facing the same predicament as the women's game. Djokovic is a great champion, but (much to his chagrin) he doesn't garner nearly the same level of partisan support, let alone unadulterated worship, as his two World No. 1 predecessors. He may very well end up being anointed as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) - but will we care that much? As for the rest of the field, the great crowd-pleasers Tsonga and Monfils are both simply too flaky, are injured too regularly, and have flattered to deceive too often for us to believe that either of them will ever win a slam. Murray, Wawrinka and Nishikori are supported at home (especially Nishikori in Japan) - but outside their home territories? Not really. It can be quite interesting to watch Cilic, Berdych, Raonic and Kevin Anderson up against the Big Four - but watching them blatting down monster serves at each other is an entirely different matter: the Cilic-Nishikori 2014 US Open final attracted the lowest television audience in the event's history.

The game needs an American star to emerge - and quickly (I could be wrong, but I don't see Jack Sock or Ryan Harrison fitting the bill) - and for the Australian Nick Kyrgios to grow up and stop behaving like an utter tit. Otherwise, in a few years' time, we could be faced with the prospect of some insanely popular and successful 6'6" blonde Valkyrie asking why the men should be paid the same as the women when so few people can be bothered to watch them.

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