Wimbledon has slashed the prize money for this year’s winners of the men’s and women’s singles titles, as tennis continues to grapple with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, the 153-year-old organisation that puts on the Wimbledon Championships, said on Wednesday it had cut the overall prize fund to £35m, a 5.2 per cent drop since 2019 when the tournament was last held.
Singles players will compete for a first-place prize of £1.7m, 28 per cent lower than two years ago, when Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic and Romanian world number three Simona Halep were the victors.
“As in previous years, and particularly in this challenging year for tour players, the focus of distribution has been on supporting players in the early rounds of the tournament,” said the AELTC.
The decision to impose the biggest cuts on the singles players who reach the advanced stages of the grass-court tournament also highlights the struggles faced by lower-ranked players, who earn only a fraction of the winnings commanded by top players who also benefit from significant sponsorship income.
Wimbledon’s falling prize money shows how the pandemic is continuing to disrupt the world’s biggest sporting events, putting pressure on tournament organisers, teams and players, with governments typically allowing only a gradual return of mass gatherings as health services continue to roll out vaccines to the general public.
Prize money in the qualification stage for the singles, the first to fourth rounds and the quarter-finals is increasing, according to AELTC data. However, semi-finalists’ share of the purse will drop more than a fifth to £930,000, with the runners-up experiencing a similar decline.
While the AELTC is increasing the winnings for participants in the wheelchair singles and wheelchair doubles events, players competing in doubles and mixed doubles are facing significant drops.
The AELTC said crowd capacity was one of the factors it considered when setting prize-money levels, though it was also spending “several million pounds” on player accommodation this year.
However, fans will return to this year’s championships. Oliver Dowden, the UK’s culture secretary, said the men’s and women’s finals on the 15,000-capacity centre court will be fully open to fans. The tournament, which begins on June 28, will start at 50 per cent capacity and increase as it progresses.
Tickets go on sale this Thursday. Fans must either show evidence of a negative lateral flow test or proof they have received two doses of a vaccine.
Before last year’s cancellation, Wimbledon, which first took place in 1877, had only ever been called off because of the two world wars. Although cancelling the championships was a significant blow, the AELTC was insulated because it had infectious disease insurance.
The competition, which is screened by the BBC in the UK and ESPN in the US, generates significant broadcasting and ticketing revenue. The AELTC’s revenue totalled £295.7m in 2019 but plummeted to £4.9m last year.