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Wimbledon Eschews the Labour Theory of Value

2007 February 22
by John Palmer

The All-England Club, which hosts the Wimbledon tennis tournament, has announced that beginning in 2007, the prize money will be the same for male and female winners. But there has been considerable resistance to providing equal prize money there, even though the other grand slam tournaments do.

The All England Club has gradually reduced the pay gap over the years, but held out against equal prizes as a matter of principle.

[Club Chairman (sic), Tom] Phillips had cited surveys showing that men give better value than the women. The men play best-of-five set matches, while the women play best of three. Also, the women make more money overall because they also play in doubles, while the top men usually play only singles.

“It just doesn’t seem right to us that the lady players could play in three events and could take away significantly more than the men’s champion who battles away through these best-of-five matches,” Phillips said last year. “We don’t see it as an equal rights issue.”

The important question is not who works harder or who has what opportunities to earn extra income from other matches. Instead, the important question is who is expected to generate how much revenue. And judging from the ratings and attendance, it appears that a three-game women’s tournament generates at least as much revenue as a five-game men’s tournament. If so, it makes sense that the women’s prize money would be at least as large as the men’s prize money.

What puzzles me, though, is why these grand slams do not extract more rent from the contenders.

Last year, men’s champion Roger Federer received $1.170 million and women’s winner Amelie Mauresmo got $1.117 million.

Would the top talent really give Wimbledon a miss if the prize money were “only” $1 million?

The answer, presumably, has to do with entry conditions. If Wimbledon offered only $500,000 as the top prize, how long would it take for some other tournament to emerge, claiming a position as one of the top four grand slam tournaments? Possibly Dubai?

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