The financial struggles players face on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour are well-known and not comparable to many sports. Most players on the tour do not play their matches in front of large crowds in impressive venues but rather fight for a living on outer courts in tournaments that the general public likely doesn’t know exist.
The ATP Tour hopes to mitigate the financial stress players face through their new “Baseline” program, which will kickstart in 2024 for a three-year trial period. While the program is a step in the right direction and is primed to benefit some players, “Baseline” could be tweaked to more proactively address the core issues that a majority of players face on tour.
“Baseline” will guarantee players base salaries, compensate players for inactive periods due to injury, and provide a “newcomer investment” to players who break into the top 125 in the Pepperstone ATP rankings for the first time.
More specifically, the Guaranteed Base Earnings will provide compensation to the top 250 players on tour according to the following breakdown: $300,000 (Top 100), $150,000 (101-175) and $75,000 (176-250). If players earn less than the amount their ranking bracket corresponds to, the base salary will kick in and supplement the rest.
However, the actual salaries are well below what players in these ranking brackets typically earn, and thus, few players will end up drawing from the funds. Still with a month to go in the ATP season, the 100th, 175th and 250th ranked players on Pepperstone ATP Oct. 2 rankings have made $647,642, $302,049 and $162,318 respectively, all more than double the amount the base salary covers. It is not surprising that Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios, tweeted, “Lol still not enough,” in response to the baseline salary guarantees.
Players ranked in the top 100 also do not need any further financial support, as they earn a comfortable living and pocket even more from sponsorships. The ATP should dedicate more money to lower-ranked players outside of the top 100, who struggle with the costs of the tour.
If the ATP employed stringers, on-site coaches and physiotherapists, as well as provided more extensive hotel and transportation accommodations at smaller tournaments, lower-ranked players would reap more benefits than from a sub-par base salary.
Former American professional tennis player Noah Rubin, who reached a career-high of No. 125 in singles, no longer wished to persevere through injury setbacks and the unglamorous life of lower events on tour and recently switched over to play professional pickleball.
Rubin described the financial burden of competing on the pro tour to Sports Illustrated.
“So for a player who travels with a coach and a physio as part of his team, let alone even more, that player could be spending $250,000 or more to do so each year,” Rubin said. “[Being] No. 120 in the world and pocketing $40k, $50k at the end of that year is depressing. There’s really no other words to kind of describe that.”
Rubin would likely have benefited from the second and third parts of the “Baseline Initiative.” For players like Rubin, who had to cut their seasons short due to injury, the “Injury Protection” initiative will serve to keep players dedicated to their recovery process and provide financial support to those who play fewer than nine tournaments a year. Players ranked in the top 100 will receive $200,000, while $100,000 will go to injured players ranked 101-175 and $50,000 to those in the 176-250 range.
World No. 19 Grigor Dimitrov said he appreciates the security of the new program.
“Knowing that we have a safety net through the minimum guarantee and injury protection pillars gives us peace of mind, allowing us to focus on our game and strive for success,” Dimitrov said. “This truly shows the ATP’s commitment to the players and the future of our sport.”
However, the ATP should not focus on protecting players like Dmitrov, who have made close to $24 million on tour.
With the “Newcomer Investment” part of the initiative, the ATP is planning on offering $200,000 to players who break into the top 125 for the first time, which will be offset against prize money earnings the following season. For players ranked in this range, having the money to travel with a team and play more tournaments could help them achieve one big result in a tournament, which could secure their spot in the main draw of ATP tournaments for the season and set them up on an upward trajectory.
However, these newcomers will have to budget the money effectively while not receiving prize money, so if they do not break through immediately, the money is unlikely to have any long-term effect. Additionally, little separates players ranked 125-250 besides their opportunities and setup. Therefore, the 125 cutoff is arbitrary and does not reach all of the players who could use the money to make a leap in the sport.
While not yet perfect, the “Baseline Program” is a groundbreaking effort by the ATP Tour to support its players and grow the sport professionally.
“It is also just the start of what we hope to achieve,” ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said. “Our ambition is to expand this game-changing initiative in the years to come.”
I look forward to seeing how “Baseline” plays out over the next three years and exploring how we can further support the players.