Tennis and badminton are two of the most followed racquet sports in the world. Each has its own charm and attraction with strong global appeals.
Yet, when it comes to making a career out of the sports, tennis seems to be the better choice in terms of financial stability.
Whether you are the best or a struggling lower ranked player, tennis players earn much more on the circuit compared to badminton players.
In 2013, Lee Chong Wei earned a record-setting US$292,549 in prize money. It was pittance compared to what the top tennis player at that time, Novak Djokovic took home. The Serbian tennis ace took home a massive US$11,197,947 pay cheque or approximately 38 times more than what Chong Wei earned.
In 2019, badminton’s top player is Japanese Kento Momota while veteran Rafael Nadal rules the tennis world.
How much has badminton caught up with tennis in the six years? Well Momota, backed by his unprecedented 11 titles in 2019, had almost doubled what Chong Wei earned in 2013. His total prize money collection for the year was US$536,900.
Yet, Nadal won only four titles in 2019, but his earnings for the year was more than 30 times at US$16,349,586.
In both instances, the top tennis players earned in one year, more than the careers earning of either Chong Wei or Momota.
Six years ago, the richest badminton tournament was the Korean Open, offering $1 million, with the men’s singles champion taking home US$75,000. In tennis, the Wimbledon was the richest tournament, offering more than US$36million in total prize money and the men’s singles champion taking home approximately US$2.56 million.
Fast forward to 2019, the richest tennis tournament was the US Open, offering a record breaking US$57 million prize money with the men’s singles winner taking home US$3.85 million.
The BWF World Tour Finals 2019 offered US$1.5 million prize money with the singles champion bagging just US$120,000.
The imparity gets worse when comparison is made lower down the ranks. Only the top seven players in the men’s singles in badminton break the US$100,000 earnings with the tenth ranked player in the current scenario Kanta Tsuneyama earning just US$46,450.00 compared to the 50th ranked tennis player Adrian Mannarino, who took home in excess of US$1 million.
To put in perspective, the 50th ranked badminton player, Spaniard Pablo Abian earned just US$6,300. Georges Julien Paul of Mauritius earned what could be termed as a pocket change of US$1,093 compared to tennis player Thomas Fabbiano, who pocketed US$627,839, more than even what Momota earned this year.
Julien Paul, if he was a tennis player, need to be ranked a low 1,853 in the world to earn more than what he has earned in badminton this year. As for Momota, his 2019 earnings was just slightly over what Peter Gojowczyk, the world number 113 in tennis, earned for the year.
It is not any different in the women’s category either. World number one badminton player Chen Yu Fei won US$393,675 with Ashleigh Barty taking home a cool US$11,307,587 at the other end of the spectrum.
Tennis players also take home much more money from endorsement and personal sponsorships.
Indian shuttler P.V. Sindhu, who took home only US$93,023 in prize money, is among the exception in badminton. With strong earnings outside the courts, Sindhu is tied in 13th place on Forbes highest paid female athletes with US$5.5 million to her name in 2019.
Still it is a pittance compared to the total of US$88.6 million Serena Williams earned in 2019 from prize money and endorsements. The top three tennis stars earned more than US$100m each in 2019 – Djokovic (US$133m), Roger Federer (US$123.6m) and Nadal (US$106.9)
But for most badminton players, without breaking into the top 10 in the world rankings, the chances of them making a decent living from badminton alone is virtually zero.
One glaring difference as to why tennis events tend to offer more prize money than badminton, or for further comparison table tennis or squash, is the fact that the ATP and WTA are run independent of the world governing bodies.
While the Badminton World Federation (BWF) has a stranglehold on all international badminton events, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) only controls selected events including the Davis Cup. They also jointly control the four Grand Slams – Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open and the French Open.
The BWF uses its income not only for the players benefit but also for development, promotion and administration costs.
In case of tennis, the ATP and the WTA exists primarily to ensure a professional system to help the players earn a better living playing the sport full time.
The division of the amateur and professional aspects of the game has been instrumental to the financial strength of tennis for its players.
Until the system changes, badminton will always be poor cousins to tennis.