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Items of interest — appearance fees

Matt Zemek



Pierre Lahalle of Presse Sports for USA TODAY Sports

Another part of the tangled, layered framework of tennis economics is the topic of appearance fees.

The longevity of the Big 3 is due in part to the prudent, selective scheduling of these players. Every once in a while, one of them might overplay in a specific subsection of the calendar, but for the most part, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are good at picking their spots. The times when they could play a larger number of tournaments per year and not expect to pay a physical price for such adventurousness have come and gone.

This might be a product of an era in which the technology and style of tennis are more conducive to physical punishment. Had Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas played today, they also probably would have cut down on tournaments instead of hopping on a plane in four or five straight weeks to play the next tournament on the calendar. Yet, while past generations might have adjusted to today’s reality, it remains that the prime focus of player schedules isn’t what it once was.

Tennis — as a business, specifically at its lower-tier tournaments — has to adjust to it, and the economics aren’t easy to juggle.

Consider these notable items from the past week in the world of tennis.

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These issues keep coming up as discussion points, year after year. They won’t go away, and they shouldn’t go away. An ATP 250 or a WTA International tournament would love to have a big name and get packed houses for multiple matches. Yet, the reality of tour life and the new points of emphasis for elite players make playing in a 250 or International tournament a rare event.

Roger Federer has been able to play the ATP 250 stop in Stuttgart in recent years because he skipped clay season. If Federer makes the quarterfinals at Roland Garros this year, will he even play in Stuttgart? It’s not a 100-percent certainty that he would. Tournaments are at a profound disadvantage when trying to lure top stars to compete in their one-week showcases.

I have proposed experimenting in the future with tournaments which begin on Thursday or Friday and end on Monday or Tuesday, leading into other small tournaments which start on Tuesday or Wednesday and go through the weekend in a normal way. Having tournaments start just before the weekend means that round-of-16 or quarterfinal matches can occur on weekends when kids are more available to watch. That can sell tickets at a level which reduces losses.

For now, though, smaller tennis tournaments can’t be certain that bringing in a top player due to a huge appearance fee will make various woes go away.

Robin Soderling, former tournament director for the ATP 250 Stockholm Open, discussed the economics of appearance fees in a December Tennis With An Accent Podcast at Radio Influence.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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