Exclusive: Wimbledon prize-money rise hits funds for grass-roots development

Prize-money at Grand Slam tournaments has risen sharply in recent times and the pattern is continuing

tennis correspondent

Players and their bank managers will not be the only interested parties next week when Wimbledon reveals prize-money for this year's Championships. The All England Club is expected to announce another significant increase, but that could lead to a reduction in the financial contribution it makes to the British game.

A major slice of the Lawn Tennis Association's funding comes from the annual Wimbledon surplus, which reached a record high of £37.8m in 2012. However, the figure dropped to £35.1m last year, largely because of a 40 per cent increase in prize-money. "While turnover increased, the surplus was lower than previous years due to the substantial increase in prize-money paid to players," the All England Club revealed in accounts filed recently at Companies House.

Prize-money at Grand Slam tournaments has risen sharply in recent times and the pattern is continuing. Wimbledon sees prize-money as one of the ways of maintaining its status as the world's leading tournament and will have taken note of recent developments at other Grand Slam events. The Australian Open increased its prize-money fund this year by nine per cent to $Aus33m (£18.3m) and the French Open recently announced a rise of 13 per cent to €25m (about £20.6m).

After the French Open revealed a rise of 16 per cent last year, Wimbledon responded with the biggest increase in the sport's history, upping its total pot by 40 per cent to a total of £22.6m. While the biggest increases – up to 64 per cent – went to losers in the early rounds, there were also hefty rises for the more successful players. Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli took home prize-money of £1.6m as singles champions, an increase of £450,000 (39 per cent) on what their immediate predecessors earned.

The upward trend looks certain to continue. The US Open has already said it plans to offer $50m (£29.8m) in prize-money by 2017, while the French Open wants to pay out €32m by 2016.

While the surplus paid to the LTA last year was still a substantial increase on what the governing body had received in the past – it was less than £10m in 1990 and £25m in 2007 – the drop has clearly affected its finances.

The LTA has had to do some significant belt tightening in recent times, especially after Sport England withheld more than £10m because of a fall in the number of people playing tennis, although £6m was subsequently reinstated. LTA staff numbers have been falling sharply – more than 50 people out of 300-plus employed at the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton have left in the last year – while players have also felt the pinch.

At the start of this year the LTA stopped all cash funding to singles players over the age of 24 and to doubles players of any age. Players aged between 17 and 24 are having to meet more stringent criteria before receiving their money. The LTA's total spending on elite players has dropped from £12m a year to £10m.

The LTA's coffers have benefited from the sale to the All England Club of their 50 per cent stake in the company which owns the site and facilities at Wimbledon, but as part of that deal 10 per cent of the surplus will go to the Club in future years.

All parties will hope that Wimbledon continues to be a money-spinner. The recently filed accounts show that turnover at the Championships went up by nearly £6m last year to £149.2m. More than half of that comes from broadcasting fees. The current deal with the BBC extends to 2017, while the agreement with ESPN in the United States runs to 2023.

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