The ‘Pay Gap’ Between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova

Understanding your game and your value

(Image: www.theguardian.com)

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of taking my son to Kid’s Day at the U.S. Open. Like everyone else in the audience, we erupted into applause and shrills when Serena Williams came onto the court to charm the adoring crowd.

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Even before her appearance, the crowd was buzzing with talk about the fact that we may all be on the brink of witnessing her make history by becoming just the 6th person, male or female, to win all 4 major tournaments — the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open — in a single calendar year. This hasn’t been done since Steffi Graf dominated the grand slams in 1988 when Williams was just six years old.

It wasn’t just the crowd at the Open. The excitement that Williams has generated across the globe has arguably made her the most recognized athlete on the planet. While she ranks first in the popularity rankings, she ranks last in the rankings of tennis players on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes, and ranks 47th overall.

The highest paid athlete in the world is Floyd Mayweather, earning $285 million in winnings and $15 million in endorsements. The highest paid tennis player on the list is Roger Federer, with $9 million in winnings and $58 million in endorsements. Topping the list for female tennis players is Maria Sharapova, winning $6.7 million and getting $29.7 million in endorsements. Williams, in contrast, earned $11.6 million in winnings, but $13 million in endorsements.

When asked about the discrepancy in a recent New York Times Magazine article, Williams said “If they want to market someone who is white and blond, that’s their choice,’’ adding that, “I can’t sit here and say I should be higher on the list because I have won more…I’m happy for her, because she worked hard too. There is enough at the table for everyone.’’

Martin Morse, CEO of the MM Group, which provides financial and business mentoring to elite athletes and high-profile celebrities, says Williams can wield more financial power than she may realize she has.

“From a money standpoint, she’s worth at least 3 times more from an advertising standpoint [than] what she’s getting,” says Morse. “If she doesn’t demand that and make a stink about it, the executives at Nike certainly aren’t going to. It’s easy money for them,” he adds.

“If I were the most dominant player in the world, I would be mad. It’s that mentality.  She could simply say, ‘this is what I’m worth. I’m not going to sign with Nike again unless I’m getting what I’m worth. I dominate this sport.’ She’s got that kind of leverage.”

Morse and others in the industry say there may be gender and cultural conditioning issues at play that unconsciously leave women and minorities willing to accept less than they’re worth and not fully understand their brand from a financial standpoint.

In addition, Morse says when it comes to Sharapova, advertisers are also paying her what they feel the market is dictating.

“Their market data dictates this. It’s a lot easier to pull the trigger on a sure fire bet.  A blonde, blue-eyed girl fits the profile that more of the people who play tennis [can relate to] . . .”

Maria Sharapova pulled out of the U.S. Open due to an ongoing knee injury. Serena Williams has won her early rounds and continues to march towards an historic same year ‘Serena Slam.’ As Williams said in the New York Times Magazine story, “I also play and represent something much greater than me. I embrace that. I love that. I want that,” recognizing the significance of her platform and, hopefully, the ways in which she can be a role model when it comes to getting equal footing on the monetary side of the equation.


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  • BigSeannY

    Serena Williams deserves more money period,Sharapova can’t touch Serena in the tennis court period,no mtach

    • Tony Cipponeri

      Totally disagree… Maria is a great person and does so much to promote tennis and help others throughout the world. This is in sharp contrast to williams.

      • StingStungMe

        Whoa there buddy. You might want to look up what Serena does off the court. Did you know she has a foundation that helped build a school over in Africa? I believe it is in Kenya.

        She contributes to Elton John’s AIDS foundation.

        I know for a fact that she contributes to the First Serve Miami project so inner city kids can learn tennis.

        She is also a Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef. I’m sure there are more projects or charities that she supports.

        Serena does share and give back.

  • Claudia Brown – Ratcliff

    I so hope that just maybe some day “we” as a nation will get pass the color barrier and pay individuals for what they are worth. It is also the hope of this writer that the color scheme will place no barring on how the individual get paid, but will be based upon the ability to play the game.

    Just saying

  • TstormVA

    Serena posted a clip of her agent. The agent was fumbling papers around while Serena was waiting for the meeting to start. Serna’s agent is clueless. I was start with with hiring some else to develop a marketing strategy especially after she wins the US open.

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  • Charles Metayer

    Serena should hire Rock Nation..Jay Z would insure that she is paid what she’s worthh

  • le

    Maria Sharapova is #1 in earnings, Li Na is #2 and Serena Williams is #3 according to Forbes.

  • Pwnage

    Pay gap but for a reason. Nothing discriminatory.

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  • Tony Cipponeri

    Sour grapes… Boo-ho… Maria and Li Na make more in endorsements because they are well liked and carry themselves with Class and Dignity. Williams goes around yelling and threatening people and trying to bully and intimidate…well that’s not a big seller…

    • TrueBlue

      Your racist color is showing!!!!!!

      • Tony Cipponeri

        That’s plain silly!!! Please don’t go there because it’s not true. I understand your tendencies to label people that don’t agree with you and it is a shame that you go to racism as your initial defense mechanism. Please try and expand your thinking and love all races.

        • Money.Mattie

          You can tell election season is coming up when websites post BS stories like this and people are yelling RACISM for no reason.

      • Money.Mattie

        “I look forward to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”

        Martin Luther King Jr

      • Money.Mattie

        Race was not brought up AT ALL until you brought it up. Tony was judging by the content of a persons character not by the color of skin. The only racist here is IN FACT you True Blue.

  • Joel

    So Sharapova is getting all that cash just for being blondie, ok probably she is, but what about Li Na? She isn’t blonde, nor tall or blue-eyed, and yet she earns more than many blondies around in female tennis (and there are many) who fill the description golden-girl, and more than Serena Williams. Conclusion is: it’s not only about the looks but also about manners, personality and the values you endorse, because fans, specially in tennis also care about that. Serena Williams a role model? Yeah, sure! Yell at judges for giving you a bad call, deny handshakes at the end of a match, that’s the attitude future athletes should have.

  • Tony Cipponeri

    Has little to do with looks although Maria is one of the true beauties of tennis. It boils down to likability and people that one would strive to emulate. Maria is at the Top of that list while Williams is at the bottom. Not to mention the drug enhancement rumors that surround williams.

  • harman aulakh

    Maria is getting what she deserves rightfully…no discrimination…she is awesome

  • Money.Mattie

    Has anyone considered Serena could’ve turned down hundreds of deals she just wasn’t interested in? Or that the image of her brand is hurt bc she looks like a starting linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers? You know people, when you CRY WOLFE on racism, it really hurts the cause when something REAL is going on.