Sharapova, Williams top Forbes list of highest-paid female athletes

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$23 million of Sharapova's income comes from her many endorsements. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

$23 million of Sharapova’s income comes from her many endorsements. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova tops Forbes‘ annual list of the highest-paid female athletes for the ninth consecutive year. Serena Williams, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka round out the top four, and tennis players occupy seven of the top nine spots overall.

Tennis’ domination of the list, which measures an athlete’s earnings through prize money, endorsements and appearance fees from June 2012 to June 2013, underscores the fact that the WTA is the premier women’s sporting organization in the world. WTA players are generally offered compensation on par with the men at the sport’s biggest tournaments. They are also afforded endorsement opportunities that are unrivaled in other sports.

Tennis stands in sharp contrast to other sports in how well the top men and women are compensated. As Forbes points out, South Korean golfer Inbee Park won $585,000 for her U.S. Open victory; men’s champion Justin Rose earned more than twice that amount, $1.4 million. According to Forbes, the 10 highest-paid tennis players are now equally split between men and women. Only Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal pulled in more money last year than Sharapova.

When it comes to endorsement power, Sharapova tops the list with an astounding $23 million. Li is next, with $15 million in endorsements. Perhaps the most surprising revelation is that in a year in which she won two Grand Slam tournaments and an Olympic gold medal, Williams earned just $1 million more in endorsements than Wozniacki.

Here’s how this year’s Forbes list shakes out among tennis players:

1. Maria Sharapova – $29 million ($6 million in prize money), up $1.9 million from last year.
2. Serena Williams – $20.5 million ($8.5 million in prize money), up $4.2 million from last year.
3. Li Na – $18.2 million ($3.2 million in prize money), down $200,000 from last year.
4. Victoria Azarenka – $15.7 million ($6.7 million in prize money), up $6 million from last year.
7. Caroline Wozniacki – $13.6 million ($2.6 million in prize money), down $100,000 from last year.
8. Agnieszka Radwanska – $7.4 million ($4.9 million in prize money), up $500,000 from last year.
9. Ana Ivanovic – $7 million ($1 million in prize money), down $200,000 from last year.

  • Published On Aug 06, 2013

    About the Grand Slams - if I want to go to Paris for example I want to see men's and women's matches. It is more practical and convenient for people. I wouldn't go to see another Grand Slam with women or men only. There is a reason why these events are for both sexes and ATP and WTA know that very well. They generate more money when they are together. 


    Michael the argument about men ranked 500 and 1000 is very stupid I should say. I've seen such matches and they are just funny. You don't know what you are talking about. The crowds that Sharapova and Serena attract are numerous. Also since tennis has become more global now you have to consider the whole world. For Chinese Li Na is the most popular so the crowds will go to see her.  Popularity, interest, characters, personalities, charisma -- are not based on personal opinions because it's a whole market for money and you know that very well. Sharapova earns more money and popularity than men's world number one Novak Djokovic based on these factors. Tennis now is much more than just a game. I was in Instanbul last year for the final WTA event and the hall was just so packed and the interest was just outstanding. The matches were incredible quality and highly entertaining. So I enjoy both men's and women's tennis equally and if I had the opportunity to go to London I would entertain myself just as in Istanbul. When these athletes bring such joy to the crowd then they should be paid equally. Sometimes there is a tennis match between male players and it is 3 of 5 sets but they play 3 sets for an hour and a half. And there are matches between female tennis players that are 2 of 3 sets and they play for 3 hours. You can' predict the outcome or the duration of such battles. Just like in boxing - you pay the ticket but you don't know if the match would be 1 round or 12. I guess it is a little disappointing when one of the boxers is knocked out in the first minutes of the match but this is sport :)

    "It's time for tennis to either have fully-open tournaments where men and women compete against each other " - this is absolutely absurd because the nature of this sport depends on the physical characteristic of the athlete and you know very well that men are physically stronger. This is ridiculous and unnecessary. 


    I don't understand why, if female golfers are competitive with male, they aren't allowed to play at the same tournaments.


    Michael9 the interest in women's or men's tennis depends on the era and the rivalries. You have an absolute blockbuster with Federer and Nadal for ten years and now with Djokovic and Murray. But this was not always the case. Seles-Graff generated numerous interest, the Williams sisters, Seles, Hingis, then Clisters, Henin were more popular than Kadelnikov-Enquist or Coria-Gaudio for finals and etc. So the thing is the interest depends also on the characters, personalities, charisma which are changing in the years. There were several very poor years in women's tennis but now the interest is on the high again.  And I don't know why people compare women's to men's tennis - they are born physically different and that's why men are simply stronger but that doesn't  mean there are no interesting and entertaining women's matches which have their specific emotional atmosphere and charm. In fact at the moment Serena Williams is playing at a phenomenal level.


    The more significant Forbes story for Tennis was "Roger Federer Tops The Most Powerful Athletes" -- which Forbes published six weeks ago. Federer displaced Tiger Woods, who had held that accolade for 11 consecutive years. And yet this significant story for Tennis went unreported here on Beyond The Baseline.

    If we're honest and objective, we'd admit that the primary reason why female tennis players make up seven of the world's nine richest female athletes is because tennis is an anomaly in major world sports. Only in tennis are women's events held at the same time and in the same place as the men's events (this is the underlying condition which enables female tennis players to (a) demand equal prize money despite the much lower ticket prices and market demand for women's finals as well as (b) to piggy back off the attention, publicity and market demand generated by men's tennis). In no other major sport do the men's events dilute their product, spotlight and prize money by allowing separate women's events to be held at the same time and place.

    If female tennis players had to fend for themselves -- i.e., the women's grand slams and other top WTA tournaments were held separately from the men's tournaments -- then Sharapova & company would probably be making about as much prize money as Paula Creamer & company do in LPGA golf, where the women's events are held separately from the men's tournaments.

    What Inbee Park accomplished this year is much more impressive than what any female tennis player has done this year -- and her putting is arguably among the best in the game, male or female. A few weeks ago I attended an LPGA tournament where I watched Inbee Park and several of the world's top golfers (including former major champions) often from just 15 away from where they teed off. The quality of women's golf, in my opinion, is more impressive than women's tennis (they're more likely to beat male golfers, while female tennis players have virtually no chance to beat top 500 male tennis players). And the top female golfers are more fan friendly and trying harder to sell their sport.


    maria_pashova: You arguments are disingenuous: you carefully avoided my points to argue about red herrings (such as whether matches are best of three sets or best of five sets -- which is an issue I did not bring up).

    It is also totally besides the point that tennis is more global, or that Sharapova/Serena attract crowds, or that Sharapova makes more money than Djokovic (she also makes more money than Nadal, Murray and every other male player except Federer), or that Sharapova is more popular than Djokovic, or that there was interest in last year's WTA year-end championships, or that women's matches were good quality and entertaining, etc. All that's great for the WTA, and indicates the WTA Tour has matured.

    Thus it's time for the WTA tour (and female players) to stand on its own feet. This means holding women's grand slams and premier tournaments separately from the men's tournaments. If, on their own, the women are able to charge more for tickets, achieve more popularity, attract more paying spectators and other fans, get more sponsor money, hold better events -- and therefore are paid more than men -- hey, all power to the women for making it happen on their own. They would deserve it completely.

    Indeed, I never said women shouldn't be able to earn as much or even more than men -- I'm in complete favor of letting free-market economics operate freely for both women and men. Each side should be paid according to the revenue they generate -- just like what should happen in any rational business (no rational person is forced to limit his pay so that someone else could get the same pay -- except in a socialist society). 

    What I'm saying is: the women should do it on their own, instead of piggy backing off and freeloading off the men's tour, which is what is happening today.  I'm not in favor of the current 'socialist system' that distorts the operation of the free markets on tennis compensation and revenue allocation. The men's side of joint tournaments are essentially donating their revenue and potential compensation to underwrite the compensation of mostly super-rich top female players. Sharapova would not be 22nd highest paid athlete -- and second highest paid tennis player -- without benefiting from the men's tour.

    It's very simple: if ticket prices for a men's grand slam final is 30% to 50% higher than for a women's final (i.e., the men's final is generating more revenue than women's final), then the men's finalists should be paid 30% to 50% more than the women's finalists. [Conversely, if ticket prices for a women's grand slam final is 30% to 50% higher than for a men's final, then the women's finalists deserve to be paid 30% to 50% more than the men's finalists -- but this is not the case] 

    Your argument is nonsensical that "when these athletes bring such joy to the crowd then they should be paid equally". If the crowd derives equal joy from women's and men's matches then the crowd should be willing to pay equally for such joy from each side (i.e., they 'value' the joy equally) -- only in this case should women and men be paid equally. But the reality is that the crowd does not equally value the joy/entertainment they get from women's and men's matches -- this is indicated by their willingness to pay more to see men's matches and their unwillingness to pay the same amount to see women's matches. Tournament organizers know that if they charge more for ticket prices -- even for finals between Serena and Sharapova -- there will be empty seats. In the entertainment business you get paid by the revenue you bring in or generate.

    Holding joint men-women's tournaments (grand slams, premier-masters events) has given disproportionate benefits to the top female players -- despite bringing less revenue, women are able to get higher pay, more publicity and more sponsorship and other money-making opportunities than they would otherwise be able to achieve on their own. That's why seven out of the top nine highest-paid female athletes are female tennis players. 

    But what have joint men's-women's tournaments done for the men's tour? On balance it has been negative. The evidence is clear: only three male tennis players are on the list of top 97 highest-paid male athletes (the top three highest paid female tennis players make up the top 100). Every other major sport has more men on the list: baseball (27), basketball (21), soccer (13), football (13), racing/motorcycle (8), golf (5), men's tennis (3), etc.

    Despite bringing in more revenue, the men are paid less than they should be paid (based on the higher revenue they bring in) -- tournaments having to adhere to the equal prize money policy has put a limit on the earning potential of male tennis players. Furthermore, the joint events have diluted the public's perception of the ATP tour. TV viewers are frustrated when their enjoyment of men's grand slam championships is disrupted by the broadcasting of women's matches. And men have had to share publicity with the women's tour.

    The PGA Tour generates much more money (from ticket sales, sponsorship, etc.) for the male golfers -- and thus male golfers are 'paid' more than male tennis players -- because the men's golf grand slams and other big events are held separately from the women. This has worked for every major sport -- there are ample  crowds to watch the big events. Thus it's ridiculous and untruthful to claim that "it is more practical and convenient for people. I wouldn't go to see another Grand Slam with women or men only" -- you contradict your own weasel argument because you yourself attended the women's only year-end championships in Istanbul last year. 

    The massive success of the men's ATP World Tour Finals proves that a men's only Grand Slam will work for male tennis players just like it does in every other major sport. That's why in 2011/2012 the male tennis players debated whether to boycott the grand slams and hold their own events -- if the grand slam organizers did not raise prize money substantially.

    [On another issue, my point that there are  interesting, entertaining and emotional matches among male players ranked No. 500 to No. 1,000 is very relevant. Last year Nadal's coach Toni, David Ferrer, Carlos Moya and several other players have said that the top women's players are unlikely to beat the top 500 male players. So essentially women's tennis is being played at about the performance quality level of men's players ranked No 500 to No. 1000 -- yet they are getting paid at the level of top male players.]


    @maria_pashova Dont worry about the gas bag below. He is well known around these parts to be an inane ranter producing copious amounts of nothingness. And you are right - the question is one of free markets. At the moment, the slams are being sold as a single product to the fans. To divide the proceeds along sex lines would be very difficult and would smack of sexism. 

    The only solution would be if they separated and played their own tournaments. But no sane person would be willing to kill the golden goose (gasbags might). No one knows what the public reaction would be and if fans would turn up. Can you imagine the media circus - "millionaire players refuse to share their prize money with women, hence they take their ball and leave".  

    ANd in any case, if Sharapova is getting nearly $24 million from ad sponsors, that is purely on her own merit/attractions/marketability. It is between her and her sponsors and other people can bu$t out.


    @maria_pashovaOf course there are interesting, entertaining, emotional and charming women's matches among the best women players -- just like there are  interesting, entertaining and emotional matches among male players ranked No. 500 to No. 1,000 (or interesting, entertaining and emotional matches among intercollegiate players, etc.).

    I've paid to watch Graf-Seles in the 1990s. But it's a questionable argument to talk of popularity, interest, characters, personalities, charisma -- since these are based on personal opinions, not hard numbers. And while you mentioned "Kadelnikov-Enquist or Coria-Gaudio for finals" you conveniently left out several popular players from that early 2000s era like Guga Kuerten, Marat Safin, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt, Patrick Rafter, Tommy Haas, etc. As well, consider that ticket prices for mens matches have always been higher than for women's matches even in the 1990s

    It's time for tennis to either have fully-open tournaments where men and women compete against each other (like Danica Patrick does in racing and which is possible in PGA golf). Or separate the scheduling of the men's and women's grand slam and other events, and let the ATP and WTA tours stand on their own -- and be paid based on market demand each tour can generate. Too bad for the men's tour (or women's tour) if market interest drops and they are unable to attract sponsors and audience.