Carlos Alcaraz and his appearance fee illuminate a problem with tennis

(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images) /

Carlos Alcaraz plays tennis because he is great at it but it also makes him a lot of money. This is basically the same reason that any professional tennis player has participated in the sport. People need to earn a living and top-end tennis players make a good living by winning tournaments. But they also get paid in other ways besides winning too.

There is sponsorship money, of course. Most successful players make a lot more money from sponsors than they do from winning matches. That’s just how the system works. Novak Djokovic, for instance, made $9,934,582 in prize money from tournaments in 2022 but he made an estimated $22 million from sponsors.

But another way players make money is through appearance fees paid by tournaments to entice top-end talent to show up at their showcases. Roger Federer reportedly received $1 million in appearance fees from many individual tournaments (non-Grand Slam tourneys) during his prime. That’s a lot of money and money that many tournaments cannot truly afford to pay.

Appearance fees like the ones Carlos Alcaraz gets hurt tennis

This was reportedly the case with Carlos Alcaraz choosing not to put the Vienna Open (or if you want to call the tournament by its sponsorship name, the Erste Bank Open) on his schedule this year. The tournament thought that Carlos Alcaraz’s appearance fee of 750,000 euros was “too expensive.” Of course, that money would be paid to Alcaraz whether he decided to show up or not and that adds to the overall problem.

Lots of tournaments cannot afford to pay high-end appearance fees, so players will go to other tourneys. If the best players aren’t involved in a tournament, that means fewer fans in the seats at the tournament which means fewer concessions being sold which means less money made by everyone involved. Eventually, tournaments will disappear if they don’t pay appearance fees.

Instead of playing the Vienna Open, Carlos Alcaraz was scheduled to play the Swiss Indoors in Basel. One can assume he was paid the appearance fee from that tournament, but then due to an injury, Alcaraz had to pull out of playing. The tournament is now out the appearance money (which players are not obligated to give back) and fans who thought they’d get to see the world No. 2 play and bought tickets to do so won’t see Alcaraz in Basel.

Of course, Carlos Alcaraz getting injured isn’t his fault. Injuries will happen. But expensive appearance fees are eventually going to really hurt the sport as many tournaments will close. But that’s just how the system works, sadly.

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