© Ella Ling

Miami 2012 - Fleming and Hutchins

Colin Fleming: The economics of playing tennis

Scotland’s Colin Fleming has established himself as one of the world’s leading doubles players, a regular in the GB Davis Cup team and heading towards a place in the top 20. Fleming completed a degree in business and economics at Stirling University before deciding to go full-time on Tour. Having played at all levels, he is uniquely placed to discuss the economics of being a tennis player and the choices and sacrifices that all players have to make. Here is part one of two.

 At first, you just play tennis, you don’t think of it as a career. I think only once you reach a level where you’re playing in tournaments where this is more prize money, you start to appreciate that you can make a living out of it. My path was different to most. I took some time out from university, I never thought, ‘oh, I’m going to go and make money out of tennis’, I thought: ‘I’ll go and play a bit and see what I can do’. Even when you break through to Challengers, you’re still not making money and you don’t feel: ‘this is my career, I’m going to make money, I could pay a mortgage off by doing this or whatever. Then suddenly you break through and you start to get some bigger cheques, and you think, if I can keep going up and up and up, or even stay where I am, I can make a living. People see the figure quoted on the ATP website (for annual earnings) but that is before tax and expenses. I’m fortunate to be making a living at the moment – it’s fortunate because it’s something I love doing. It’s a great thing to be able to do.

 I spend around £25,000-£30,000 a year on expenses. As Britons, we’re incredibly fortunate because someone like Louis Cayer (who coaches all the GB doubles players for 12-15 weeks a year) gets his flight and hotel paid for by the LTA. If you think about having a full-time coach, which I’ve never had, it must be a massive expense. At this level, you’re fortunate to get hotel rooms paid, so flights are your main expense. It would easily be £25,000 a year – that would be paying for flights, the occasional hotel and food for myself. I guess when you take stringing in and everything else it’s probably more, so you could easily spend £25,000-£30,000.

The higher you go on Tour, the more help you get. At all ATP events, in doubles, you get a room from two days before the tournament starts, so if it’s a Monday start, you get a room from Saturday, until the day after you lose. Singles is different I think – in ATP 250s, you get maybe five nights guaranteed or something like that. With the doubles guys, if they lose early and their mate’s still in the tournament, they ask if they can stick a bed in your room. Obviously you don’t want to pay if you can avoid it. That tends to happen a lot in doubles, but we all get along quite well on the Tour so it’s good fun.

It would be tough if I had to pay for a full-time coach. We’re so lucky to not have that expense (of paying for a coach). You’re paying someone’s salary, you’re paying all their expenses, hotel and it’s tough. Depends what level you’re at – do they stay in the hotel with you because then you’re paying $300 a night. Do you put them in the Holiday Inn? You’ve got to weigh that up because you’ve got to have a good relationship as well. You pay their meals? You come here, it’s not cheap to eat anywhere. No starter – just bread.

The low prize-money money in Futures and Challenger Tours makes it impossible to make a living at a lower level – and forced me to focus on doubles. The problem with the Futures and Challenger Tours is that their prize money is very low and it hasn’t really changed for years. We’ve had this on-going push for more prize money at the grand slams, which is great, but in the ATP meetings at the slams, there might be a few guys who have done well in Futures and Challengers but as in any walk of life, people are going to look after their own interests. Improving the prize money at that level is not on the agenda; you don’t have Futures players at those meetings – they don’t really have a voice.

The way the rankings work, it was virtually impossible to continue playing singles as a player ranked 350, when my doubles ranking was improving. Even now, sometimes I’d love to be able to play some singles tournaments as well. I could (at Futures level) but it just doesn’t make sense for me to do it at all. It would have been nice to have carried on but I guess it’s a choice I made. It kinds of happens naturally if your doubles ranking gets higher and you’re trying to play qualies – you get to a (doubles) semi and you miss qualies next day. You can either address that or you can say I’m going to stick with doubles, which I did. I’ve not looked back – I am fortunate to make a living and play in these kind of events. My last events have been Indian Wells, Miami, Davis Cup, which I love and coming to Monte Carlo. For me, if you said I could be 200 in singles, I would rather be playing these events.

  • ozwizardof

    moan moan moan.

  • thirtylove!

    Huge fan of Colin, always gives of his best and great ambassador for British Tennis.