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’s part two.
When you decide not to play singles, you’re making a conscious decision that you’re potential earnings will be limited. Every doubles player is fully aware that singles is the main show and that doubles is on the side, so to speak. But it’s still a great buzz competing in events like Monte Carlo. It is a decision you make and you do accept at that point that you’re not going to be a huge star. But it’s OK. Look at the Bryans – they’re obviously No 1 so it’s maybe an extreme case – or guys that are top 25 in the world and look at their career prize money, you think, well, I wouldn’t mind a slice of that. There’s still a great living to be made. Singles guys do get most but that’s what people pay to see – Djokovic and Andy, Del Potro, Federer, Nadal. I do think doubles sometimes gets overlooked, especially at big events. It’s not the headline act and you won’t sell tickets on it but people while they’re here love to watch doubles matches. I just think sometimes it gets forgotten how good it can be. I’m not saying it should be necessarily closer to singles because tennis is a business. They sell the tickets and they get the prize money.
I was lucky not to have got into debt but others are always struggling. I have never been heavily in debt, I’ve been fortunate in that. I guess because my parents have helped me out a lot and I’ve benefitted a little from Tennis Scotland, University of Stirling helped me out and also the LTA. I remember when you’re playing Futures and stuff, you’re never in a position to go and spend money on holidays and stuff like that. You’re close to the bone. You’re always aware of what’s in your bank account, that’s for sure. I have spoken to a lot of guys at that level, where they were funding it completely themselves, putting it on credit cards. You just think about the pressure they must be under to actually win matches. I was fortunate to have sources to help.
You have to make “business-like” decisions for your own good. The last two years, going to Australia, I flew Business class. I’d never done it before. I looked at the prices and I thought of it as like an investment. The physio actually brought it up….he said: ‘I think it’s worth you investing in that’. I’m lucky to be in a position now where I could do that. But I couldn’t fly Business everywhere, that’s for sure. I fly to the States and everywhere in economy, except for Australia. I wouldn’t be able to fly Business all year; I couldn’t justify it really. You’ve got to be earning a lot of money to do that.
I hope I can see the Tour from both sides. I like to think I appreciate the Tour from the tournaments’ point of view, from a business perspective. The ATP Tour is 50-50 (players and Tour). They’re running a business and without them we don’t have a living, so I like to think I’m switched on to that. And I do think about what I might do after tennis. I’m starting to more think that I’d like to stay involved in tennis. I think for some reason, I don’t know why, whether it’s having some good experiences in Davis Cup or whatever it is, but I feel like my passion is sort of growing for British tennis to do well. It would be nice to have some kind of involvement in that after playing but obviously to have my degree is a nice back-up to have and there are plenty of jobs where I’m from in that sort of sector, so maybe I’ll end up doing that. You just never know. Could be an old codger by the time I finish playing doubles.
Maybe tennis just isn’t that big a sport, in global terms. People always compare tennis to golf and on the Challenger Tour in golf they do seem to be able to make such a lot of money, but I think it just comes down to that golf’s just a bigger sport. More people play it worldwide and more people watch it. I know all age groups play tennis but it’s even more exaggerated in golf and the sponsorship’s massive. The reality is, in tennis, certainly at Futures Level, it is never going to be well paid. It’s almost like you’ve got to use it as an incentive to try to get through that level. I am just not sure if tennis is a big enough sport to support as many people as would like to be supported and making a living playing it. It’s a tough one.