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McEnroe: AO Extra Day is “Money Grab”

“It’s a money grab as far as I’m concerned—they just found another way to make some money,” ESPN analyst John McEnroe says of Australian Open’s Sunday start.

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Monday, January 8, 2024
The Australian Open’s new Sunday start is all about cranking up cash flow, says Hall of Famer John McEnroe.

The Melbourne major makes history with its first-ever Sunday start this weekend. The Australian Open joins Roland Garros moving to a Sunday start and 15-day tournament.

More: Richard Evans on HOF, GOAT and Top Rivalries

Former world No. 1 McEnroe blasted the move as “a money grab” on a Zoom call with the media today to promote ESPN’s Australian Open coverage, starting in the U.S. on Saturday, January 13th at 7 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN+ and at midnight on ESPN2.

Live AO coverage across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ will include all matches from all 15 courts, with every match streaming live on ESPN+. Comprehensive coverage will culminate with the Women’s and Men’s Championships on January 27 and January 28th, respectively, at 3:30 a.m. ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.

“It’s a money grab as far as I’m concerned—they just found another way to make some money,” McEnroe said of the AO joining Roland Garros with its Sunday start. “I don’t agree with it.

“I’m a commentator so no one is particularly concerned about my feelings. If the players accept it and if they are getting something from it—like some money for their pensions or retirement or some players who don’t have insurance, I would say that’s a good that they added the extra day, but but I don’t think that happened, just like it didn’t happen at the French Open.

“I completely disagree with it, but that’s probably me being selfish that I have to be away from home an extra day or two.”

The Australian Open, which suffered economic setback during the Coronavirus pandemic, is the economic engine that drives Tennis Australia’s professional and recreational programs. Therefore, TA officials could assert the extra day’s revenue can be applied back into Australian tennis.

Given the expansion of the two Grand Slams as well as some Masters 1000 events, including the Miami Open, expanding its schedule, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic has called on tournaments to share revenue from partnerships with betting firms with players.

The Grand Slam king said players deserve a bigger piece of the revenue pie and prefers that tournaments share betting sponsorship revenue rather than players sporting sponsorship patches promoting gambling companies.

“Personally I probably would not get a betting sponsor on my sleeve but I know that probably 95-plus percent of the players would do that,” Djokovic said last September. “I would support that but if that’s not allowed then what we would deserve to have is the 50 percent of the share that tournament gets from these sponsorship deals with betting houses.”

Though some of the money tournaments earn from gambling partnerships is eventually earmarked to player pension funds, Djokovic said players deserve a larger portion of the gambling money in the game.

“I know that a pretty significant chunk goes to the player pension and which is something that I always support of course but we have to remind ourselves that you only become eligible for pension when you are 50 or 55 [years old],” Djokovic said in an interview for the Professional Tennis Players Association he helped create. “So a player that retires when he or she is 30 or 35 has to wait for 20-plus years to actually start receiving the benefits from that deal.

“I think that it’s obvious that that’s probably one of the biggest sources of income for tennis – the broadcasting rights, the TV rights and the data – I think players are probably not either fully aware or maybe they just are not pushing enough for their fair share from the betting. They are giving much more than they are receiving. They’re literally receiving nothing from it.

“Billions and billions of dollars are circulating on a weekly basis from the tennis tournaments on different level,” Djokovic said. “Players are, I feel, in a very underprivileged position in regards to that situation. That’s something that I feel like we need to talk about more.

“We need to raise the awareness about this issue to the players; in this particular area players are not benefiting at all and giving way too much of their own value into this, and the rest of the tennis ecosystem is obviously profiting from that and we just can’t allow this to happen anymore – this is a very significant value and chunk of the money that is it that is out there for players to get a hold of.”

Tennis is one of the most bet sports in the 🌎 but players don’t share fairly in its revenue. Over the next few days, we’ll be discussing the realities of betting in tennis and how it impacts the players

Full interview with @DjokerNole + @ahmad4athletes:

— Professional Tennis Players Association (@ptpaplayers) September 20, 2023

McEnroe calls for a simple solution: Grand Slams should share more of their revenue with the players.

“Obviously, the Slams, they want to make themselves even more important,” McEnroe said. “So they try to come up with something that helps themselves. I can’t blame them for that. As far as profit sharing, if you want to get a Tour that everyone can get behind, there should be a profit sharing with the majors and the players.

“I mean I’ve only been saying that for 45 years. The players get a much lower percentage of the revenue than in any other sport. So I don’t disagree with a profit-sharing idea with the players…but that is where I believe we will see the sport get to a better place. Until that happens, it’s gonna be factions all over the place.”

“How about a Commissioner to make decisions on what’s best for the sport rather than what’s best for the Australian Open. Okay, great let’s have an extra day so we can make more money. Is that great for the players? I don’t know about that.”

Of course, convincing the four Grand Slams—the most lucrative tournaments in tennis—that it’s in their best interests to share more revenue with players going forward is easier said than done.

Former Olympic gold-medal champion and ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez concurs with McEnroe that the major economic change in tennis must come from the majors.

“The majors—that’s where the big change has to come for these players to participate more in the revenues,” Mary Joe Fernandez told the media. “Some of these Masters 1000 have gone to 10 and 12 days events, I think that’s tough on the players. I’ve always been a big believer that the best product is when you do have the men and women in tennis.

“So if we had a Commissioner of Tennis and they could be overseeing both the women and the men and bringing them together as much as possible, the product’s great.”

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

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