Sex, sport and sponsorship

Gilles Simon reportedly said, “I have the feeling that men’s tennis is actually more interesting than women’s tennis. As in any business or anything, you just have to be paid just about that.”

I am quite frankly surprised by reports that French tennis star Gilles Simon and, if you believe him, all 127 of his male tennis counterparts playing in this year’s Wimbledon Grand Slam are seeking to turn back the clock and end the awarding of equal prize money to men and women.  The basis of Simon’s argument is reportedly that the attendance at the male events is greater than those at female events.  While that may be true, what’s not measurable (at least as far as I can see) is how much attendance at Wimbledon would decline were female tennis players not included in the competition. 

Perhaps we should also ask if the sponsors who provide the financial underpinning for the event would still seek to provide their support were women not in attendance.  Gilles Simon and his mates may find the pool of potential sponsors for such events might reduce substantially.  Why?  Because sponsors use events like these to appeal to both male and female consumers. 

So let’s look at some examples of who sponsors these events.  Earlier this year, the Australian Open attracted KIA, ANZ, Jacobs Creek, Dove, Heineken, IBM…and the list goes on.   While some of these brands are clearly male orientated, others are marketing to both genders and still others are clearly marketing specifically to women.    

Anyone who has ever been to the exclusive Pymble Ladies College (aka PLC) located on Sydney’s North Shore will tell you why sponsors are so interested in events that include female players.    PLC alone has 25 tennis courts.  Abbotsleigh, another women’s college only a few km’s away from PLC has 20 courts.  This compares with 19 courts at Wimbledon. 

Women play tennis.  What’s more they look up to successful female players.  They emulate them and quite often they buy the products these women endorse.  In fact, I would argue that female players actually provide greater product placement opportunities for sponsors than men do – so everything from beauty and hair care, clothing and accessories and the list goes on. 

What’s more women are often better role models than their male counterparts.  One has only to look at Bernard Tomic to see why it can be such a challenge to sponsor a young, successful male sports stars.  In Australia we have Sam Stosur, but globally I can’t think of more gutsy, mentally tough players than Serena Williams or Kim Clijsters.   And guess what, if women aren’t your target demographic what about Maria Sharapova? 

Serena Williams, “Definitely a lot more people are watching Maria than Simon. She’s way hotter than he is. Women’s tennis, I think, is really awesome.”

It’s true women are also attracted by male tennis players and here’s the point, we can argue until we are blue in the face about who gets paid what – but the reality is it’s the combination of BOTH that makes all the Grand Slam tournaments so watchable.  The sponsors know that – and so while Gilles Simon (and all those male players he says support his point of view) can point to all the numbers they like, when it comes to putting on great sporting events lots of love is lost when only one gender is represented and tennis isn’t the only industry where that statement rings true.

Image of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams courtsey of Neale Cousland /

Image of Gilles Simon courtesy of lev radin /


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