Data visualization of tennis funding vs success by region

We love the way we feel when we play sport. We love the enjoyment we get out of watching sport. We love sports ability to bring people together. But, some people have access to better sporting facilities and funding than others – varying both on the region and type of sport. And, with the Australian Open currently underway, it’s interesting to look at the development of tennis by region.

Sources of sport funding across the European Union

Developing an optimal environment for athletes to advance, and perform on the world stage, often begins at a grassroots level. For example, a 2012 study titled Funding of grassroots sports in the EU, which analyzed sports expenditure within the European Union, showed that household expenditure contributed over 55% of total sport funding across the region (€100 billion).

In highly competitive world markets, less developed countries often focus a higher proportion of GDP on more immediate economic issues (such as employment and infrastructure), rather than funding sports development. Furthermore, in nations where typical household expenditure is constrained by lower levels of disposable income, it’s likely that personal contributions to individual sporting development will also be lower. After all, competitive sport is a luxury, not a necessity.

With over 50 countries – all hailing from differing levels of economic development – flocking Down Under to the Australian Open, we used the microscope that is and Business Intelligence and Data Visualization to thoroughly investigate impacts of sports expenditure in the world of tennis.

Tennis expenditure by continent

Professional tennis players come from a wide range of backgrounds and walks of life. The aforementioned study, investigating funding of grassroots sports in the EU, found that Eastern European countries with lower average household incomes also had lower levels of grassroots investment in sporting development.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is a driving force behind the growth and promotion of tennis worldwide, particularly in developing regions. For example, the ITF dispersed a total of $83.3 million (USD) of tennis funding in 2012, with Africa (GDP – $2.6 trillion) receiving the largest portion (35%) of any region. This was significantly higher than Europe, which has a collective GDP of $24.4 trillion.

But, despite receiving just 14% of ITF funding, Europe continues to produce some of the games greats – think Novak Djokovic (Serbia) and Roger Federer (Switzerland). The inverse pattern can be seen in Africa, which receives the largest percentage of ITF funding, but has historically produced the fewest elite tennis stars of any continent.

This disparity highlights the impact lower GDP and GDP per capita, and therefore lower investment in sporting development at both a national and household level, has on a nations’ ability to produce top tennis players. Africa’s inability to cultivate great tennis players is indicative of its limited resources and low GDP – largely, it’s residents and governments have more basic needs to address. This situation also demonstrates the importance of international institutions, like the ITF, that utilize needs-based funding distribution models.

Now, let’s analyze the relationship between financial support for grassroots level tennis development, and the emergence of tennis superstars, by country.

National treasures: Total individual earnings by country

Measuring performance based on the top 100 individual earning tennis players (tournament prize money) of 2014, Europe clearly takes the cake, with an accumulative total of $172 million (USD) won by European born players. Looking closely at this fact, we can see that the distribution of players accruing this wealth is not just confined to typically larger European sporting powers (France, Germany and Spain). Instead, many Eastern European nations, with lesser known sporting prowess, have produced high earning tennis athletes. Countries like Slovakia ($8.22 million) and Romania ($7.09 million) are good examples. So is this a direct result of programs instigated by the ITF?

** Size of bubbles correspond to amount of prize money won

Belarusian, Victoria Azarenka (beneficiary of the ITF development program), is a great example of the effects such an initiative can have on players from growing tennis nations. As a result, Azarenka was able to achieve the world number one ranking by 2012, and earned a total of $587,375 USD in 2014. Similar success is beginning to be seen in other developing European economies, such as Latvia, Romania and Estonia, which are now also producing rising tennis stars.

A correlation can also be seen in ITF funding allocated to Asia and South America, both of which are slowly emerging on the world stage, producing a number of top earning tennis stars. This is evidenced by the growing success of tennis players from countries whose primary sport may not necessarily be tennis. For example, tennis players representing Kazakhstan (winter sports) and Argentina (football) won a collective $2.34 million and $3.07 million in prize money respectively in 2014.

The concentration of red dots (male) in South America, and blue dots (female) in Europe, indicates that one gender is performing better than the other in certain regions. So if we look beyond the geographic trends in isolation, it’s clear that some nations have produced more high earning male tennis players compared to female, and vice versa. So from where do 2014’s most successful male and female tennis players hail?

Which countries produce the most successful male and female tennis players?

Categorizing the top 100 tennis earners of 2014 by country, we can see Spain and Serbia are two of the most successful tennis nations, producing tennis players that won a combined total of $23.3 million and $20.48 million respectively. But, not all dominant countries share this relative gender equality.

Aside from the Czech Republic and USA, which also appear in the top 10 earning countries for both genders, it is interesting to note that no other countries make the list for both females and males. Even the Russian Federation ($11.28 million) only appears in one gender category (female). Furthermore, this figure is not solely comprised of Maria Sharapova’s tournament winnings ($5.84 million), but actually represents the sum of total prize money won by six other Russian players in 2014. Being such a powerhouse of international tennis, continually producing top earning female stars, why are Russian men unable to make the same mark on the tennis world as their female counterparts?

For similar nations like Romania and Croatia, is it possible that one gender is receiving a larger portion of funding and sponsorship (for example specific training camps for male or female players), thus restricting elite development of one sex over the other?

What are your thoughts? Let us know on Twitter: @YellowfinBI