How Wimbledon Can Save Face and Save Money to Afford Equal Pay

This Op-ed ran in the New York Times on Sunday, June 27, 1999.

Wimbledon has come up short. Even though it looks to the outside world that the greatest Grand Slam of them all is a pretty ritzy show ­ with British royals in fancy hats, sterling silver trophies, and bows and curtsies at the presentation ceremonies ­ it would seem, nevertheless, that swanky Wimbledon is over budget. How else do you explain that the women's champions and runners-up do not receive prize money equal to the men's?

This prize money gaffe has been going on for as long as anyone at the All England Club can remember. Next weekend, the men's singles winner, for example, will take home approximately $728,000, while the women's champion will earn about $655,200. The top woman will take to the bank a check that is about $72,800 less than that of her male counterpart.

Can't you imagine how red-faced some poor guy in Wimbledon accounting is? Working over the books on some soft spring day in London, he adds the tournament debits and credits and discovers the ledger is lopsided. Panic ensues. In order to balance the budget, he decides to pay the ladies a little less than the going rate. After all, what they do is easier, less involved and, frankly, not as important as what the men do. Just ask any secretaryþor women's professional basketball player.

But in this day and age, women are apt to revive some old song about "equal pay for equal work" and even men like John McEnroe have joined in the chorus. So something needs to be done. Where in the Wimbledon budget can an expendable $72,800 be found in order to even things out for the ladies?

Here are some suggestions. They might make a few traditionalists shudder, but, in all honesty, it's time for Wimbledon to tighten the old elastic waistband on its tennis shorts.

First, there's the lawn maintenance bill. During the year, the head groundsman at the All England Club, Eddie Seaward, has 13 men maintain the grass courts. During Wimbledon, that number swells to 25. We're told that groundskeeping is a demanding task, but ­ really ­ how difficult can cutting the grass be, even if you do it in that fancy crisscross way they do at ball parks? I say reduce the number of groundskeepers to 20, hiring strong high school boys for a little under scale. Savings? $28,500.

Then, there's the 194 ball boys and ball girls. Sure, it is a nice gesture to involve the next generation in a Grand Slam event, but it's a luxury Wimbledon can ill afford. An equally effective way to help young people identify with the champions is to ask Monica, and Pete, and Venus, and Patrick to retrieve their own tennis balls. I don't think it's asking too much. We all do it. And it would save at least $17,600.

Next, the laundry bill. Ever notice how Wimbledon players mop their faces with a fresh towel every time they sit down? At my house, we don't enjoy that indulgence. A fresh towel every couple of days will do just fine. And ask each player to bring one in from the Super 8 or wherever they're staying. It's not stealing, if you return it. That minor change eliminates the towel bill and laundry expenses, saving about $21,200.

As every frugal housewife knows, when it's time for fiscal conservatism, the grocery bill deserves a good hard look. Wimbledon says it is the largest single sporting event in Europe for catering. Consider this shopping list: about 26,455 pounds of poached smoked salmon; roughly 59,525 pounds of English strawberries; 30,000 sandwiches; 135,000 ice creams; 150,000 bath buns, scones, pastry and doughnuts; 285,000 cups of tea and coffee, 90,000 draft beer and lager and 12,500 bottles of champagne.

Now, it really wouldn't be compassionate to suggest something like switching the strawberries from fresh to frozen. That would save money, sure, but it wouldn't save face. But then there's the "dutchees," those English hot dogs that sell by the truckload on the tea lawn. Hungry Wimbledon fans dress up their dutchees with an array of condiments, but do they really need to? Wouldn't just your basic catsup and mustard do the trick? Few people ever actually dip into that lonely little bowl of green relish anyway. Scaling back the dutchee options would save $5,600.

As fast as you can say "rain delay," the combined savings on groundskeeping, ball boys and ball girls, towels, and dutchees equals exactly $72,800.

Now here's an ida. If Wimbledone is crying out for condiments, couldn't we all pitch in and help correct the Wimbledon deficit? If each and every one of us would save those little packets of mustard and catsup and secret sauce every time we go through the drive-through, we could ship them all to the folks at Wimbledon. That way they could spice up their dutchees without incurring any extra expense. The All England Club would be well on its way to rectifying the prize-money gap for the next in line: the women runners-up. It's a start.