The Biggest Prize Funds in Professional Sport

March 13, 2015 8:26 pm

“Money makes the world go round” is a statement which is becoming as true in sport as it is in business. In recent weeks we’ve heard news that Floyd Mayweather will finally face Manny Pacquiao, not for honour, or to unify the boxing belts, nor to provide the boxing world with an entertainment it has salivated over for years, but for the richest bout in boxing history which is expected to generate over $250 million. Just weeks before that announcement we learned that TV companies will shell out over $7.7 billion for the latest Premier League rights deal which, we are assured, will maintain the Premier League’s status as the biggest, boldest and richest in the world.

In short sport is a big money business and that’s especially true of “individual” disciplines like boxing, tennis and darts. With top encounters so rare and the stakes sky high it can be a wise move for event the strongest performers to wait for the big pay day. So let’s take a look at some of the biggest money competitions in sport.

sport money

Racing: The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby was once famously described by Hunter S. Thompson as “decadent and depraved” – probably true but he missed the most important adjective “dazzling”. Held annually in Louisville, Kentucky – The Derby has a prize pool of over $2 million annually, attracting the finest horses and jockeys.

Racing has always focused on the biggest and richest meetings which, if anything, make it more exciting. Without the monster prize fund, The Derby would just be another day at the races!

Tennis: The Australian Open

The Tennis world revolves around the 4 annual “Grand Slam” events, but the Australian Open, played in Melbourne Park, is the richest with a prize fund of $40 million. Tennis players make considerable schedule adjustments to accommodate Australia, generally playing several smaller tournaments in Asia and adapting their sleep schedule for a 12 hour difference.

When The Open began, back in 1905, very few Europeans would ever attend, mostly due to the travelling time. It wouldn’t be until decades later that top players regularly attended, in part due to the draw of its monstrous prize fund. However, It’s fair to say the Australian Open would have little of its current prestige if it couldn’t offer the biggest prizes in tennis.

Darts: PDC World Championships

It’s fair to say the PDC World Championship won’t be challenging Mayweather Pacquiao for the title of sport’s richest competition anytime soon. But the “divisional split” in darts between the BDO and PDC provides a perfect example of how the sport is driven by money.

When a group of top darts players broke off to form the PDC in 1993 it was seen as a temporary setback – more a bargaining tool than statement of intent. But the PDC players showed commercial savvy, attracting new sponsors and organising grandstand events.

Today those PDC rebels have a World Championship with a prize fund of $1.92 million, which dwarfs the $384,000 offered by the BDO in their rival event. Unsurprisingly most of the world’s top darts players eventually jumped ship for the PDC, which is now the dominant authority in darts.

Boxing: Mayweather vs Pacquiao

This is the bout boxing has been waiting on for over a decade. In almost any other sport it would be almost unthinkable that the two greatest performers would not meet until the twilight of their careers, but mainly due to tortuous commercial considerations this is exactly what happened.

Boxing has always been a “money” sport and Mayweather even advertises his commercial instincts as part of his performance. Boxing’s biggest bouts – from the “Rumble in the Jungle” to Ward vs Gatti have all been put together on the promise of huge paydays.

But some have begun to question whether boxing’s commercial obsession will begin to damage the sport. Ali fought for money, but still took on all comers in boxing’s “golden generation”. Unless boxing authorities find a way to encourage more big name fights, they may find themselves a victim of their own success.


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