For players outside of the top 100, life on tour is a constant struggle as they try to balance prize money gains with the cost of travel, accommodation and coaching.
“Tennis is one of the most expensive sports,” says Pledge Sports chief executive Richard Pearson. “If you want to make it in tennis you have to be travelling round in tournaments that matter and there are two tournaments in the UK that really matter, the rest are Europe or Slams, a lot of Asian events are also becoming more prominent.”
Pearson believes crowdfunding has the potential to revolutionise sports funding for both athletes and sponsors. A relatively new phenomenon, crowdfunding involves individuals, fans or businesses helping fund projects.
US ski jumper Lindsey Van raised almost $21,000 from crowdfunding to get to the Sochi Winter Olympics. It took just six weeks for Irish tennis player James Cluskey to raise €13,080.00– 30% more than his target for his 'Road to Wimbledon 2014' campaign to help him fund flights, accommodation, training expenses, equipment and competition entries.
“Money is a serious struggle for me,” explained Cluskey on his campaign page. “Due to cuts in funding I can’t play the full schedule of events as I simply cannot afford to do so. My friends and family have been a massive support…but there is only so much they can help. I have to cover most of my training and competition expenses on my own, which leaves less time to focus on my training.”
Former British junior No.1 Marcus Willis is one of the latest players to sign up with Pledge Sports, with a view to raising £4,000 in a bid to qualify for the main draw of Wimbledon in 2015. Currently ranked No.352 having been No.962 at the start of last season, Willis has been playing on the Futures tour and picked up titles in Tipton and Edinburgh and pocketing $2,880 in prize money. However, with just 18 ranking points on offer for a Futures title, Willis needs to move onto the Challenger Tour in order to climb further up the rankings.
“The Futures events are often much closer together and so are more feasible to play in terms of the financial costs associated with travel, accommodation and coaching,” says Willis. “It is vital that I start to play Challengers so I can progress my game and my mental ability so that the Grand Slams do not seem such a great step up.”
A £10 donation would see the benefactor listed on Willis’ campaign page, while £25 would merit a mention on his Twitter account. Anyone making a £100 donation would receive a signed picture, £250 a personal tennis lesson.
“This is why I need you to help me raise more funding to be able to compete in these tougher events,” explains Willis on his fundraising page. “So this is why I created this campaign ‘Willis for Wimbledon’, for help to fund the higher-level tournaments to get my ranking and my ability ready for Wimbledon 2015.”
The benefits, though, are not just for the players, as Pearson explains: “Let’s say you’ve got a tennis player, he’s getting huge support and getting media coverage and all over social media, it’s perfect for grass roots businesses to get behind these guys, whether that is a corporate or a local business. Even a local shop getting behind these guys is good business to be supporting them.
“If somebody has a successful campaign it’s good for business and good for them, it’s great running a business knowing that you are really making a difference to people’s lives. We have probably about 20% of donations coming from commercial entities but that can be anything from small local businesses getting behind athletes to big corporations.”
While many of the projects on Pledge Sports are individuals from a host of sports including triathlon, equestrian and judo there are teams such as hockey, basketball and wheelchair rugby. But it is not just elite athletes who are turning to crowdfunding – Llandudno FC Under 10 football team are using Pledge Sports to raise money to compete in the International Football Tournament at Disneyland Paris next April.
“I believe in two or three years’ time this will be the normal for any club, they do fundraising now with a raffle or disco or whatever else, but this is transferring that online and amplifying the fundraising campaign,” says Pearson.
Since it started in March, Pledge Sports has raised €85,000 and after launching in the UK is about to roll out the first US-based projects in August, as well as offering projects across Europe.
For more information visit www.pledgesports.org/uk/ or email Richard Pearson [email protected]