Crowd Funding in Sports: Helping Athletes Achieve Their Dreams

Eilis Brennan

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Many children grow up dreaming of becoming a professional soccer player, swimmer or tennis star. I still harbour ambitions of winning Wimbledon (Juan Martin del Potro & me, Mixed Doubles Champions 2018- watch this space!). For a select few, that dream becomes  a reality.

We’ve all heard how much the likes of Wayne Rooney, Michael Phelps or Tom Brady earn in a year. But not a lot is mentioned about the players that are on the fringes of their sport.

Brady signed a 5 year, $57 million dollar contract with the New England Patriots in 2013. His salary this year will be $2 million. Photo: Keith Allison
Brady signed a 5 year, $57 million dollar contract with the New England Patriots in 2013. His base salary this year will be $2 million. Photo: Keith Allison

Being a sportsperson for a living is becoming an increasingly expensive job. More and more athletes are finding it difficult to support themselves. Travel costs, accommodation, coaching, and food all add up. It’s not an easy life.

Last June, Irish tennis player, James McGee, wrote a passionate piece on his personal blog, about the hardships he’s facing as a lower ranked player.

James McGee was featured in The New York Times, by writer Ben Rothenberg. Photo: Joe Ng
James McGee’s story was featured in The New York Times, written by Ben Rothenberg. An excellent read! Photo: Joe Ng

At the beginning of his career in 2008, he had private sponsors funding him and things were looking good. However, the money didn’t last long due to the financial downturn.

“I was ranked in the 400′s in 2009 after a good start on the tour from July-Dec ’08. It was a time where I needed funding to really push on and not get stuck but unfortunately, I did get stuck. My lack of funding lead to major changes in my schedule, my game, my mentality, my ranking and consequently my results. It was a difficult time and it lasted well over 2 years until mid 2011. Not surprisingly, my results were not outstanding during that period and I really felt I was struggling due to minimal funds.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 -From McGee’s blog post, ‘Financing the Tour’

McGee plays mostly on the second tier of the tennis tour. Even if you win one of the tournaments, the prize money pales in comparison to that offered at Wimbledon or Paris. In 2011, McGee won a tournament and received €500. This didn’t even cover his travelling expenses.

You lose money travelling to tournaments then mightn’t earn enough to cover your costs. It’s a vicious cycle.

Last summer, former British No.2 Jamie Baker retired from tennis at the age of 26. Baker had had enough of the grind of the tennis tour with little reward, and planned on entering the financial world.

“I sit and watch my brother trade for Morgan Stanley and make a lot more money than me,” said Baker, in an interview with The Guardian. “I’m sick of doing that.”

Back in 2012, Jerzy Janowicz was just another tennis player, trying to make it on the tour. He began the year ranked outside the top 200 and was unable to afford to participate in the Australian Open. He played mostly on the second-tier Challenger tour and his parents sold assets to fund his career. Sometimes, he would sleep in his car while playing tournaments.

Janowicz is one of the fastest servers in tennis. He reached 140mph during his quarter final match at Wimbledon 2013. (I've got prove). Photo: Marianne Bevis
Janowicz is one of the fastest servers in tennis. He reached 140mph during his quarter final match at Wimbledon 2013. (I’ve got prove). Photo: Marianne Bevis

His breakthrough came when he reached the Paris Masters final, defeating Marin Cilic and Andy Murray along the way. People started to take notice of this talented, 6’8″ Polish star – and so did sponsors. The 23 year old is now sponsored by Adidas, Peugeot and Atlas and is becoming one of the most popular male sports stars in Poland. Jerzy reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon last year, losing to Andy Murray in 4 sets. His future looks bright.

But not everyone is as lucky.

More and more athletes are turning to public funding platforms to help them. Pledge Sports is one of these. It works in the same way as Kickstarter. Professional sports people, teams or clubs set up their page and people can donate. Funding is only open for a certain length of time and people are rewarded for donating.

Irish tennis player, James Cluskey, is just one of the athletes availing of this new platform. His aim is to reach this year’s Wimbledon. Cluskey needed €10,000 to cover most of his expenses and this week, he reached his goal! As of today, James has raised €12,255. Final date for donations is today so he could get more.

There are other Irish athletes on Pledge Sports- Amy Bowtell, Barry Murphy, Kevin Thornton to name but a few. Many talented athletes are missing out on fulfilling their true potential because of lack of finances. It must be so frustrating, having the talent but no money to back you up.

To donate to any of the projects, go to pledgesports.org.

Jack Bauer used to save the world in 24 hours, can you help make someone’s dream come true in less time?

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Eilis Brennan