Nearly three decades after retiring from tennis, John McEnroe remains one of the most recognisable faces in the sport.
While McEnroe appears on many tennis top ten lists, he is normally at the bottom of those lists. There is no disputing that John McEnroe had an outstanding and even glorious tennis career but there is nobody who can honestly say he is the greatest to have ever played the game.
Yet McEnroe remains richer than most active players in 2020.
Why Is John McEnroe Still Filthy Rich?
John McEnroe is a musician, actor, art collector, philanthropist, former professional tennis player, tennis coach, tennis commentator, founder of a tennis academy and pop-culture icon.
John McEnroe’s antics on the tennis court were not always appreciated when he was still a professional player. However, in an extraordinary reversal of fortunes those very on-court antics have significantly enhanced his post-career brand.
In 2020, McEnroe is estimated by some to be worth as much as $100-million. More conservative estimates have McEnroe’s net worth somewhere in the region of $50-million.
Regardless of what the actual figure is, it is impossible to ignore just how much architects, broadcasters, charitable organisations and even current players are prepared to pay for the association.
John McEnroe Career Prize Money
McEnroe does not actually feature among the top earners in the history of professional tennis, in prize money terms. There is one main reason for that.
When one examines the list of top ten earners in men’s professional tennis, you will notice that none of the players from McEnroe’s generation feature. The reality is that McEnroe’s generation can only be classified as the pioneers of the professional era.
When McEnroe joined the professional ranks in 1978, the Open Era had only existed for ten years. So, the reality is that even though players like McEnroe have created enormous wealth for themselves since then, they were not earning a considerable amount for their on-court achievements in the 70s and 80s.
In total, McEnroe won a whopping 77 men’s singles titles during his professional career. That places him fifth on the all-time list. Seven of those titles were won at the Grand Slam events. He just makes it into the top ten on the all-time list for Grand Slam singles titles.
The American “artist” did distinguish himself from all of the other players on tour though, because he achieved a considerable amount of success in doubles competition too.
In fact, when his doubles exploits are taken into account McEnroe actually becomes the most successful man to ever pick up a tennis racket – having won a total of 155 ATP Tour titles. Even after all of that he does not qualify to be among the top ten on the all-time prize money list.
About that prize money, McEnroe earned $12,552,132 during his playing career. In the context of the era that McEnroe comes from, that is a lot of prize money. However, when you consider what the modern players are making, it feels like nothing.
John McEnroe walked away from his glorious playing career with Seven Grand Slam Singles Titles and was the runner-up on four occasions. McEnroe also walked away with Nine Grand Slam Doubles Titles and lost three finals along the way.
McEnroe also won One Grand Slam Mixed Doubles Title. These stats alone set him apart from the ordinary professional tennis players – then and now.
In total, he also walked away with eight year-end singles titles. Three of those victories were recorded during the Grand Prix Masters era. The remaining five titles were lifted during the World Championship Tennis era.
McEnroe also won 19 Grand Prix Super Series titles during his glorious career.
Here is a brief breakdown of some of those wins and what some of them were worth.
John McEnroe At The Majors (Singles Titles)
1981 ($388 008) – Beat Bjorn Borg
1983 ($746 408) – Beat Chris Lewis
1984 ($988 285) – Beat Jimmy Connors
US Open Champion:
1979 ($300 000) – Beat Vitas Gerulaitis
1980 ($350 000) – Beat Bjorn Borg
1981 ($440 000) – Beat Bjorn Borg
1984 ($1 000 000) – Beat Ivan Lendl
John McEnroe At The Majors (Doubles Titles)
1979 – Beat Brian Gottfried and Raul Ramírez
1981 – Beat Bob Lutz and Stan Smith
1983 – Beat Tim Gullikson and Tom Gullikson
1984 – Beat Pat Cash and Paul McNamee
1992 – Beat Jim Grabb and Richey Reneberg
US Open Champion:
1979 – Beat Bob Lutz and Stan Smith
1981 – Beat Heinz Günthardt and Peter McNamara
1983 – Beat Fritz Buehning and Van Winitsky
1989 – Beat Ken Flach and Robert Seguso
John McEnroe At The Majors (Mixed Doubles Titles)
Roland Garros Champion:
1977 – Beat Florenţa Mihai and Iván Molina
John McEnroe At The Tour Finals (Singles Titles)
1978 – Beat Arthur Ashe
1983 – Beat Ivan Lendl
1984 – Beat Ivan Lendl
John McEnroe At The World Championship Tennis Finals (Singles Titles)
1979 – Beat Bjorn Borg
1981 – Beat Johan Kriek
1983 – Beat Ivan Lendl
1984 – Beat Jimmy Connors
1989 – Beat Brad Gilbert
McEnroe Has The Gift Of the Gab
Anybody who has listened to John McEnroe commentate on tennis, whether that be for the BBC at Wimbledon, CBS, NBC, USA or ESPN (normally associated with the US Open), will confirm just how outstanding he is at his job.
He is among the most sought after voices in the sport and his management team knows it.
According to SportSpeakers360, McEnroe’s speaking fees start at $50 000.
Most of his speaking engagements will likely be higher than that, as is confirmed by these agents..
It is reported that McEnroe’s speaking fee can actually range from $100,000 – $1,000,000. A considerable amount of that work extends beyond just speaking engagements though.
Autograph signings and related public relations campaigns will often come with the territory.
You Cannot Be Serious?
We cannot say this for certain, but “you cannot be serious” is probably the most famous line in the history of sport. It is the product of a meltdown John McEnroe had during his playing days at Wimbledon.
“You cannot be serious” is probably also the most in-demand line for those working in television and film. There is compelling evidence of that in parodies that have been made of McEnroe both during and post his professional career.
However, a more compelling indication of how in-demand McEnroe is the series of appearances that he makes in Hollywood productions. In every one of his 28 television and filmography appearances McEnroe plays himself.
That includes appearances that he has made on movies like Mr. Deeds, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and the perfectly titled Wimbledon, where he “commentates” on the tournament.
McEnroe has also made appearances on popular TV shows like Frasier, Suddenly Susan, Arliss, Anger Management, Saturday Night Live, CSI, Parkinson, 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ground Floor.
Most of those were highly successful shows and they are merely the tip of the iceberg. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that he made a financial killing for every episode where he made an appearance.
Then there is also the small matter of all the ‘You Cannot Be Serious’ merchandise. The t-shirts are particularly popular.
John McEnroe is an old man and has gone a little soft with age. However, the fiery temper that was such a prominent feature of his professional profile as a tennis player has remained an important feature of his brand.
John McEnroe Tennis Academy
The John McEnroe Tennis Academy was established in 2010, at a time when it was becoming increasingly apparent that United States tennis was struggling to produce male tennis players that could challenge for the Major titles.
To date the biggest name to emerge from that academy is Noah Rubin, which honestly isn’t saying a considerable amount at this point. At the time of writing this blog, Rubin’s highest ranking was 125.
It is reported that $18-million was spent on the design and construction of the Randalls Island complex.
Among the brands associated with the John McEnroe Tennis Academy are HEAD, PENN, SOLINCO, UTR, NIKE, HOURGLASS and Gold Coast. This ensures there is a serious revenue stream into the academy, before the directors start taking in fees from parents who want their children to play like John McEnroe.
That is in addition to the private lessons that are available, for those who are particularly hopeful about a professional career in the sport.
The John McEnroe Tennis Academy was built in partnership with SportTime. They host a series of sports camps for young children around New York.
Those camps also need to be paid for. Children tend to go on these camps just for the summer experience with other children but there is also a genuine belief that they can contribute to a child’s sporting development, regardless of the code.
McEnroe The Tennis Coach
Before John McEnroe opened his tennis academy, he was also the Captain of the United States Davis Cup team.That is an appointment he took up shortly after retirement from the sport but he only lasted 14 months in the job.
That resignation might have a little to do with the fact that Spain wiped the floor with the United States in the semi-final of the 2000 Davis Cup campaign – where they won 5-0. That defeat was also recorded on clay, a surface where American tennis players have not always been competent.
Then there was the small matter of the fact that Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were not a part of that semi-final match-up. The result would almost certainly have been different otherwise. McEnroe said he was frustrated by the Davis Cup gig but it remains a post-retirement gig that he was paid for – a source of additional revenue.
McEnroe also enjoyed a recent stint as the coach of Milos Raonic during a largely successful Wimbledon campaign, where the Canadian lost to Andy Murray in the tournament final.
However, McEnroe’s other business and financial commitments began to conflict with those of Raonic and the relationship ended before the 2016 US Open.
Book sales – The Serious John McEnroe Autobiography
We suppose it was inevitable but the title of the John McEnroe autobiography was ‘You Cannot Be serious’. It is a book he wrote with American journalist James Kaplan. That highly anticipated book, published at the turn of the century, made it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. That, in itself, speaks volumes.
McEnroe The Artist – Both On And Off The Court
For those of you who don’t know – of which we suspect there are many – John McEnroe is also the owner of an Art Gallery in Manhattan. He opened his John McEnroe Gallery in 1994. Among his collection are works by artists like Yayoi Kusama, Henry Darger and Glenn Ligon.
McEnroe The Music Man
There was a somewhat strange period in John McEnroe’s life, where he fancied himself a decent musician. There were also many within his circle who thought he had a meaningful contribution to make to the industry.
Once his playing days were over John McEnroe learned to play the guitar – and some say it happened pretty quickly. It does not end there either. The tennis maestro also formed a band and wrote some songs, while he was at it. Subsequent to that, the band started touring cities and playing regular gigs.
The revenue generated from that didn’t likely break any music records but it was probably decent, given that he did the touring for the greater part of two years. He stopped touring before he finished his first album though, which was a little strange. Nevertheless, in John McEnroe, the world has been exposed to a genuine all-rounder both on and off the tennis court.
Endorsements – The Right Place At The Right Time
The Open Era (professional era) in Men’s tennis started in 1968. John McEnroe started his professional tennis career in 1978. As is the case with any new system, there was a transitional period in men’s tennis directly after that. It was only towards the late 80s that the impact of professionalism started to be felt – in a positive way.
While McEnroe was one of the earliest beneficiaries of the professional transition, it is actually his greatest tennis rival Bjorn Borg who has been credited with taking professional tennis into a new age of prosperity.
We will touch on Borg in greater detail, in another blog post on this very subject matter. In the context of wealth in professional sport, Bjorg’s is a story worth telling.
Also, in the context of this particular post, it is worth noting that Borg was three years McEnroe’s senior. It is in those three years that Borg became a sporting phenomenon – and to some degree a tennis cash cow.
Between 1978 and 1981 McEnroe faced Borg 14 times on the tennis court – with each player winning seven times. Many of those contests were absolute epics. Fixtures between them were probably the single biggest pull factor on the tennis courts of the 70s and 80s.
As it so happens this was also a period in which serious money was beginning to be splashed in the sport. It is also worth noting that only some of that money was made in tournament winnings. Most of it was – and is still made in endorsements and other off-court deals.
Among the first endorsement deals that McEnroe secured was one with racket manufacturer Dunlop – which enjoyed a golden period during the 80s and 90s.
Finding a top-ranked tennis player who uses Dunlop these days is harder than finding a plumber on a Sunday. That is probably evidence that a player’s association with a particular brand or product remains quite crucial. That association certainly wasn’t taken for granted when McEnroe was the face of the product.
Racket Sponsor – John McEnroe Remains At The HEAD
Just four years ago, at the tender age of 56, McEnroe secured a stunning endorsement deal with the top selling racket in the world today – HEAD. That racket also happens to be used by world number two Novak Djokovic – who happens to be the all-time tennis prize money leader.
There is also an argument to be made that Djokovic is the greatest to have ever picked up a tennis racket. You would think that having Djokovic’s face on your rackets is enough.
HEAD’s multi-year agreement with McEnroe was signed while he was still competing on the ATP Champions Tour; a post-retirement option for great tennis players.
John McEnroe The Real Estate Mogul
One source places John McEnroe’s net worth at somewhere in the region of $100-million. It is claimed that a major contributor to that enormous wealth is Real Estate. Among the properties listed is a $21-million oceanfront home at the exclusive Paradise Cove.
Another listed property is Johnny Carson’s old Malibu home. In total John McEnroe is believed to own Los Angeles property to the tune of about $50-million. He also owns a two-acre estate in Southampton. This is a serious business. It is actually quite difficult to go wrong with property and that is something that John McEnroe has understood for a particularly long time.
An element of wealth generation in sport, which is not discussed regularly enough is the creation of a personal brand. More of the modern players are learning to do that but there is still considerable emphasis – especially from large sections of the media – on prize money.
Prize money in sport regularly amounts to very little in the greater scheme of things. In fact, since the dawn of the Open Era, the prize money has merely been a drop in the ocean. The vast majority of tennis players are only starting to learn that now.
John McEnroe, ladies and gentlemen, was well ahead of his time in this regard. The creation of a personal brand and a series of smart investments have helped secure his financial legacy in a way that very few professional sportsmen and women have been able to fathom.