Most table tennis enthusiasts find joy in watching the greatest exponents of the sport play. Ma Long never ceases to amaze me after years of following him.
For 99% of us, table tennis is a hobby that makes us feel better. For less than 0.1% of players, table tennis is their job.
Have you ever wondered how much a table tennis player earns, or even thought about becoming a professional player yourself?
We’ve examined hundreds of sources to collect the most comprehensive summary of player earnings available anywhere.
Prize Money at Table Tennis Tournaments
The first thing we looked at to estimate the salary of table tennis players was the prize money per event.
These figures are public knowledge, so we have data about how much each player earns in the most important international events.
Starting with the WTT events, the overall prize money is as follows:
That is the total money to be distributed throughout the event, and it is also stipulated in the rule book that players of both genders must receive equal pay.
At the first Grand Smash in Singapore, Fan Zhendong and Chen Meng, champions of the event, won US$100,000.
As for the rest of the players who competed, they were awarded the following amounts:
We can see that a normal singles result, such as reaching the round of 16, nets players $15,000.
Although the prize money is not as high as in tennis, for example, it has greatly improved in recent years.
At the 2019 World Cup, Fan Zhendong and Liu Shiwen, winners of the men’s and women’s singles events respectively, took home just $60,000.
To make a comparison, at Wimbledon that year the winner of each event took home $2.9 million.
Inf News comments that if the best players in the world earn $200,000 or $300,000 per season in prize money, this is not nearly enough for the very elite of the sport. They go as far as to say that the prize money is “pitiful” in comparison to other sports.
They state this because using that prize money, players have to cover many costly expenses such as their stay, flights, the salary of their coaches and support staff, etc. Apart from that, lots of taxes on that prize money have to be paid.
In addition, the majority of players who play the highest paying events and finish in the top positions are usually just the 10 or 20 best players on the planet.
The bulk of table tennis salaries for most professional players is earned from their league salaries, as only 10 or 20 players on the entire planet earn substantial amounts from prize money.
Table tennis league salaries
Leagues are the main source of income for professional table tennis players. Players are hired by teams to play in various national leagues.
However, these clubs don’t disclose how much they pay their players, so we don’t have the exact numbers for most cases. Despite that, we can definitely estimate what a normal salary is depending on the league.
The biggest leagues are the Chinese Super League and the German Bundesliga. Most of the Chinese superstars play in the Chinese Super League, whilst most of the top European players ply their trade in the Bundesliga.
Other very important leagues are the Japanese league, the French league, the Spanish league, the Korean league, and the Russian league.
The best European teams from each of the national leagues qualify for the European Champions League, where players are paid even more.
The salary of the players varies a lot depending on several factors:
1. The league they play in.
2. The level and ITTF ranking of the player.
3. How many wins the player gets.
All these factors are very important when determining players’ salaries. Salaries in table tennis usually have many clauses depending on the victories that the player obtains.
The basic economic principle of scarcity also comes into play in table tennis.
A player ranked 20th in the world is highly coveted among clubs for obvious reasons: there are only 19 players in the world better than them. Because of this, they will be able to request a very high salary.
World-class players like Ma Long and Fan Zhendong are millionaires. It’s hard to say how much they earn because the figures are not official, but just with their league wins and tournament results they already earn tens of thousands of dollars per month.
According to tabletennischicago.com, world-class players can earn between $3,000 and $35,000 per win. This source adds that Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov earned $16,000 per win when they played in the Chinese Super League.
They also say that by adding these values together with the prize money, the best players in the world earn around $100,000 per month and that the highest salary ever was $267,000 per month.
This is without taking into account any sponsors nor the salary from being in their respective national teams (China pays their players for playing in both the national and the provincial teams).
Players between positions 20 and 100 also earn very well in the leagues in which they play.
As for the players between rank 100 and rank 200 in the world, they have average salaries, as if they worked in any other job, maybe a bit more.
Our personal sources tell us that the salaries per season in the France Pro A start at €27,000. Adding bonuses to that equation and depending on the player it can go up to €70,000.
France Pro A star players such as Benedek Olah and Joao Geraldo should be earning around the maximum limit, while other lesser-known players earn what is necessary to live and support themselves.
Professional players generally participate in two different leagues per year.
A user on the Tabletennisdaily forums shared the following information:
- Players around ITTF 250 earn on average 12-15000 EUR per season + bonuses, so on average around 100 Euros per victory.
- Players around ITTF 200-250 can expect 15-20000 EUR per season + bonuses.
- Players around ITTF150-200 can expect 18-22000 EUR per season + bonuses.
- Players around ITTF 100-150 can earn up to 30000 EUR per season, on average 25-27000 EUR per season.
- Crossing ITTF 100 is an important threshold in table tennis. The top 100 players’ salaries start from 30000 EUR per season.
- Players around ITTF 60 and up earn 40-50000 EUR per season. Those who are stable above ITTF-50 earn not less than 60000 EUR per season.
- Players around ITTF-20 earn from 60-90000 EUR per season. But it may vary wildly depending on the results.
- Top players get 150000-300000 EUR per season or more. Stars like Timo Boll earn much more than that.
“Salaries in China are much larger than in Europe.”
According to Inf News, Chinese players earn money for being on the provincial and national table tennis teams, so if you are a provincial-caliber player, you would have your league salary in addition to the salary provided by the state.
In addition, the league salary of Ma Long or Fan Zhendong is around 5 million yuan per year (about $750,000), but average players in the Chinese league earn between 300,000 and 500,000 yuan per year (between $45,000 and $75,000).
For those European players who play in slightly lesser-known divisions, such as the German second or third division, or the first divisions of less prominent countries, they are usually paid for their stay and a salary on top of that.
What these smaller clubs usually do is rent a house or two apartments for all the players on the team. They live together and train together, and on top of that, they are paid a salary that can range from 500 to 3,000 euros per month.
In India, table tennis players are given jobs in the government without them needing to do anything but focus on their sporting careers. They would later work in the government after finishing their career.
As we can see, the salary of each athlete depends a lot on the place where they’re playing and their nationality. China and India, for example, help their players a lot financially.
In conclusion, we can say that if you are in the top 200 of the ITTF, you can make a living from table tennis.
Whether you earn enough to save for when your sports career is over, that’s another story. If you’re in the top 150, probably. If not, it’s more complicated.
Virtually the entire ITTF circuit has sponsors, no matter what ranking you have. Those ranked in the lower positions such as position 1000 usually have sponsors who cover their rubbers or give them discounts on equipment.
Many players in the top 200 receive monetary compensation for using the brand’s products.
Elite players also get paid for providing their image rights to their own blade model, such as the Butterfly Timo Boll ALC, the DHS Hurricane Long, the Xiom Hugo Calderano HAL, the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro, etc.
We all know the Stiga Cybershape as a very good blade because Truls Moregardh finished second in the 2021 WTTC using it. Otherwise, it surely wouldn’t have been as successful in the sales department.
Then, Truls gets paid more if he has good results using Stiga equipment. For world-class players, sponsorships are a big part of their income.
For some players like Zhang Jike, table tennis gives them celebrity status and gets them other types of sponsors, such as fashion, outside of table tennis.
Ma Long and Timo Boll also often appear on TV shows in their native countries.
Who is the highest-paid table tennis player?
Knowing what we know, Ma Long is most likely the highest-paid player in table tennis.
Ma Long earns money in many different ways.
First of all, he earns his salary in the Chinese Super League. If it’s not the highest salary, it’s definitely one of the highest.
Secondly, Ma Long has his salary as the best player on the Chinese National Team.
Thirdly, Ma Long is the flagship player of one of the most important table tennis brands in the world, DHS.
Finally, we have the prize money for the tournaments in which he participates.
All this without counting all the advertisements in which he appears in his country and throughout the world.
From this, we can conclude that Ma Long is the highest-paid player in table tennis, and it is well deserved, as he is the best table tennis player in history.
What can table tennis players do when they retire?
Table tennis players dedicate hours and hours to their craft, to the point that Ma Long said in an interview that during tournaments he has no mental space to talk to his family. It is truly a very taxing sport.
Generally, table tennis players start their careers at a very young age. Most professional table tennis players started playing between the ages of 4 and 10.
Calling table tennis a “career” at that age may seem like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. There are little kids who train for hours upon hours every day and travel the world to play tournaments in their age category.
So table tennis players start at a very young age, and their career usually ends when they’re between 34 and 40 years old, although there are exceptions.
Jan Ove Waldner and Vladimir Samsonov played into their 40s, and He Zhi Wen is still playing professionally in his 60s.
However, all professional sports careers sooner or later come to an end (even for He Zhi Wen!). What does a player do when their career is over?
Most ex-pro players go on to become coaches, and it’s a very good career to pursue for a number of reasons.
First of all, if you were ever ranked in the ITTF world rankings list, you were a world-class player at some point, so you could charge high rates for your lessons. It’s not easy to gain even one ITTF point.
Professional players not only think all day long about the sport, but they also get advice from the best coaches in the world and discuss techniques and tactics with other equally prodigious players.
Very few people have this knowledge, and they can charge regular players a lot of money for teaching them the tips that world-class coaches and players once taught them when they were a player.
In addition to this, from refining their techniques so much, they have a much more detailed eye than the rest of the players, both in technical and tactical terms.
They understand the tactical development of a match thoroughly and they also know what the best techniques are for each player.
This is why they can retire and be a personal coach for professional players or teach ordinary players for a high hourly fee. Many also establish their own clubs.
If you are really passionate about table tennis and play at the highest level, you will be able to live from it all your life.
Is table tennis a good career for you?
It is a very complicated decision. I would say that table tennis is a good career for you if you meet certain criteria.
If you want to play table tennis professionally, you must really love the sport, and you must be willing to spend the vast majority of your time hitting a table tennis ball.
For most players, including myself, this is difficult and tiring. Most of us play 4-12 hours a week for leisure, but professional players need to train around 6-8 hours a day.
If you want to be a professional, I invite you to try for a few months to follow the routine of a professional, table tennis training, physical training (weights+cardio), and nutrition included. If you don’t like that lifestyle, I don’t think being a pro table tennis player is the right choice for you.
If you are willing to do what we have just mentioned, you should ask yourself if you have the skill level required to be a professional. This must be contemplated over time.
If you are young, you should be among the best players in your nation, or at least among the best players in your province to have a chance to go pro.
If you are already an adult, you should be on par with semi-professional or very advanced players to be able to consider a career in table tennis.
If you have the same level of semi-professional players and want to pursue a career in table tennis, chances are that you will be one of the “lower-tier” pros. You should be willing to accept that you will not earn as much money as with other professions.
If you are the best player in your country or the second best in your age group, or you can compete against semi-pros with much less training time, chances are you can become a mid to high-tier professional player and make good money.
All this assuming you commit your time and efforts and do everything to the best of your abilities.
Having said all this, if you want to pursue table tennis, you don’t necessarily have to be a player.
You can be a good coach without having been a professional player, or you can start ventures like selling table tennis equipment.
You can also become a table tennis journalist, YouTuber, nutritionist, or kinesiologist for players, the possibilities are almost endless. Lots of people live from table tennis without being or having been pro players.
In conclusion, there is work in the table tennis area, but you have to be very committed and certain conditions have to be met for it to be the right option.
In the vast majority of cases, trying to be a professional player is not the best idea.
In my opinion, table tennis is much more enjoyable if it is your hobby rather than your job.
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!