Table tennis is one of the least fashionable or publicized sports that you could likely think of. There’s a certain level of pride that comes with table tennis – similar to that of athletic endeavors – and many players are more concerned with the competition and pride in table tennis than they are with the prize money.
This of course doesn’t apply to everyone, table tennis is a career for many players with numerous earning pathways and some lucrative prize money available for the major competitions. Whether it be prize money, sponsorship, or other misc income sources, there’s no denying that people can make a living from the sport.
The really interesting question though is how much do table tennis players make and what is a typical salary for table tennis players? That’s something we’ll be answering below with examples, averages, and even showing who some of the highest earners are – you’ll be surprised by how many $000 are on some player’s net worth values!
How Much Do Table Tennis Players Make
One of the most popular games around the globe is ping-pong or table tennis as most call it. This is a professional sport that requires top-notch skill, but it doesn’t pay nearly as much as other sports like hockey, football, or basketball.
They often get their earnings from prize money received from championships, tournaments, and other types of competitions. But, the amount of money they receive is nothing to scoff at. Those skilled and talented in the sport can make a healthy chunk of change.
However, it takes a lot to earn a decent living. Oftentimes, professionals participate in a variety of athletic feats to make this possible. Some players do receive a salary, but this is not a standard worldwide.
How Do Table Tennis Players Make Money
Table Tennis is not typically a mass publicized sport. When we think about some of the more popular global sports like basketball or football (soccer), then people are already aware of large salaries, bonuses, sponsorship opportunities, tv and media coverage, and a range of other income-generating opportunities.
Table tennis – whilst still being a relatively popular sport – doesn’t offer the same financial opportunity as some of these more established and popular sports.
There are four primary ways that table tennis players make money:
- Competition Prize Money
- Guest Appearances
Below, we’ll briefly cover each of these in a bit more detail.
1) Competition Prize Money
Competition prize money is the number one way that table tennis players can earn a living. This is true for both the best players in the world and even amateur players (to an extent) playing in local competitions.
The prize money for tournaments will vary depending on prestige, location, sponsorship, and tv coverage so let’s take a look at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Championships to get a good idea of the kind of prize money players can expect to earn.
The ITTF World Tour is the biggest table tennis series you can compete in with $8,000,000 (USD) available as prize money throughout the calendar year. This finishes annually with the ITTF Grand Final tournament with $1,000,000 (USD) available in prize money in 2019 and $3,000,000 (USD) in 2020.
The tournament prize money breakdown in 2019 was the following:
|Position||Prize Money ($1,000,000)|
While this prize money is certainly impressive, for comparison, the World Championship in darts boasts a prize money pot of over $3,000,000 due to how much better this tournament is promoted in comparison to table tennis… but that’s a debate for another time!
Other tournaments throughout the year will vary with prize money from as little as $500 for the winner to as high as $35,000.
Something that most players don’t consider initially is the sponsorship opportunity that comes with a sport. There are a few routes into sponsorship which are mainly playing ability (the best players attract the most attention due to more visibility in the media) and also a player’s personality.
Eccentric or relatable players can earn sponsorship opportunities due to a social following or interactivity with fans as this can be incredibly valuable to brands.
While the top brands will pay players to sponsor this and have contracts produced, this is reserved for only the top athletes or personalities but sponsorship opportunities can help players at all levels. The different types of sponsorship opportunities include:
- Salary to promote the brand
- Free branded equipment
- Paid entry fees
- Expenses for travel and accommodation for tournaments
Each has its own benefits and will apply to different players.
3) Guest Appearances
Something that’s less considered in ping pong is making guest appearances. The reason is that it’s not something that’s noticeably in demand. For specific times and locations though, guest appearances are a way for players to earn some additional income for being present at an event for the fans to meet or watch in action.
A good example of this was a Japanese players exhibition post covid which gave fans the chance to see some of their favorite players in action again for a 1-day exhibition tournament.
Finally, players can also earn money from coaching. Table tennis is one of the few sports where players will also coach alongside competing. This requires a certain personality and time commitment to provide coaching, however, an hourly rate for table tennis coaching can be quite lucrative and provide a steady source of income for players, especially if they are struggling on the tournament circuit.
Average Range of Earnings
They can win, on average, anywhere from $3,000 to $35,000 per challenge. For instance, the New York City Open in 2011 had a top prize of $4,000. But big-time international tournaments offer players as much as $40,000 or more, such as is the case with the International Table Tennis Federation or the European Championships.
In recent years, some competitions and tournaments offer as much as $140,000 for the top winner. There is a resurgence of interest in the sport that’s becoming increasingly popular across Europe and Asia. Plus, with the increased entry fees for players, there’s more money allotted to the winners.
Annually, ping pong or table tennis players can expect to earn in the region of $5,000 – $35,000 through prize money and smaller sponsorship players. For elite-level players ranked within the top 10 in the world, earnings and net worth can range from $1,000,000 to $10,000,000.
In one part of the world though, the average earnings for ping pong players have bumped up noticeably due to the popularity of the sport…
China Is the Ping Pong Capital of the World
While this game has worldwide acclaim, China is the main hub of attraction. Here, it’s a national pastime and it’s not uncommon for people to make their living this way. As a matter of fact, six of the world’s top 10 players come from China. And, actually, players here receive a regular salary on top of their winnings so it’s much more lucrative to play professionally in China than it is anywhere else in the world!
Richest and Most Renowned Table Tennis Professionals
But, because the world of ping pong is so small in comparison to other spectator sports, there are only a few professionals who make some serious dough playing the game. They are hardcore, dedicated, and deliver some of the most impressive techniques.
The following list of players are the 11 most famous in the world. This is a brief discussion of their skills and achievements along with the money they’ve made playing table tennis. The latest release was in June 2011 so not the most recent by any stretch but check out some:
- Ma Lin: Chinese player ranked 4th in the world; he earned 5 million Yuan ($645,000) in 2006 as part of the Shaanxi Yinhe team and later 1.3 million Yuan ($168,000) as part of the Ningbo Haitian League.
- Jean-Michel Salve: Belgian pro who played ping pong until he was 49 years old; participated in seven summer Olympics between 1988 and 2012. He has an estimated net worth of $15 million.
- Timo Boll: German table tennis player with a unique technique. He’s won three trophies throughout his career and has an estimated net worth of around seven million dollars.
- Wang Hao: Mind-blowing ping pong player from China who is the most successful in the world. He won the World Cup Championship in 2007, 2008, and 2010 along with the Summer Olympics Singles in 2004, 2008, and 2012. He has a net worth of over $1.5 million.
- Chen Jing: 51-year-old female table tennis professional famous for having a net worth of $18 million. She won the Olympic Championship in China as well as gold and silver medals during the Seoul Olympics. Also, she won the silver medal at the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, making her the only player to get a medal for Taipei.
- Wang Ligin: Chinese player with a net worth around $20 million and was the number one ranked player before his 2013 retirement. He’s famous for his shake-hand grip, winning the Chinese league countless games.
- Zhang Jike: Chinese Grand Slam winner at the 2012 Olympics. He has an illustrious career that puts his net worth somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million.
- Jan-Ove Waldner: A great player from Sweden, famously known as the “Mozart of Ping Pong,” is valued at $10 million; he won the 1992 Grand Slam.
- Ma Long: By the time this Chinese player was 17 years old in 2004, he won four major titles. He’s an Olympics Champion and Grand Slam winner. His total net worth ranges somewhere between one and five million dollars.
- Fan Zhendong: Ranked 3rd table tennis player in the world, he has a unique style of playing. Estimates place his net worth around three million dollars.
- Zhuang Zedong: Known as the best table tennis player of all time, winning championships in 1961, 1963, and 1965. While we don’t know his total net worth, he was integral during this time of widening China’s diplomatic relations with the world after communism took hold of the country.
Table Tennis is undoubtedly a popular sport and pastime around the globe, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the money or salaries available to players reflect that.
In fact, table tennis is not very lucrative as a career unless you are an elite level player (ranked top 10 globally) or play in China where the sport is a national treasure and players are compensated accordingly.
Most tournaments in table tennis offer prize money pools of $30,000 to as high as $3,000,000 for some tournaments. While this can appear like a staggering sum, the average salary for a table tennis player is in the region of $3,000 – $35,000 for prize money alone.
Players can boost their earnings through sponsorship, guest appearances, and even coaching but as a cumulative figure, most table tennis players do not earn much more than a national living wage for their home country or nation.