CNBC just ran a story on how low popularity is for professional tennis. I remember growing up in the 80s, tennis was a pretty big deal. You had great rivalries like McEnroe-Borg, Chris Everett-Navatilova, and youngsters such as Michael Chang and Boris Becker. Wimbledon was a summer mainstay, but as CNBC reported, with the World Cup, baseball, golf, NASCAR, and a general lack of interest in the sport, tennis' crown jewel could come and go without many people noticing.
It's a shame, because tennis is a fun sport, and if we can find a way to make televising NASCAR races and golf tournaments draws, I can't see why tennis couldn't be made into a ratings winner.
So here's the marketing moves I would make to revitalize the sport:
1 - Get college tennis on ESPN. ESPNU would be a perfect outlet for tennis, since they specialize more in the 'non-traditional' sports. The added exposure would entice more college students to try-out for tennis, which would eventually lead to more talented players. Also, the college season ends right as the professional season begins to hit it's summer stride, so it would be the perfect lead-in for the pros.
2 - Give tennis a point-system similar to NASCAR. Right now all you have are the world-rankings, which change constantly(Someone correct me if that's wrong). There's no sense of a beginning and end, no sense of a 'season' for tennis. I would give each tournament a set number of points awarded to winner, runner-up, making the semis, quarters, etc. And have the points weighed more heavily toward the Grand Slam, with Wimbledom of course being the biggest tourney. Scrap the world-rankings, and have the rankings based on the cumulative points each player has won.
3 - Shorten all matches to best of 3 sets. Sure occasionally you get an epic 5-set match that goes back and forth for 5 hours, but if the match is lopsided, especially for men, it can still last 2-3 hours. And considering that we are wanting to grow the fanbase, it's better to go with shorter matches to match shorter attention spans.
4 - Sign an exclusive licensing agreement with Electronic Arts to produce a tennis video game. Also give players the ability to download 'updated' player attributes based on their performance during the actual season, as well as updated wallpaper and screen shots for the game, based on who wins what tournament. And during the actual broadcast of each tournament, show a special code that allows players to unlock that tournament in their game, or maybe the seedings for that tournament, something like that.
I think it all starts with getting college tennis on TV, over time fans could follow the best players from college to the pros, which would lead to endorsement deals, etc. Once fans start to identify with individual players, then that will help drive video game sales, as players will want to play as their favorite player. And the point system would give readers a reason to follow the sport throughout the season.
Pic via Flickr user happymooses