Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tennis needs a better serve

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


Anonymous said...

Hey Mack,

wanted to say some things to your post that came to my mind while reading it:

- if professional tennis has so few viewers (if that is what is meant by low popularity) nobody would actually watch college tennis, I believe.
- college sports on TV is mainly a "U.S. thing" and as Tennis is more or less played worldwide, I don't know if that would make much of a difference (except for the U.S., of course).
- Not sure if the prospect of being on TV would motivate the "right" athletes...

- don't think it's a good idea to shorten games to match the attention span. tennis is a lot about tradition (at least I'd have thought so - maybe that's good marketing?) and you would probably lose the old fan base if the rules of the game are changed?
still, golf is a lot more fatiguing (for me) and still the quota's better.

sorry about all the negative comments, I do agree that tennis is a fascinating sport and I like your ideas, they're good and inventive!
btw.. like your blog's name, although I don't really like to imagine how viral garden would look in reality (something like a London tube in mid-November, probably ;-)

Mack Collier said...

"- if professional tennis has so few viewers (if that is what is meant by low popularity) nobody would actually watch college tennis, I believe."

Depends on the schools involved. There's long been a saying 'around here' that you could show Alabama and Auburn playing tiddly-winks, and sell-out a stadium. IF ESPNU could show the 'name' colleges from the 'name' conferences, I think it could work.

"- college sports on TV is mainly a "U.S. thing" and as Tennis is more or less played worldwide, I don't know if that would make much of a difference (except for the U.S., of course)."

Should have stated that, but this was how to motivate the US audience, since that's what the story was commenting on. Tennis may be huge still in Europe, Asia, etc, I have no idea.

"- Not sure if the prospect of being on TV would motivate the "right" athletes..."

Well it certainly couldn't hurt. The promise of endorsement deals would work much better though.

As for the negative comments, no biggie, I've always said that negative comments are usually better than positive ones, as long as they are constructive. Thanks for stopping by Ben!

J.D. said...

I agree in that I don't know if college tennis would get viewers. College baseball doesn't typically get them, and baseball's as American as apple pie.

That's not to say I wouldn't like to see it, though. I l.o.v.e. watching tennis (particularly women's tennis.)

Oh, and Mack, try "Virtua Tennis" if you're looking for a good tennis video game.

My suggestion... have Maria Sharapova play in EVERY match, and bring back Anna Kournikova. Maybe match the two of them up in a strip tennis game.

Anonymous said...

You have to understand...Tennis is a purely European has a certain european flair that is similar to football (soccer)...the modern sport was really first played in France and then later in England. I believe that the American Public holds tennis as less physically challenging than other sports such as football, basketball or soccer. However, when closely scrutinized, it is just as physically grueling. Throughout the decades, one may argue that tennis has evolved to become the most dynamic sport or game ever invented, because in order to be should be the fastest, strongest and smartest, but if you don't have all three virtues... well then you won't be any good. Despite this modernization, at the same time nationally conforming such an ancient, complicated, dynamic, and international game would be arrogant (on the part of the U.S) and extremely detrimental to the entire concept of Tennis.

Anonymous said...

If tennis is a mainly European game, then so is baseball, loosely based on cricket. Yet baseball is America's pastime. What is the solution for tennis in the US? To find a club, get some lessons, get pros out teaching a few hours a week to grow the game on the public courts, and grow the next superstars. Great athletes in the US go where the guaranteed money is- when you sign a contract with a team, when its encouraged in schools, get a scholarship for baseball, basketball, football. Few and far between is the tennis scholarship, because those who are truly gifted never go to school on a tennis scholarship, they hit the tour immediately.

Tennis is a great sport, but there's no interest in the US unless a couple vibrant, exciting Americans are playing at a high level.