Tennis is dead?

Discussion in 'Odds & Ends' started by Dreadeye, Apr 23, 2004.

  1. Dreadeye

    Dreadeye New User

    Feb 20, 2004
    Sally seems unaware of the existence of "recreational tennis".

    "Is Tennis Ready for a Big Return? You Make the Call.

    By Sally Jenkins
    Wahington Post
    Thursday, April 22, 2004; Page D01

    I'm trying to think of anything more culturally irrelevant than tennis. New Age music festivals? Sport fishing and rare book auctions also come to mind. Here's how irrelevant the sport has become: Eleven days ago a U.S. Davis Cup team led by Andy Roddick beat Sweden in the quarterfinals on American soil, and it only merited a brief mention on the nightly sportscasts. You probably missed it, because Tiger Woods's slump seemed so much more important at the time. So did Sean Penn's political views, and Pete Rose's future, and Lesley Stahl's hair style.

    Tennis is dead. It has been dead before, but at the moment it's dead without precedent. Combine aloof players with basic business errors, and what you have is a sport with no heartbeat. In an effort to resuscitate it, a hapless alphabet soup of governing bodies this week joined with ESPN in trumping up something called the "U.S. Open Series," a six-week summer season of big-bonus televised tournaments. The idea is to get tennis on TV more regularly, provide audiences with a better sense of continuity and familiarity with players, and thereby bring back the game. We'll see.

    The question is whether the public wants more of something that they're already not watching.

    Here are just a few of the spectator sports with better attendance figures than tennis, according to a 2002 survey in the Sports Business Journal: rodeo, soccer and greyhound racing.

    The reason for this new big deal "series" -- which by the way is only the most recent gimmicky "series" in tennis -- is that the USTA, along with the ATP men's tour and the Women's Tennis Association, needed some kind of lightning rod because TV ratings have been so perilously weak lately. ESPN's numbers for its men's tennis events are off 33 percent from two years ago; only 249,000 households tuned in per telecast in 2003, and while women's tennis is slightly better, it's still flat, off by 5 percent, with 365,000 households tuning in per show.

    Even the four Grand Slam events, which historically have always managed to consistently interest audiences, have seen precipitous ratings drops. Unless Andre Agassi or Venus and Serena Williams are in the final, people just don't seem to care like they used to. Last year's U.S. Open final between Roddick and top-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero produced a 3.5 rating, a 44 percent fall from the previous year. Justine Henin-Hardenne's victory over No. 1 Kim Clijsters got a 2.5, down a precipitous 52 percent. And at Wimbledon, Roger Federer's victory over Mark Philippoussis drew the lowest overnight U.S. television rating on record for a men's final at the All England Club.

    What happened? Why is tennis, which ruled the airwaves and enjoyed packed arenas in the 1970s and '80s, and even three years ago still had some buzz, suddenly falling so flat with the public in the millennium? The answer comes in the form of another question: Why should we watch a sport that even the players seem disinterested in? Especially when we can log on to the Internet and shop on ****, or check our Blackberries, or click on a DVD?

    You can put all the tennis on television that you want, but it won't alter the fact that the sport is driven by its stars and personalities, and at the moment there is a problematic cast at the top of both the men and women's games. Venus and Serena Williams don't even play their own sport; all they do is withdraw from tournaments with injuries and have dalliances with other professions, from fashion designing to acting, and turn up for an isolated trophy here or there. The men aren't much better. Six top players withdrew from the Monte Carlo Open this week, including top-ranked Federer, Agassi, Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish.

    There is one thing no network or governing body or tricked-up schedule can do, and that's make the players play.

    Golf, once a narrow and boring rich white man's game, has become the far more populist and connective sport -- and one annually rated by sponsors as giving the most satisfaction to its financial backers, too. While tennis has done a swan dive over the last year, consider the LPGA. Attendance for the 33-event tour rose 9 percent last season, and 12 percent in 2002. Its network viewership was up 4 percent last year and a whopping 21 percent in 2002.

    Tennis is a complicated failure. No one party or factor can be solely blamed. The problem is not fragmented internationalism, or a lack of stars. Federer is a pleasure to watch, an interesting and amiable man who is possessed of some of the most gorgeous strokes ever. It's not his fault, or that of Kim Clijsters, that the sport is in what might be called a star-transition and we simply don't know them as well yet as we know, say, Agassi or Monica Seles.

    But it is the fault of the governing bodies that technology is ruining the quality of the game, and fields have become cluttered, with too many tournaments and too many indistinguishable players. Six male finalists turned up in Grand Slam finals in 2003, guys who shot up from the bottom 100s, guys like David Nalbandian, Guillermo Coria and Thomas Johansson. This is not to say they are unworthy or uninteresting. But at a certain point it's difficult to keep track of Jiri Novak, Sjeng Schalken and Paradorn Srichaphan plus a half dozen Argentines and another six or seven Spaniards who float in and out of the top 20 and various finals. As many as thirty players are liable to win ATP events in a season.

    Equipment has something to do with it. Both John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova have each remarked that racket technology makes the game "too easy" with the result that too many players play exactly alike. Matches are generic, strokes homogenized, with fewer interesting contrasts in styles, or changeups.

    This makes it hard for the public to connect with much of anyone. Contrast that with the game we watched in the 1970s and '80s, when there were more clear-cut rivals: Ivan Lendl showed up in 19 Grand Slam finals, and John McEnroe in 11, and we knew they didn't like each other. No wonder we tuned in.

    It's taken a collective effort of lousy marketing, bad business practices, and apathetic players over a period of many years, but the end result is clear: Tennis has slowly but surely dislocated its audience, both physically and emotionally. It has squandered its star power, its history and its tradition. So can the new Open series and ESPN save tennis? Only if it manages to personalize the game again. Only if it manages to make the Federers and Clijsters come alive in our imaginations as the next great creative geniuses, the natural and personable successors in a traditional yet vivid and lively sport, the one we always loved.

    If it doesn't do that, then the game is gone for good."
  2. Joe Average

    Joe Average Rookie

    Feb 18, 2004
    Problem is, very few recreational players I meet, at the clubs and at the tennis camps I've attended, very few actually watch pro tennis. They all seem to be Baby Boomers trying to stay fit.
  3. Deuce

    Deuce Banned

    Feb 13, 2004
    A not so parallel universe...
    From the article: "Equipment has something to do with it. Both John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova have each remarked that racket technology makes the game "too easy" with the result that too many players play exactly alike. Matches are generic, strokes homogenized, with fewer interesting contrasts in styles, or changeups. This makes it hard for the public to connect with much of anyone."

    There is some truth to this - as with several points in the article.

    As well, I've said before that the gap between the pro game and the recreational game is larger now than ever before. Twenty or thirty years ago, people could watch the pros, and feel that "hey, I can do that". Now, though, this is not at all the case, as the pro game incorporates much more power and spin than the fans can readily identify with. The result is a distiction and distance which has resulted in tennis becoming a mere 'recreational activity' - as Joe wrote, people today play tennis primarily to stay in decent shape, or even as a social activity. The seriousness and competitiveness of tennis on a recreational level is no more. The rapidly diminishing production of TRUE 'players frames' is surely evidence of this unfortunate turn of events.

    As for the comparison with golf, we need to remember that golf still looks easy to play. When we watch the pros, we can still think "hey, I can do that", just as we did 20 and 30 years ago. With tennis, the difference between the pro game and the game the fans play has simply become far too significant.
  4. widebody 13

    widebody 13 New User

    Apr 22, 2004
    I think your comments concerning the distance between pros and the recreational player is valid. In so far as watching tennis on TV, I find it very boring because strategy has lost its importance and the ball just travels too darn fast.

    I think that the televised events should show much more doubles. In doubles, you can still see contrasting styles. It has more of a "team" atmosphere that appeals to many. Besides, there are a lot of people who only play doubles and can relate more.

    I would also like to see tennis clubs reach out more to their respective communities by offering free clinics and small grass roots tournaments. So many people have played a couple of summers only to enter a sanctioned USTA event and get blown away never to pick up a racket again.

    Just my 2 cents.
  5. Kirko

    Kirko Hall of Fame

    Feb 18, 2004
    I think tennis is at a nader point because of those who can "buy" ; I'm 51 yr. "baby boom" they have the "disposable" income . For the most part my generation is "bleak" meaniing fat ; that is why golf is so popular . Think about it any grocery store has a truck load of Super BullS >>>t. magazines dedicated to it.The players today are no different than yeste year.. Think abt. it golf was invented by guys who didn't want to go home after work ; for real . The whole iidea of kicking or striking an object into a hole . We do share one aspect with golf hitting a ball within an imageinary boundary. Give me tennis anytime the day I pickk up a golf club I'd rather put a bullet between my horns.
  6. cbegap

    cbegap Rookie

    Mar 17, 2004
    I think there are several reasons tennis is on the decline. First and foremost, more tennis facilities are taking out the tennis courts and putting fitness equipment in. Secondly, we are as out of shape as any society yet and finally, watching tennis is made more boring than it should be.
    So are businesses taking courts out because there aren't enough people playing, or do they see an opportunity for more income? There is the opportunity to generate more dollars with fitness equipment in the same space. One tennis court takes up 7200 square feet. 4 people max can use that space at one time. Let's say average court time is $25 +/- per hour. So four memberships/average number of hours visited + a pitiful $25. Let's say an average fitness machine takes up 20 square feet. Divide 7200 by 20 and you get 360. So you could get 360 more machines in the facility. Say only 1/4 where full at one time. There's 90 people in the same space and that’s only one court. So do the math and indoor courts start to make less sense. Fitness Facilities actually make the real money on people that have a new year resolution, go for a month and then stop coming. They get charged every month whether they show or not. You can figure on a certain percentage of this happening and oversell memberships if you will. People have to actually show up to charge them for court time. Then you have to compete with public courts in the summer months.
    I also think tennis is physically harder on you than golf. As the baby boomers get older, they play less physical sports. It is kind of hard to be 50+ lbs overweight and get to a drop shot, yet the golf cart hardly notices the extra weight. There are no sprints in golf, sudden stops or any of the rigors of tennis.
    As a fairly newcomer to watching tennis on TV, I think there is plenty of room for improvement. I think they need to do to tennis what Fox TV did to NASCAR. They need to talk more!!! Talk about the technique and strategy. They keep there mouth shut the whole point and try to slip the comment in after the point. I know this is tennis etiquette, but it isn’t very informative. Talk about the racquets. Make a stink about paintjobs, and other issues. When was the last time you heard the commentators talk about string types, or string tension. Take a shot slow mo and break down the technique. Show the freaking serve speed on every shot!!! Man that is annoying. Let the audience hear what the player is saying when he gets angry or whatever. Say what they should do and what they are not doing. Saying “boy he got really tight” doesn’t cut it. Get Brad Gilbert in the booth and go at it. We live in an instant gratification/ X-box society. Spice it up a little. Stop bringing up the same 3 facts every match about the players. Yes, we know Rodger F. was given a cow, is from Switzerland, and has a beautiful backhand. That’s it? That’s all they can find to say? I really like the guy. He speaks well, is humble enough as far as I can tell, and seems likeable enough. So why is all they can say is that he is not known in the US? Says who? It is not up to the players to promote them selves. What is the USTA and ATP doing in there spare time? Talk about how hard these guys train. Don’t complain that racquet technology is what is making the game faster. That is a pile. These people work harder that ever before. They eat better, lift weights, etc etc. I like Johnny Mac, but from the old pictures I saw, it looks like he never saw the inside of a weight room. Put him next to some of the Goliaths they have on the tour now. Gee Flipper, it must just be that magic black paint on your racquet to get that much speed.
    Well I could go on and on, but better restrain myself. Tennis is a great sport. It has never been more affordable to play, the equipment never better, and the need for a lifetime sport never greater. Hopefully the powers that be can get things turned around so it will on air a long time to come.

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