Surprisingly really good article on men's tennis in the US sporting landscape [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

Surprisingly really good article on men's tennis in the US sporting landscape

Clara Bow
08-08-2005, 06:27 AM
The following article was a very pleasant read for me. Largely because it is from one of the most widely read general sports journalists here in the US and also because he doesn't diss tennis which can be hard to find here....

Preface:

For those of you who don't get ESPN, Michael Wilbon is a co-host on a popular sports show in the US called "Pardon the Interuption" (PTI). A few weeks ago, he and his co-host slammed men's tennis, saying it had no personality or artistry. And that franky surprised me because Michael has normaly seemed to like men's tennis more than some of the other guys on these shows (in particular his normal co-host Tony K.) and has been relatively appreciative the players who encompass the current top-5. Anyway- Andy Roddick called the show because he was angry about the statements and did a good defense of tennis from Indy the next day.

In this article he says he was wrong in his statment on PTI

I think Michael brings up some good points about tennis in the US sporting viewing landscape in this article, including:
* the fact that Americans in the 70s and 80s could appreciate non-Americans, even when they weren't playing anyone from the US.
* talks about the importance of having tennis this summer as a regular scheduled program. Make it a habitual viewing experience. (And already, ESPN's tennis ratings numbers for this year are up by around 32%- a good sign.)

Here's the article:

Men's Game Has A Long Rally Ahead

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, August 8, 2005; E01



Don't get me wrong, an Andy Roddick vs. James Blake final was perfect for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. If a vote had been taken on the eve of the tournament, the mandate would have been for Roddick vs. Andre Agassi. But Blake turned out to be far more than a suitable stand-in with the absence of Agassi. The very sophisticated tennis public here is intimately familiar with Blake's attempts to overcome injury and illness to climb the long road back to elite status in his sport. And Roddick is not only the best America has to offer in men's tennis right now and a top-five player, but something of a crossover celebrity, a star who is fancied by starlets and is a nice young man to boot.

Also, the tennis was about what people hoped for. Blake played with the optimism and assertiveness of a man who can sense he is in position to get his career back on track, and Roddick played with the businesslike attitude of someone tuning up for something big, which would be the U.S. Open. Blake was the first player to break Roddick's serve all week. But Roddick stayed in a controlled mode and grabbed the critical points.

So, yes, William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center offered pretty much what fans were looking for yesterday, especially those enjoying the first all-American final here since 1990.

But this is where we come to the "however" part.

As understandably proud as folks were to see two Americans, friends no less, reach the final, it would seem we've got to get past our own xenophobia, particularly when it comes to men's tennis. What, the final would have been unappealing had Spaniard Rafael Nadal, Mr. Capri Pants, been opposite Roddick yesterday afternoon?

Every conversation about the drop in popularity of men's tennis over the years seems to center on what the American players are doing, or not doing.

For the record, Americans Roddick, Agassi and Robby Ginepri have won in successive weeks. But that's beside the larger point. For years, particularly during the tennis boom of the 1970s and '80s, foreign-born players weren't just accepted, they were treated as an indispensable part of the theater. Did it help interest here if Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe was involved? Yes, of course. But Americans looked forward to seeing Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl and Ilie Nastase playing, even if it was against each other.

Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe, as involved in media as he is in tennis at this point in his life, is uniquely qualified to speak to what in the world has happened. "It's the media's fault," he said. "It's our fault."

Yesterday, McEnroe was wearing his media hat and analyzing the action for ESPN2, which televised the final from 16th Street NW. Last week, while hosting the Jim Rome talk show all week, McEnroe thought he might slip in a little bit of tennis conversation. "But you know how this goes: 'Let's have more in a minute on T.O. [Terrell Owens].' I get it," McEnroe said. "I'm a sports fan. But let's not blame it on 'no personalities.' That's a false premise. Roger Federer is a personality by force of his talent. He has the most effortless magic I've ever seen.

"Lleyton Hewitt has a Jimmy Connors-like combativeness. He's married to an actress, hates the press, the whole thing. He's T.O. with an [Australian] accent. Marat Safin is a self-tortured genius. He's off the wall with tremendous physical talent. And Nadal -- talk about personality and game. He's like the fighter who throws a hundred punches in a row."

McEnroe isn't the only one making this argument persuasively. Two weeks ago, when I was stupidly critical of men's tennis players' personalities and artistry, Roddick phoned me to say what McEnroe says.

"We don't know the international players like we used to, so we're critical of them and it's just not accurate," Roddick said. "Roger brings incredible artistry. I know. I was on the other side of it at Wimbledon [in the men's final]. But Roger is here, what, four or five times a year maybe, while Yao Ming is here six, seven months a year. No, Roger's not going to moon a cameraman just to get headlines or ratings. Roger is like Pete Sampras, just from another country."

The basketball analogy is interesting because after several false starts, American basketball fans have certainly embraced foreign-born players. Yao is the most obvious. Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina) have certainly had more success. So why don't we take to Federer and Hewitt the same way?

"Remember," McEnroe said, "Parker and Ginobili are still representing San Antonio. Pedro Martinez was representing Boston, so there's a different relationship. They play for the local team."

But most of all, the sports/entertainment landscape is crowded. Other sports have marketed themselves so much more effectively than tennis. The NFL, now with its own channel, is 365 days a year. "It's harder for [tennis] to find its niche," McEnroe said.

Tennis had its niche in America and gave it up. There's no problem with the popularity of tennis in Australia or Europe. There is a problem here. To that end, the USTA came up with this U.S. Open Series. It only involves the six weeks leading up to the U.S. Open, but it's a good start -- except for the dopey "reality series" concept and these nicknames (Serena "The Diva" Williams, Andy "Rocket Man" Roddick, Lindsay "Top Gun" Davenport) that make Roddick roll his eyes and the rest of us want to throw up.

But one element is smart and long overdue (and I'm not talking about the blue court, which also is smart because it makes the matches easier to watch). The U.S. Open Series puts a tournament final on ESPN2 every Sunday at 3 p.m. This might not sound like programming genius, but it's a revelation to tennis. Perhaps the biggest problem for tennis is that you don't know when it's going to be played, don't know where to find it, and don't know who'll be there. NASCAR exploded when folks knew they could find it on Fox or NBC every single Sunday.

Now, NASCAR goes a step further and guarantees every driver will be in virtually every event. You still don't know who will open a tennis tournament. Agassi, at the last minute, canceled on the Legg Mason. There were six late withdrawals in Los Angeles. NASCAR never has to sell a ticket not knowing whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. will show up. So tennis has its challenges. But taking a page from the NFL and setting the programming should help immensely. Sports viewing is more habitual than ever.

"I think the big value," Roddick said, "is getting everything under one tent. Okay, these nicknames are a little stupid, though maybe they'll get people talking one way or the other. But there has to be some consistency, and once you have that, people here can get to know and more appreciate some of the non-American players. But I think you'd have to agree you saw some artistry today, right?"

Castafiore
08-08-2005, 06:33 AM
Just posted a link to it in another thread while you were posting this.

Isn't this a great article?

Auscon
08-08-2005, 07:41 AM
great article!

Castafiore
08-08-2005, 07:50 AM
Andy Roddick called the show because he was angry about the statements and did a good defense of tennis from Indy the next day
:yeah: Good on Roddick!

Maybe I overlooked it in MTF and it has been discussed before (link?) but what did Roddick say in defense?

Action Jackson
08-08-2005, 07:55 AM
Just stating the obvious and nothing really new, but it wasn't written badly. It's their own fault for not appreciating non-Americans.

NicoFan
08-08-2005, 12:16 PM
Very good article - thanks for posting it.

Andy is a good representative for tennis in the US - and he does a fantastic job promoting it. I hear so much criticism of him, and most of it is unjustified.

I liked the point about Nascar. Obviously both sports are different, but tennis could stand to take a few marketing lessons from Nascar. I follow both sports - Nascar puts a high priority on their fan base, tennis does not.

This no-show at tournaments is becoming a huge problem. Tennis fans know when they purchase tickets that their favorite could be out because of injury or knocked out early in the draw. But to have the player just not show up is discouraging. And not the player's fault - as stated numerous times by many people - its the overloaded schedule.

Angle Queen
08-08-2005, 01:15 PM
Now, NASCAR goes a step further and guarantees every driver will be in virtually every event. You still don't know who will open a tennis tournament. Agassi, at the last minute, canceled on the Legg Mason. There were six late withdrawals in Los Angeles. NASCAR never has to sell a ticket not knowing whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. will show up. So tennis has its challenges. But taking a page from the NFL and setting the programming should help immensely. Sports viewing is more habitual than ever.

Thanks for the article, Clara Bow.

Now about the NASCAR analogy. There, my friends, is the difference between a 'sport' and a 'competition.' Tennis players are athletes. Period. Drivers are drivers. Earnhardt's CREW has all week to get his vehicle(s) ready. Tennis players have to play all week...IF they're lucky (or talented) enough to make the next round. They're just not in the same league.

I do like the same time slot concept. And, :eek: , I've actually watched some WTA because it's either before or after. I'm glad the ratings are up and hope they'll expand coverage next season.

LoveFifteen
08-08-2005, 02:02 PM
Great article. Let's hope the US media wakes up and starts promoting foreign players again. I'd so so so love to know more about certain players. It was a tragedy during Wimbledon coverage when they would show boring matches three times just because a "star" was playing in the match, but they wouldn't show some amazing matches that didn't include A-list tennis stars. Let's hope things change!

kabuki
08-08-2005, 02:18 PM
ESPN, NBC, USA, CBS and the rest could also really help tennis in the US by showing more than just the Americans during their coverage. If the programmers are given a choice, all we see is Andy, Andre, the WS, Lindsay, Jennifer, and now Maria. How about showing the interesting matchups and matches instead? It's hard to expect casual US tennis fans to follow a diverse group of players if they tend to see the same ones over and over and over. Oh well, with the US players aging, and few if any genuine prospects on the horizon (particularly in the women's game) programmers are going to have to change whether they like it or not.

Angle Queen
08-08-2005, 02:26 PM
ESPN, NBC, USA, CBS and the rest could also really help tennis in the US by showing more than just the Americans during their coverage. If the programmers are given a choice, all we see is Andy, Andre, the WS, Lindsay, Jennifer, and now Maria. How about showing the interesting matchups and matches instead? What's cool about the current format...is that we'll get to see a SF and the Finals...regardless of who's in it. They've just lucked into it on the mens side with two straight all-American finals.

kabuki
08-08-2005, 02:30 PM
What's cool about the current format...is that we'll get to see a SF and the Finals...regardless of who's in it. They've just lucked into it on the mens side with two straight all-American finals.

I was referring more specifically to the Slams. Should've been more specific. I like it when the Americans are stacked on one side of the draw and the US men and women are scheduled on the same day so then we get to watch the programmers scramble for matches to televise on the "off" day. Usually they then show the good matches, not just the name matches.

mangoes
08-08-2005, 03:16 PM
Very Good article. I am going to lay the blame for the lack of tennis marketing on the shoulders of the ATP. I think someone needs to realize at the ATP that just because they love tennis doesn't mean everyone does and the sport does need to be promoted.

Leo
08-08-2005, 03:28 PM
Good article. The hosts of Pardon the Interruption have never impressed me with their loudness and arrogance, so this is nice to see them admit their mistake about tennis. Whenever I watch the show, they always bad-mouth the sport.

nobama
08-08-2005, 06:00 PM
Don't they have interactive coverage overseas where you can pick which matches you want to see? I'd be nice to have something like that in the States, but when major satellite providers like DirecTV and Dish Network can't even give us TTC, I don't see something like that happening any time soon. I'd like to see more matches on the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), but in the summer golf gets top priority.

smucav
08-08-2005, 08:53 PM
Very good article - thanks for posting it.

Andy is a good representative for tennis in the US - and he does a fantastic job promoting it. I hear so much criticism of him, and most of it is unjustified.

I liked the point about Nascar. Obviously both sports are different, but tennis could stand to take a few marketing lessons from Nascar. I follow both sports - Nascar puts a high priority on their fan base, tennis does not.

This no-show at tournaments is becoming a huge problem. Tennis fans know when they purchase tickets that their favorite could be out because of injury or knocked out early in the draw. But to have the player just not show up is discouraging. And not the player's fault - as stated numerous times by many people - its the overloaded schedule.I was just talking to someone last week in Washington about the differences between NASCAR & tennis. Even though there was a lot of accessibility to players in Washington, we both agreed that NASCAR is on to something with the things they offer fans. The races are on Sunday, but most of the fans show up on Thursday since there are so many fan activities scheduled for Thursday, Friday, & Saturday. Nearly every driver does a signing, photo session, or some other sort of meet & greet in the days leading up to the race & there isn't someone herding the fans quickly through the lines. That level of marketing to the fans builds loyalty that no other sport can compete with right now.

Whistleway
08-08-2005, 08:59 PM
Andy is a decent guy. ;)

But, all this is just masking the real problem. That, people just don't dig tennis here. As long as it has its snoobish attitudes, it gonna suffer. Atleast golf has several million $ backing, but, tennis has nothing.

Please someone fire ATP and get some nice folks on the board.

NicoFan
08-08-2005, 09:24 PM
I was just talking to someone last week in Washington about the differences between NASCAR & tennis. Even though there was a lot of accessibility to players in Washington, we both agreed that NASCAR is on to something with the things they offer fans. The races are on Sunday, but most of the fans show up on Thursday since there are so many fan activities scheduled for Thursday, Friday, & Saturday. Nearly every driver does a signing, photo session, or some other sort of meet & greet in the days leading up to the race & there isn't someone herding the fans quickly through the lines. That level of marketing to the fans builds loyalty that no other sport can compete with right now.

First, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed the DC tournament - only went the one day to see my Nico play but was impressed with the way the tournament was run. Could have been a bit cooler though...lol!

Anyway, NASCAR is on to something. I've watched NASCAR for years and they just know how to market the sport.

Now obviously they are two very different sports so yes it is impossible to guarantee the top players week after week.

But off the top of my head some of the things that I like that NASCAR does that tennis could do:

- they have wonderful chats on the nascar.com site for the fans. Kind of like ESPN does but a little more fair and more interesting. You post your message that day, and they go through and pick the best qestions. That way its just not luck like on ESPN and you get really good questions and some funny ones. I had one of mine picked for one of the drivers, and it was really thrilling to see it come up.

- drivers are far more accessible to the fans than in tennis through TV and other media coverage. You used to be able to buy pit passes so walk around the garage areas, but they stopped that (which I agree with).

- TV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can watch stuff on NASCAR every day on TV. I can always see my favorites. No exceptions. Unlike tennis where until Washington, it had been since last year's US Open that I was able to see Nico live - and saw him only twice on TV during that time. :sad:

- Press coverage - huge in NASCAR - and fun things. Their magazines are great unlike tennis mags here in the States which are throwbacks to the 70s the way they write up the sport. Tons of pictures in the NASCAR magazines, coverage of fans, fun interviews that are about off track stuff rather than always on just the actual game.

You see players in tennis avoiding fans at tournaments, practicing on courts that the fans can't get to, giving the press only 5 minutes. That is just considered unacceptable in NASCAR. The drivers would never get away with that. Unlike tennis, the NASCAR brass tell drivers and track owners what they are supposed to do. They are talking to the TV commentators as they are going around the track waiting for the race to start!!! The cameras are in their face right when they get out of their cars at the end of the race.

Even the commericals are fun in NASCAR...lol! The drivers are all in them, and they have a lot of fun with it.

Women - NASCAR knows that no sport today can grow without women watching. Men already watch sports. I can't remember the exact figure but something like 33 million women are NASCAR fans. Went up I think at the end of the 90s/early 2000s like 40 something percent. I watched before and afterwards - everything changed when women started watching - which I loved because I'm a woman too! Commercials, broadcasts, all targeted at women. Coke even had a commercial thanking the female NASCAR fans.

Its so hard to communicate the difference. In re-reading my post it hardly sounds like anything, but if you watched for a couple of weeks, you'd know exactly what I meant.

Sorry for the length of this but the way the ATP markets the sport - or really lack of marketing - makes me crazy. So I can go off on rants on it forever. ;)

Whistleway
08-08-2005, 09:33 PM
NicoFan, ATP gotta hire you !!

smucav
08-08-2005, 10:24 PM
First, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed the DC tournament - only went the one day to see my Nico play but was impressed with the way the tournament was run. Could have been a bit cooler though...lol!The tournament had record attendance this year & I didn't talk to anyone who didn't enjoy it throughly. Washington also draws a fairly diverse crowd in terms of demographics somewhat due to having residents from over 200 countries living in the 9 square miles that is DC, but also due to specific promotions geared to different communities. Did you see Massu's doubles or singles? His doubles match was hilarious. After all the sunny weather during the tournament, there was a torrential downpour today. Good karma?Anyway, NASCAR is on to something. I've watched NASCAR for years and they just know how to market the sport.

Now obviously they are two very different sports so yes it is impossible to guarantee the top players week after week.

But off the top of my head some of the things that I like that NASCAR does that tennis could do:

- they have wonderful chats on the nascar.com site for the fans. Kind of like ESPN does but a little more fair and more interesting. You post your message that day, and they go through and pick the best qestions. That way its just not luck like on ESPN and you get really good questions and some funny ones. I had one of mine picked for one of the drivers, and it was really thrilling to see it come up.

- drivers are far more accessible to the fans than in tennis through TV and other media coverage. You used to be able to buy pit passes so walk around the garage areas, but they stopped that (which I agree with).

- TV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can watch stuff on NASCAR every day on TV. I can always see my favorites. No exceptions. Unlike tennis where until Washington, it had been since last year's US Open that I was able to see Nico live - and saw him only twice on TV during that time. :sad:

- Press coverage - huge in NASCAR - and fun things. Their magazines are great unlike tennis mags here in the States which are throwbacks to the 70s the way they write up the sport. Tons of pictures in the NASCAR magazines, coverage of fans, fun interviews that are about off track stuff rather than always on just the actual game.

You see players in tennis avoiding fans at tournaments, practicing on courts that the fans can't get to, giving the press only 5 minutes. That is just considered unacceptable in NASCAR. The drivers would never get away with that. Unlike tennis, the NASCAR brass tell drivers and track owners what they are supposed to do. They are talking to the TV commentators as they are going around the track waiting for the race to start!!! The cameras are in their face right when they get out of their cars at the end of the race.

Even the commericals are fun in NASCAR...lol! The drivers are all in them, and they have a lot of fun with it.

Women - NASCAR knows that no sport today can grow without women watching. Men already watch sports. I can't remember the exact figure but something like 33 million women are NASCAR fans. Went up I think at the end of the 90s/early 2000s like 40 something percent. I watched before and afterwards - everything changed when women started watching - which I loved because I'm a woman too! Commercials, broadcasts, all targeted at women. Coke even had a commercial thanking the female NASCAR fans.

Its so hard to communicate the difference. In re-reading my post it hardly sounds like anything, but if you watched for a couple of weeks, you'd know exactly what I meant.

Sorry for the length of this but the way the ATP markets the sport - or really lack of marketing - makes me crazy. So I can go off on rants on it forever. ;)I grew up in NASCAR country & several of my relatives either work for a major team or co-own teams (& have done some driving themselves). I don't really keep up with it much these days, but the level of devotion from the fans is unmatched in other sports. I have to think a lot of it has to do with these types of promotions.

Nimomunz
08-08-2005, 10:33 PM
NASCAR fans are devoted and somehow manages to attract women and men!!
But i hate it!! :mad:

NicoFan
08-08-2005, 11:08 PM
The tournament had record attendance this year & I didn't talk to anyone who didn't enjoy it throughly. Washington also draws a fairly diverse crowd in terms of demographics somewhat due to having residents from over 200 countries living in the 9 square miles that is DC, but also due to specific promotions geared to different communities. Did you see Massu's doubles or singles? His doubles match was hilarious.

I saw Nico's singles...wish I had seen both. If I had realized that his doubles match would be so late, I could have come down immediately after work. I can imagine that his doubles match was hilarious - he always seems to have a great time during his doubles matches. He and Luis are good buddies too so they are comfortable together on court. People always tell me that Nico seems so serious and always yelling during his singles matches - they should watch his doubles matches because he's certainly not serious there. lol!

Speaking of diverse crowds, I know that the Pilot Pen made a point of trying to get the latino players at the event because there are so many Hispanics in the area. There's been articles in both the New Haven Register (an article on Nico and Fena), and the Hartford Courant.

The USTA needs to do that here in NYC - so many people formerly from South America - obviously a huge Hispanic population in NYC and especially in Queens. And yet in all the promotional posters and ads - none of the latino players. Seems like a non-brainer to me to include Rafa.

smucav
08-09-2005, 12:41 AM
I saw Nico's singles...wish I had seen both. If I had realized that his doubles match would be so late, I could have come down immediately after work. I can imagine that his doubles match was hilarious - he always seems to have a great time during his doubles matches. He and Luis are good buddies too so they are comfortable together on court. People always tell me that Nico seems so serious and always yelling during his singles matches - they should watch his doubles matches because he's certainly not serious there. lol!I wrote a report of the doubles match in my thread in the Legg Mason forum. I think that match was the last one of the night.Speaking of diverse crowds, I know that the Pilot Pen made a point of trying to get the latino players at the event because there are so many Hispanics in the area. There's been articles in both the New Haven Register (an article on Nico and Fena), and the Hartford Courant.I think one of them might be same one I posted in the New Haven thread (about the tournament director signing them up during Wimbledon).The USTA needs to do that here in NYC - so many people formerly from South America - obviously a huge Hispanic population in NYC and especially in Queens. And yet in all the promotional posters and ads - none of the latino players. Seems like a non-brainer to me to include Rafa.I know that the USTA has made a big push in the last few years to target Asian-Americans in the U.S. (My friend's Asian-American club at one of the top business schools was hired to consult on a marketing plan) somewhat because quite a few of the top juniors in the U.S. in recent years have been Asian-American & players from Asia (particularly the women) are moving up the rankings. I noticed back in February that the San Jose website was featuring Hyung-Taik Lee as one of the stars in the tournament alongside Roddick, Agassi, & Haas. Paradorn is huge in Washington & all his matches were scheduled on center court. (The Thai Tennis Association & Singha beer even signed on as sponsors this year & bought out a whole section for the Srichaphans.)

Whistleway
08-10-2005, 03:32 PM
bump