Let's Help the Sport: Promote Foreign Pros, Kids' Events and Player Involvement
By Mark Grant
Quick, tell me, who lost in the men’s final at the Australian Open? Who are the top three women on the WTA Tour right now? What country is Roger Federer from?
You and I can likely answer these questions with ease (the answers are of course: Marat Safin, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo, and Switzerland). But do you think the casual tennis fan could come up with even one correct answer?
That’s one of the major problems with professional tennis in the U.S. today. There are wonderful, exciting players out there winning tournaments, but because they’re from other countries, the casual fan isn’t aware of them, and little is being done to change that.
We all have to do a better job promoting tennis, and in particular some of the unbelievable foreign players on the pro tours, or interest in the sport will wane, and that may mean less television coverage. After all, do networks want to cover a sport that hardly anyone is watching? It’s easy to see how reduced exposure to professional tennis can lead to a reduced interest in the game at large. And that will hit your bottom line.
Most of us reading this magazine would consider ourselves diehard tennis enthusiasts. You’re already hooked, and chances are you make some or all of your living from the sport. But what about someone with no idea of the difference between clay and grass, or which side is the deuce court? We’ve got to do more to make them willing to watch and play tennis.
It starts at the local level. The USTA does a fabulous job at the U.S. Open with Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day. What a joy it is to see the excitement in the faces of the children who would not otherwise be exposed to tennis. We need more Arthur Ashe Kids’ Days — and events like it — on the local level. Tennis facilities throughout the country need to have clinics that will bring in kids who normally are not exposed to tennis.
Bring in top local tennis players to help promote the game in new areas. The USTA, through its partnership with the National Recreation and Parks Association, has been working to boost play on public courts, but tennis still has a “country club” stigma in some areas, and that hurts its growth. We in this business have to make the game available to everyone, not just to those who can afford to belong to an exclusive club. Put on a clinic at the inner-city courts in your area. Later, have a tournament on your courts for these kids. Don’t just do this once, do it regularly. Find a mentor at your club, or contact the local college tennis team to work with some of the kids. All of this just makes sense — it makes sense for the game, for the kids, and for your business.
Finally, take advantage of the professional players in your area. Chanda Rubin is from my home state of Louisiana. She makes it a point to promote tennis in our state as much as she can. And she goes beyond financial support. She realizes her presence is just as important. Yes, money is a key element, but Chanda is on-site, participating in these events, and that’s what draws people.
Though it looks great when the pro plays against the mayor in those so-called celebrity matches, I believe more is accomplished when real people step on the court with a professional. Perhaps it’s a child that’s a wheelchair tennis player, or a person who lost 50 pounds after she started playing tennis. Playing with people like this makes the player more real and the game more down-to-earth. The casual fan will see this and have a new respect for the player. That’s a win for tennis, and that’s a win for your business.
Tennis has a potential for tremendous growth. At the same time, it has potential for tremendous decline. We all have to decide which way we want it to go.
See all articles by Mark Grant
About the Author
Mark Grant is a director for CBS Sports, and he regularly covers tennis for the network. In addition, he is an avid tennis player.