Something to Write About
A longtime tennis writer decries the declining coverage the sport has been receiving in local media.
By Mark Winters
It would be hard to fault any of the recent attempts to bring more people into the game. Increasing the numbers makes sense. The benefits to the industry are obvious.
Unfortunately, while this crusade has been taking place, another troubling, much more subtle, issue has arisen. One that is certainly worthy of attention.
Simply stated, stories about tennis tournaments or personalities in the game, in publications other than trade magazines, are withering away. If you doubt the truth of this statement, look at the coverage in local newspapers (or, more to the point, the lack thereof) during the past few years.
High school play may receive a brief mention. If there happens to be a professional event in the area, a staff writer may take a day away from his or her pro baseball, basketball, or football training camp beat and come up with a line or two. The reality is, fewer and fewer papers are sending writers to Australia, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open, as well as the Davis Cup and Fed Cup. For the most part, these special events are reported in impersonal recitations taken from wire-service offerings.
Now, you ask, why should I care? The situation doesn’t affect my bottom line.
Well, it does — and in a big way. When tennis is in the news, the industry realizes a payback. When the sport is covered indifferently, meaning it is used periodically as a sports-section filler or is not used at all, the game suffers and so do you.
Like a parasite sucking the life from a beautiful tree, a lack of tennis coverage has been slowly devastating the game. In the old days (the early ’90s come to mind), pieces from local, national, and international events filled the sports section. Currently, for an ever-growing list of seemingly sane “we are running a business” reasons, tennis stories are like a dead man walking.
Sadly, few in the sectional or national administrative tennis hierarchy truly understand or are overly concerned about how dire this situation actually is. Even worse, organizations such as the U.S. Tennis Writers Association (of which I am a vice president), and the International Tennis Writers Association (I am a founding member), who are attempting to call attention to the problem do not have enough influence or “stick” to bring about a change.
By “stick,” I mean the economic leverage, which combined with “see the entire picture” leadership, gives support to grassroots “let’s get tennis in the news” campaigns. The point I am making is that many of those who are Racquet Sports Industry magazine readers have what it takes to launch an “increase the coverage” endeavor.
Beginning locally, newspaper, television, and radio personalities should be made aware of tennis activities that are unique and feature-story rich. Focusing on involving these individuals — sports editors or columnists, city beat writers, television anchors or radio show hosts — to take part in or spend time at a tennis offering will result in converts. Borrowing from the recent success that political action groups have enjoyed, letter-writing and e-mail efforts are additional ways to push for increased coverage, and more importantly they will help to initiate a dialogue.
To do so, start looking at tennis from an “is this an interesting story …” perspective. Ask yourself, “Would I want to read about …” If the answer is “Yes,” then mobilize club members and those who frequent your store. Make use of your product representatives. Go out of your way to involve anyone with an active lifestyle.
No question about it, it will take work. It will also require combating an “I don’t have the time” chorus. But, remember, if nothing is done, it will become even more difficult to find tennis stories in anything other than industry publications.
See all articles by Mark Winters
About the Author
Mark Winters, who played college and professional tennis, is a former Junior Davis Cup team and college coach. He spent time as a USTA clinician nationally and in the Middle East. He has written about the game for more than 25 years, with his stories appearing in Tennis Week and Florida Tennis as well as the Los Angeles Times and a host of international publications.