WHAT'S WRONG WITH TENNIS HOME VIEWERSHIP IN AMERICA?
We are creating an army of players and the others are creating an army of viewers.
By Rich Neher
My go-to sports newsletters are Sports Business Journal, SportsBusiness 24 New York, SportsTechie, and Morning Consult Sports. I’m eager to read about how sports teams and organizations implement new technology for fan engagement and attracting viewers. I also quite often follow the careers and career moves of people in charge of those organizations.
Today is Wednesday, February 22 and I’m on a long flight from Frankfurt/Germany via Charlotte/North Carolina to Los Angeles. Needless to say, I have time to read and write. So, I’m reading Morning Consult Sports, and here is the list of today’s topics and articles:
Top News: Atlanta Hawks fire coach Nate McMillan followed by Brooklyn Nets and MLS news.
Then come individual news categorized in sports disciplines as topics.
Media: 4 articles
NFL: 1 article
NBA: 2 articles
MLB: 1 article
NHL: 2 articles
College Sports: 5 articles
Soccer: 5 articles
Golf and Tennis: 4 Golf articles
General: 3 articles
Interesting, isn't it? The big picture here is that the money is everywhere else but not in tennis. There is just nothing going on in our sport that is newsworthy. Neither in any kind of technological advances nor in career movements or some organizational news. It's all small change compared to the big leagues.
Another example: When I googled sports channel logos I never found a big chart that included the Tennis Channel. I added it manually because it has significance to us tennis people. But in reality? It's just the 94th-largest TV channel in the country. Out of 126. (See list here)
I didn't write this to knock the Tennis Channel. This was just to illustrate the low level of importance of tennis when it comes to sports media and tv. I personally would love an affordable tennis channel to be in the top 20 of all tv channels.
So, no tennis whatsoever. No movers and shakers in our sport. No technology deployed worth mentioning. No new events, sponsors, or anything newsworthy. I’m hearing that the owners of the World TeamTennis Pro League are trying to sell the franchise and I’m thinking they do a great job keeping that a secret. On second thought, why are they selling the organization? Because it’s one of the least-watched tennis events with few sponsors and with neither TV nor streaming viewership appeal. And probably with less-than-stellar management. I feel bad for the guys (and BJK) after they put their money and sweat into this business model.
It's clear that the money goes into all other sports but tennis. Trying to analyze that situation I’m pretty sure the overall lack of home viewership is the culprit here. Here are my observations in that regard:
NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, College Sports, Soccer
The sheer number of home viewers for these sports is staggering. All of the above categories represent sports people usually play when they are young. Most of them are also team sports. When people turn adults and work 40-hour weeks, get married, and have children, they don’t have time and energy for practicing those sports. Yes, there are adult recreational soccer teams playing on short courts. Yes, some adults have basketball hoops in front of their garage or play a little in the park. All those sports have stars that are sometimes daily on TV (in season). Big sponsorships and investor money are coming in on a regular basis and even the newest team members make a great living playing their sport full time.
Millions of sports fans have an emotional connection to the sport they're watching on tv
College sport adds another dimension to my analysis. Routing for your alma mater is a must. So, when you’re a football fan you watch NFL games and when your college has a team, you watch that, too. And how about the number of people watching 3 or 4 sports when they are in season?
One thing that is apparent watching most other sports on tv is the system of commercial breaks, as well as quarter and halftime breaks. Plenty of time to get up, stretch your legs, and do other things. Not so much in tennis where the longest break is usually 2 minutes between sets.
It always cracks me up when I hear people who are watching baseball fanatically tell me that tennis is boring. Yikes. Most people in Germany will tell you that baseball is so boring, they wouldn’t watch it in a million years.
I wager to say that many of those millions of regular home viewers have never seriously played tennis at any level and don’t watch tennis matches of any tournaments, not even Grand Slams. Especially when their home team is playing baseball, for instance. Why should they? They couldn’t care less. They see no reason to not watch their favorite sports for "boring" tennis!
Millions of sports fans see no reason to not watch their favorite sports instead of "boring" tennis!
Statista published the following numbers for the top 10 popularity of sports in America. The percentages are the number of Americans that follow the sport in question.
74.5% American Football (Most-watched sport)
56.6% Basketball (most-played sport)
50.5% Baseball (popularity has decreased a little lately)
23.4% Boxing (America became and still is the center of professional boxing)
22.1% Ice Hockey (more popular as you travel North up the United States)
21.6% Soccer (only just starting to gain fame and increase in popularity)
19.7% Golf (at least 10% of the population claims to play golf. That's more than 30 million)
16.7% WWE (super entertaining for all viewers)
15.5% Tennis (one of the few games in the US that are not dominated by men)
14.6% Motor Sports (NASCAR, rather than Formula One, is more popular here)
We are selling our sport as the “sport of a lifetime” and encouraging people to play until they are ninety. And millions of hard-core tennis players prefer playing to watching. Rod Heckelman and Gary Horvath and I agree with that conclusion. We are creating an army of players and the others are creating an army of viewers.
We are creating an army of players
and the others are creating an army of viewers.
To illustrate that point I recall a Tennis Director telling me about Chris Evert who came to town for a tourney and needed a court to practice in 1977. His club had two challenge courts and they gave her one. It took all but 20 minutes for his members to request that court back instead of watching the legend practice.
The question is, how can we create more fans that are following our sport? A few things come to mind:
Find a way to create emotional connections from fans to players similar to fans and their alma mater or their hometown team. It's a tough one. Who's going to step up to that plate?
Make tennis more exciting to watch. I don't necessarily mean by changing rules but rather by adding show elements to events that look great on camera and keep fans locked in.
Be very cognizant of other sports' seasons and major events (Super Bowl, World Series, Playoffs)
Involve clubs and their members more in the promotion of tennis events. Watch parties everywhere!
Create internationally recognizable statistics that can be shared and discussed at the water fountain. Similar to Career Passing Yards or RBIs etc.
Develop a hip new broadcast format to show tennis on television that attracts a younger audience while not ticking off the oldtimers.
What are your thoughts?
Please let me know by replying to this newsletter.
Do you like our content? If you do so, please consider supporting us. For as little as $1 a month, you can help ensure the long-term future of TENNIS CLUB BUSINESS.
Click here to support and please share this with all the tennis lovers you know.