Sep/10

24

Who’s a Game Changer?

I recently wrote an article about the state of American pro tennis for “Racquet Sport Industry Magazine.”

An excerpt is here:


Incentive to Play

Some former players suggest mammoth paydays can dull desire for current players on and off the court.

“In my day, to make good money you had to win, and I don’t mean win tournaments, I mean you had to win a major to make good money,” Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors says. “Now, you see some of the young players signing big endorsement deals when they’re teenagers before they’ve really won anything. So where’s the incentive?”

Given the fact top players ranging from Rafael Nadal to Juan Martin del Potro, Nikolay Davydenko to Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina to Kim Clijsters have been sidelined with injuries in recent years and that players complain the crowded calendar and brutally unforgiving hard courts conspire to beat up their bodies until they break down, can you really blame players for pursuing quick cash from appearance fees and exhibitions?

Unlike most American team sports, there are no guaranteed contracts for tennis players. If you’re a .220 pinch-hitter for the Mets or the 11th man on the Celtics, you still get paid even if you don’t play every game. But a tennis player who suffers a string of first-round losses can walk away in debt, particularly when you consider many players pay for their own travel expenses and hotel accommodations for themselves and their coach — if they can afford a coach.

“It’s a tough time for pro tennis in America. And if I was a player and I had a limited lifespan, I’d probably follow the cash too,” says John Korff, who ran the Mahwah, N.J., exhibition event for many years. “If you think about it objectively, what’s the responsibility of a top player? Here’s a hypothetical: What’s Andy Roddick’s responsibility to make sure there’s a strong American tour? Well, nothing. It’s not his responsibility to do a damn thing. He’s 27. How many more years does he have as a Top-10 player?

“It’s Roddick’s responsibility to make as much money as he can because that’s his job,” Korff adds. “And compare tennis to golf where a player can say, ‘I’m gonna go play a couple of smaller tournaments because they need help and because I’ve got another 15 years to play top-level golf.’ You’ve got to pick and choose in tennis because the careers can be so brief.”


If you accept the premise that tennis’ participatory and popularity numbers have spiked when you had elite champions with either compelling style or personality or times engaging rivalry – Laver-Rosewall, Connors-McEnroe-Borg, Evert-Navratilova, Seles-Graf, the Williams Sisters, Federer-Nadal, etc. – then what players (Aside from the obvious of Federer, Nadal, Serena, etc.) have either the flair on court, the charisma, the peronsality or the rivalry potential to sell the sport to the masses of sports fan?

Who are the game changers who can push the sport’s popularity forward?

What is the responsibility of American tournaments to reinvest back into promoting recreational play?

Have been thinking about this in context of the latest round of  “Should the USTA raise the roof on a closed stadium at the Open?”

The party line has long been “The $150 million + it would cost to either build a roof over Ashe or build a new arena is better spent reinvesting into youth and recreational play programs…”

A sensible point yet now more than ever there is speculation they will possibly build a new arena there because the money at stake (CBS’ contract expires after 2011) is too important.

Have always thought that to really grow the game domestically there has to be a better way to connect community tennis with pro tournaments. There are guys I’ve played doubles with who are die-hard tennis players but have no clue about the pro tennis tournament side.  Bridging that gap has to be a priority, IMO.

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