Tennis is having another big moment and I'm worried. As happened during the 1970s, talent, looks, charisma and lifestyle have aligned for many of the reigning players. This time, however, fueled by media coverage and marketing campaigns, their mass influence is even greater. Can we sustain our game's prominence this time around or are we going to be looking back in a few years recalling two distinct periods of time in which tennis was pure magic?
Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer are queen and king when it comes to tennis ambassadors/tennis marketing juggernauts. Look too at the world influence and appeal held by Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Li Na.Like yesteryear's darlings Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors, many of today’s top tennis players are household names (Li in China), but this time known not just for their game.
Sure the tennis industry works hard but it's these elite players that are the biggest engine behind the racquet sales, revitalized public courts, full stadiums and presence on network television. The rest is trickle down.
I began to think about this when Nadal pulled out of Miami in March. Federer AND Nadal not playing? Was it worth bothering to go, said some? Seriously? Surely the myriad of other uber talented players were worth watching.
I am nervous. Our biggest names are growing older and time is on no one’s side when it comes to athletics. These court-pounded bodies will slow down and it won’t be all that long before any one of today’s mega stars are wearing broadcast credentials.
So the question is, what can we do NOW, so that when the marquis acts in the group have left the courts behind, tennis stays on network television, stadiums stay full and people keep playing? Try as we might the eyeballs that determine mainstream tennis coverage do not appear to be keen on watching or reading about many new players.
Like I said, I'm worried.