First and foremost to me, tennis is a sport. But the world of professional tennis is a balance of sport and entertainment. And really it is the entertainment side of the game that brings in the dollars that keep the circuit functioning. With that in mind I started to think about relatively minor changes that both the WTA and the ATP could make to attract new followers to pro tennis.
When a casual fan views a football game or hockey game on television or in the stadium it is easy to identify the members of each team primarily based on their the team’s colours and the team uniforms that are emblazoned with the team logo and the player’s name and number. But tennis, being an individual sport does not have that feature. Players are free to wear what they choose or as is more the norm what their clothing sponsor chooses for them to wear.
Over the past few years athletic companies have created player outfit kits specific for each grand slam tournament. The problem is that all the players sponsored by a specific company are wearing the same kit, save for the very top players who receive an outfit that only they wear.
For example at Roland Garros this year all the Adidas female athletes were wearing a purple skirt and orange top combo with matching shoes. Even for a regular tournament attendee it is often difficult to distinguish one player from the other. A number of the players who were wearing this particular outfit also sported long dark hair which was tied back in a braid or ponytail ( Christina McHale, Garbine Muguruza and Sorana Cirstea) held in place by the colour coordinated visor.
Also at Roland garros the “in” colours for the men were black and neon yellow. Watching on television I could not differentiate the two players on court , I finally noticed that their wristbands were different so that is how I could tell who was who.
Wimbledon also presents a similar challenge to the casual fan and sometimes to the dedicated fan as well. All players dressed in all white. Combine that with the numerous blonde ponytails (Bouchard, Wozniacki Kerber, Kvitova, Kirilenko, Lisicki, Makarova….it can be near impossible to tell one player from the other.
If you combine the similar outfits with players that are continually changing ends of the court you cannot blame the casual fan for being totally confused.
Perhaps companies could provide two colour palettes and the higher seeded player would get to choose their preferred palette.
Alternatively the player’s name could be placed on the back of the top making it nice and clear who is who.
Another thing I would change would be to increase the time of the break between sets. Not only would this allow the players a bathroom break I would do this for the fans.
The two minute break on changeovers and between sets does not allow the fans in attendance enough time to get refreshments or use the facilities. If a fan waits until the set is over to refuel it means they cannot get back to their seats for at least three games and in some matches that could be half the set. Extending the time between sets to five to seven minutes could alleviate this problem.
This would also allow fans watching on television to grab a snack or throw in a load of laundry before settling back down to watch the next set.
Another problem that needs to be addressed is the cancellation of matches when a player withdraws prior to the match.
At the Sony Open in Miami this year the afternoon mens semi final was cancelled when Kei Nishikori withdrew due to an injury he incurred during his match the night before against Roger Federer. Then the evening semi final with Nadal was cancelled when his opponent Thomas Berdych withdrew with a stomach ailment. This left ticket holders with no matches to see and the tournament substituted ladies doubles for the evening match.
This problem of ticket holders with no match to see could be alleviated if the lucky loser from the match before could fill in the spot. For example in the Nishikori match the lucky loser would have been Roger Federer and that would have created a Federer – Nadal semi final. Ranking points would have to be adjusted for this format to work.
Davis cup and Fed cup
In order to increase the fan base of these two country based events I think it would be beneficial to combine them. Davis cup for the men and Fed cup for the women combined would make for a more exciting weekend of tennis. From an organizational standpoint it would be easier to set up one temporary venue for the event instead of the case now where the events are held in different locations in the same host country. But what would make this better from the entertainment viewpoint is that this format would allow the inclusion of mixed doubles.
These are just a few of my ideas to increase the tennis fan base, minor changes that could have a big impact. Let me know what you think.