Before I launch into Part 2 of my criticism, let me acknowledge that there are some things that the USTA is doing just right. For instance, the decision to change the rules for tiny tot tennis was a great idea. No way should kiddies now starting out have to go through the same physical rigors as adults in their 20s and 30s. The participation in Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign is also a wonderful idea. Everyone knows that the rate of childhood obesity in the US is embarrassingly high. And any tennis player can tell you that playing regularly will help you lose weight faster than contestants on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (except Bristol Palin of course). So yes I would be the first to admit that in many aspects the USTA is doing a fantastic job.
But when it comes to promoting lesser tennis events – by which I am referring to the 250 series and under – unless you happen to live in the countries or cities in which these events are occurring, there’s a good chance you won’t know anything about them. And even then, there is no guarantee because often there is simply no information available to the public about these upcoming events.
Even subscribers to the Tennis Channel in the US do not get live coverage of all of the tournaments played. Tournaments in Santiago, Chile, or Costa do Sauipe, Brazil, still do not make the cut. And I get that it may not seem cost effective to cover some of these lesser known events, but I think that it is only perceived that way if one assumes that the average tennis fan is white, male, and English-speaking.
In truth, tennis remains a very diverse sport both among its players as well as its fans. And what separates a Slam attendee from someone who can afford tickets to the Monterrey Open in Mexico, say, may have everything to do with skin color and language. But TV access is the great equalizer. If you put it on TV, fans will watch, I promise.
It would help as well if the USTA/WTA/ATP kept us informed about some of these smaller events. Slams practically sell themselves – people will come from all over the world at attend a Grand Slam, whether it is advertised or not. But the lesser events are like neighborhood fund raisers – they rely on local and regional support. But you can’t help raise money if you know nothing at all about the event itself.
Both the WTA and the ATP have added several new smaller events to the 2011 calendar. For example, the WTA has added Troy Park Women's Tennis Championships in Maryland, and the Baku Cup in Azerbaijan, both with a purse of $220,000. The ATP has relocated its New Haven event to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a loss for Yale University but a gain for Wake Forest. But try clicking on the weblinks for any of these new events and you end up with dead air. There’s nothing there. They are new events with zero promotion. And that I believe is utterly shameful.
The events in Maryland and North Carolina are interesting addenda to the tennis calendar. Of course folks in Maryland have always had the option of attending Legg Mason, but the inauguration of the NC tournament is a big deal in a state that thus far has been known mainly for a couple of ITF events.
So just for the heck of it, I decided to sign up on the website. I received a confirmation email from email@example.com informing me that I will receive periodic emails in the future from www.WinstonSalemOpen.com. I was invited to contact them if I had any questions or comments. Contact whom? Where? At least the NC event had dates posted. but the Baku and Troy events don’t even have a dedicated website. That to me is unacceptable.
I think that the lack of information is disrespectful to tennis fans willing to plan their year’s attendance in advance. Since mid-2010, a friend and I have been poring over our schedules to see if we could line up a cycling and tennis tournament that we could attend at the same time. Yes USTA, some people do plan ahead and therefore need the right information available to them in order to do so.
Furthermore, the timing of the Winston-Salem event means that I would have to choose between attending it vs. going the US Open a week later. I never went to New Haven for the same reason – it was simply too close to the US Open and I could not do both. Of course there was always the worry that the big players may make a point of losing in an early round – assuming that they showed up at all – in order to be well-rested for the Slam. Which means that I would show up for a Championship weekend to watch two players ranked in the nether regions of the ranking system, playing their hearts out.
But you know what? That is totally OK with me. That is part of the specialness of these smaller events. It’s your chance to see a younger player on her way up the rankings. And you can look back at your pictures years later and remember that you knew her when, and that your support helped her along the way.
(Part 2 of 2)
(Irina Falconi, finalist singles & doubles @ Dow Corning Tennis Classic)