Eurosport debates the future of tennisSOURCE
Fri, 27 May 12:42:00 2011
What is the future of tennis in the digital age?
Tennis needs to innovate, become more interactive and even reduce the number of games in every set, according to an expert panel of speakers at the Eurosport 3.0 debate into the future of the sport in Paris on Thursday.
During a heated discussion, there were also suggestions to scrap Hawkeye, enhance tennis’ integration with social media and overhaul the structure of historic tournaments such as the Davis Cup.
Free-to-air viewing figures for tennis have declined by 30% in recent years, while an ageing audience has led to increasing concerns from stakeholders about the long-term health of the sport.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander kicked off the discussion by saying: “The same two or three guys are making finals every week.”
Michel Grach, Media and Sponsorship Director at the French Tennis Federation, insisted that Roland Garros is probably increasing its audience figures, but added: “We don’t know how to measure those platforms.”
Gerard Tsobanian, General Managing Director of the Madrid Open, underlined the importance of free-to-air TV coverage. “It is important to keep tennis accessible to the masses,” he said.
Speaking more broadly, Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent at the Times, called for changes in the structure of some of the sport’s leading tournaments, such as The Davis Cup.
“People don’t understand how the system works and the respective leaders of tennis have to make it more understandable,” he said.
For Julien Codorniou, Head of Platform Partnerships, Facebook, France and Benelux, the challenge for tennis is to become more “fun and social”.
“Tennis has not embraced the social revolution,” he said. “We see big activity on Facebook during sports events, but we haven’t seen very good integration (with social media) and most of the players are not leveraging Facebook.”
Codorniou added that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have seven million ‘friends’ on Facebook, but the gap to third-placed Novak Djokovic, with 300,000 friends, is significant.
Tsobanian said he believes tennis has “innovated less than any sport in the past century”, and then tabled the most eye-catching suggestion of the debate.
“I think tennis matches are too long – people want to get to the drama more quickly,” said Tsobanian.
“I would have shorter sets, and I think the 4-4 proposal is reasonable.”
Wilander then suggested that one of the sport’s innovation, Hawkeye, should be withdrawn from the sport.
“You take away from the personalities as they can’t argue with Hawkeye,” said Wilander.
Tsobanian countered by saying: “Just because there isn’t Hawkeye, that won’t turn the players into rock stars on the court.”
The discussion then turned towards the impact of social media in tennis, but the topic sharply divided the panel, with Harman and Codorniou supportive of such platforms and Wilander questioning the importance of Facebook and Twitter.
“There needs to be more interactivity between before, during and after games,” said Codorniou.
Wilander, speaking from a player’s perspective, was more wary of social media.
“I think it can dilute the players’ personalities and I’m not sure about putting players up to celebrity status,” he said.
Grach defended tennis’ record of innovation.
“We were the first sport to have 3D and first to have live streaming eight years ago, but I think we should be careful about some changes, like reducing the number of games,” he said.
“Players need time to build matches, and you just have to look at the recent finals between Nadal and Federer for examples.”
Tsobanian concluded the discussion by asking whether there was a collective appetite for change within the sport.
“We have been having this debate for 20 years, but there are too many different opinions and too many people involved in the decisions to make changes,” he said. “Someone needs to step up and take action, but who’s that going to be?”
I'm a traditionalist and don't see the need to change the way the sport is played.
Funny how there was a discussion of social media and nothing about Transcriptgate. And for the life of me I can't understand how someone like Mats Wilander got to be the representative of the players perspective. Twitter is a great way for fans to get to know their favorites. Facebook is a way for changes in schedule and other information, professional and personal, to be announced. There is no going back to the days before the internet and social media which is what Wilander is proposing in my opinion.
Live streaming has now grown to include Challenger tournaments and there is talk of creating some kind of playoff for them. Gimmicks and a back to the future attitude will not increase tennis popularity. Good marketing and an emphasis on the greatness of the sport and the men and women who play it is what is needed.
Speaking of marketing I'm still trying to sort out my feelings on the WTA's new campaign. I'll talk about it after the French Open.