Re: How can the WTA effectively market the sport? Rather than it's stars?
In what dimension does Haas vs Davydenko get anything remotely resembling a "decent" US TV audience? I've seen quite the reverse from your premise in recent years. Agassi plays, men's tennis gets great ratings. Roddick produces fairly decent ratings. Anyone else, and the ratings plummet. Look at the US Open in the last few years. Last year's final on the men's side was Federer vs Roddick, which is as appealing matchup as men's tennis can have for a US audience. The match spilled over into prime time. Do you know what that segment of the match drew in prime time? A 2.0. This on the night with the biggest viewing pool of the week by far. Even the oft-criticized Kuznetsova/Dementieva match drew more viewers, and on Saturday night, which has by far the smallest viewing pool of the week.
Look at the ratings for regular non-slam events. All of those telecasts do not include stars. Some will have just other players. Yet, on cable channels, women's tennis pulls in an average rating about the same as regular season men's college basketball. (Coincidently, men's tennis pulls in roughly the same ratings as regular season women's college basketball.) So the evidence is that, contrary to your supposition, it's the ratings for men's tennis that are far more dependent on "star power". And even worse is, with the departure of Agassi, there are no "superstars" on the men's side (as far as the American viewing public is concerned). Why do you think ESPN let the French Open rights go? They like to heavily televise men's tennis during the first week of slams, and this is the one major where the American men (the only male players who could potentially appeal to viewers) are virtually guaranteed an early exit.
And as for your statement closing your first paragaph, that is absolutely untrue. It was forecast, but didn't happen. The WTA had never drawn more than 2.5 million fans in a season before Evert retired. The first year post-Evert, which saw the arrival of Capriati and the emergence of Seles and Sabatini as slam winners, saw attendance jump to 3 million, and it's climbed steadily since. (Now, 3 million fans would be considered a disaster.) Also, the popularity of the sport of tennis as a whole bottomed out in 1986. Women's tennis grew since then, and in 1994 passed men's tennis in popularity in the US (and has only stretched their lead since). In 1999, the bromide "but the men are more popular in Europe" went by the wayside, meaning that before the new millenium even dawned, women's tennis was drawing bigger viewership numbers in North America, Europe, and Asia. (Basically the biggest markets available.)
What's more, ratings reports have contradicted what you put forth in your opening paragraph. Basically, they showed that men's tennis was far more dependent on "stars" (at least, to the national audience) than women's tennis. Moya, Corretja, or another Spaniard playing? Ratings in Spain went up. No Spaniards? Ratings in Spain plummeted. Haas or Kiefer playing? Good ratings in Germany. No Germans, and you got bad ratings in Germany.
Now, this is not to say that national ratings don't jump for women when a national plays. However, the women have more players with crossover appeal, who draw ratings everywhere. And when there are no superstars, and no nationals, the women still get respectable ratings. There isn't the drastic falloff that you see with men's ratings.
Why this occurs, I couldn't say. I've only read the reports of the ratings; I haven't seen, say, the type of promotion the networks do in other countries. Are European broadcasters as nationalistic as Americans? Over here we went through a whole decade of rah-rah jingoism while Sampras, Agassi, and co. ruled the roost, and were told that only Americans mattered. The public accepted that-- but only for men's tennis. Since the cheerleading was being done during men's matches, perhaps the public just made that connection. And then on the women's side, they moved back to the normal mode of accepting stars regardless of nationality (like they used to in the days of Borg, Lendl, Becker, Edberg, etc., until our media screwed things up.)
Now, moving on to the question asked, let's start with a basic premise. Would you all agree that, when it comes to deciding whether to watch a match, viewers are most likely to be enticed by (in descending order):
1. Superstar players
2. Star players
3. Familiar players (ones whose names have been heard often)
Now, if we accept that premise, what we have to do next is boost the number of players the public will watch. Categories 1 and 2 are basically out because, as has been shown time and again, you can't manufacture a Superstar, or to most extents, a Star. You can try, but if they don't deliver, the public won't accept them. (Just like you can't manufacture a rivalry. It either happens or it doesn't.)
That leaves category 3. Familiar names. How do you create familiarity? By making sure the public has heard the names repeatedly. What's the best way to do that? I'll fall back on one of my old ideas-- get them on SportsCenter (and shows of that ilk). Now, we've seen that, left to their own devices, ESPN won't give WTA results. Only once in a blue moon, when there's a big match between players the public already knows. So what the tour needs to do is use some of that sponsorship money (it certainly isn't going into prize money) to sponsor a nightly "tennis report" on SportsCenter. Get the scores (and thus, the players' names) on every night. If people hear a name repeatedly, they'll get to know it. I can attest to that, as I know the names of far more golfers, auto racers, basketball or hockey players than I would ever care to, simply because I hear them over and over. There's no reason the WTA can't do this. There's no reason why, in any given week, the public will at least have a passing familiarity with 90% of the top 30.
Then, start expanding the tennis report to include short features on some of the more interesting characters on tour. Or show several players doing charitable work, or visiting hospitals. Let the public see the positive, the interesting, the quirky.
Once you've created a more widespread familiarity, then you can proceed with other marketing efforts. But start with building name recognition, and move on to showing the personalities behind the names, and then go from there. The NFLPA has a good promo going on-- "1800 players. 1800 stories." There are a lot of interesting stories in tennis. If the networks won't tell them, buy the time on the most popular sports shows and tell them yourself. We get a lot of amusement from some of these stories. So will the public at large.
And the tour could also do a "stealth" campaign. Many TV producers resort to product placement to offset costs. Tennis is a product. Place it. Pay the producers of a "cool" show to have their characters watching tennis matches, and rooting for or talking about these players. Stick a Schiavone poster on someone's wall. Put WTA clothing on a key character. Try to get in with the cool crowd, if only by osmosis.
That's just a couple of suggestions. Someone with a more extensive background in economics can come up with something better. Any of our suggestions would work better than what the tour currently isn't doing.
Last edited by Brian Stewart; Mar 7th, 2007 at 06:18 AM.