No love for tennis from U.S. viewers

Bob Moon Jul 3, 2008

No love for tennis from U.S. viewers

Bob Moon Jul 3, 2008


Bob Moon: You could say “that’s the way the ball bounces,” but Americans haven’t been paying as much attention this year to the men’s quarterfinals playing out at Wimbledon right now.

The most likely reason: All eight quarterfinalists ended up being from Europe.

For a look at the effect of that on the business of sports in this country, we turn to our own Diana Nyad.

Hey Diana. It’s finally summertime and we’ve got some things going on out there.

Diana Nyad: We’ve got a lot of tennis going on and it’s exciting in my book.

Moon: So, we’re heading into the men’s semifinal tomorrow. How’s Wimbledon doing? Are a lot of people watching?

Nyad: You know, in Britain they’re watching — or they were until Andy Murray lost, because he’s the new big hope in Britain — but the American television ratings are just abysmal, Bob; they’re rating under about a million people per match. If you compare that to not that long ago, McEnroe, Borg’s days, they had about 8 million people, so we have come down a lot in terms of TV fans watching tennis.

Moon: So what’s going on here?

Nyad: Americans — we’ve proven it through the years — need an American to watch. So Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are now the two great players of the game in the men’s side and one’s a Swiss, one’s a Spaniard. They are brilliant and we don’t like ’em that much because they’re not American.

Moon: Let me get you into the audience numbers a little bit.

Nyad: OK.

Moon: How do they compare, for example, to golf just a few weeks ago — the U.S. Open.

Nyad: Well, of course, there’s golf with Tiger and there’s golf without Tiger. Of course, it was that sudden death playoff, it was watching Tiger hobble around heroically on his knee…

Moon: It was exciting stuff.

Nyad: It was exciting and the ratings turned out by the final day, the sudden death day, 13.7, which is a little over 14 million people. That’s 10 times who’s watching Wimbledon.

Moon: Well, you mention Roger Federer. He’s a magnetic personality. Why can’t he draw the same way Tiger Woods can?

Nyad: Well, number one, we mentioned the American thing — it’s not his fault. Number two, he is marketed as a suave upper-class gentleman. I mean, the big advertisement that’s running all through Wimbledon this year is Roger on his private jet. He shows up in that cashmere sweater and that’s just not relatable, whereas Tiger, we know he makes vast amounts of money, but climbs into a middle-of-the-road Buick, he’s always with kids popping a golf ball on the end of his club and beyond that, golf worked very hard to get its image away from that country club elite status and it was the businessman’s game, that’s where all the deals of America were made, the public courses proliferated. And so even though we know it costs a lot of money to play a round of golf even at a public course, it has this image that it’s come down a notch off that whereas tennis, you know back in the 70s, it was Billie Jean King and Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, all came out of public middle-class courts, but it swung the other way once they retired and became again — and Roger Federer represents it — the untouchable, unrelatable country club sport again.

Moon: OK, so how does that image translate into money for tennis?

Nyad: The elite insiders don’t think tennis is hurting. Roger Federer doesn’t walk around after winning so far $40 million in prize money… he doesn’t think tennis is hurting.

Moon: He’s not hurting.

Nyad: He things tennis is doing just fine, thank you very much. It’s that everyman audience, it’s that Super Bowl audience that tunes in the day of the big game who don’t watch football all year. That’s what football counts on. Well tennis can’t draw that crossover audience, that everyman audience. It’s just not there right now.

Moon: You’re telling us that tennis could learn a few things from golf?

Nyad: I do, at this moment I do. I think tennis could break it down and become that public courts game again, but they’re going to need someone besides Roger Federer to lead the way.

Moon: Diana Nyad, thank you for joining us.

Nyad: Bob Moon, thank you very much.

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