Google Down the Line!: THE LOW DOWN: Can Fed vs. Rafa bring US fans back?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

THE LOW DOWN: Can Fed vs. Rafa bring US fans back?

Highly-respected Washington Post columnist and ESPN personality Michael Wilbon penned an insightful piece on the state of US tennis through the lens of the Wimbledon men's and ladies' finals and, more specifically, the need for rivalries such as Federer-Nadal and Venus-Serena to bring US fans back to tennis.

But, Wilbon isn't feeling very confident that even those rivalries can stop the slow bleeding of casual fans away from the game. He says the sport needs a "Tiger Woods-like figure on the men's side...or maybe brothers who have the impact and star appeal of Serena and Venus Williams."

And why isn't Fed vs. Rafa enough you might ask? Wilbon has his guesses:

"...we don't like to admit it but we're more than a bit xenophobic when it comes to our sports. We're still begrudgingly accepting international stars in the NBA, even though they've been established since the early 1990s and players such as Toni Kukoc, Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker won enough to be beyond suspicion as "foreign players." Americans are the only people on the planet who don't embrace soccer, mostly because it ain't ours. And as much as we might be able to appreciate the greatness of Federer and Nadal, the bet here is we're not going to identify with them enough to become rabid followers of what they do."
Sad, but true. We Americans can be so self-absorbed.

Okay fine, but what about our own home-grown ballers like Andy Roddick or James Blake? Why aren't they drawing fans in droves the way John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors did back in the day?? "[They] simply don't win enough or do it charismatically enough to drive Americans to their TV sets or the tennis courts. They're both sweet enough guys; neither is inspiring," says Wilbon. Again, sad but true.

Unfortunately, he isn't seeing any light at the end of the tennis tunnel saying,
Maybe if the Federer-Nadal rivalry continues on, say, through the U.S. Open in September and beyond, more people will come to the tent to watch. But even then it's probably a leap of faith to bet on it.
I prefer to lean more towards the belief that everything is cyclical and some day tennis will gain the respect and fan base that it deserves in the US. I don't think it could ever be at the extraordinary levels seen during the 70's and 80's, though, because it's a global game now with new countries taking a piece of the pie every day and other sports demanding attention.

Maybe that's sad, but I believe it's true.

(image via Getty)


  1. Hi Rich,

    I've been a lurker at your blog for a long time! Its a great blog and i love your funny/sarcastic take on things in the tennis world. Keep up the good work.

    i would just like to add, that although i sort of agree with Michael Wilbon, i also disagree with the part where he says that "...Tiger Woods-like figure on the men's side..."....Ummmm...isn't ROGER FEDERER the Tiger Woods of Tennis? What Roger has done in the past 4 years nobody has been able to achieve that in any sport.

    Anyways, i hope Rafa can make a good run at the US Open. But i think the final showdown will be between Roger and Novak. And i would love to see Roger win. He needs to have at least one Grand Slam in 2008. I frankly can't stand Novak. He's a great tennis player but he needs to grow up and mature and learn to think before opening his mouth. He's just a 21year old Frat Boy. Hopefully, he'll grow out of it. He seems like a nice guy generally, so i guess he just has to mature. But then again, Rafa is roughly around the same age and he is all CLASS.

  2. It's not rocket science. If they wanted more viewers, all they need to do is actually SHOW more events and promote the sport.

    Take the European Masters events for example. Rome, Hamburg, Monte Carlo (and my beloved Barcelona) much exposure did they get here? Nothing this year, and last year just a one hour slot at three in the morning highlighting the whole week. Just because it's not the "Road Trip" doesn't mean it's any less important!

    Instead of those events - POKER was all I could find on ESPN2. Poker. It hurts my brain, sincerely. Even the Tennis Channel doesn't cover all of the events that they should. There are a plethora of great tournaments going on this week and nobody is covering it live. They shouldn't assume we aren't interested just because the top three players aren't active this week!

    This subject just skyrockets my blood pressure, because I love tennis so very much and it shouldn't be such hard work to find it. It is such a shame that it is treated with such little regard compared to the Pedestal sports. It's a wonderful, universal sport and this country needs to get on board with that fact.

  3. sarooq: thanks for reading! in his defense, he meant a US baller that's like Tiger Woods. Fed is most definitely tennis' version of Tiger but the casual American fan prefers to get behind a home-grown fan. i agree with his point there - but that's our undoing unfortunately.

    b2012: better TV exposure is 100% needed right now. i have to give some kudos to espn for actually starting coverage at 7am EST live every day - like the old days. but i know from readers here that they weren't too kind to those viewers on the west coast. they'll need to work out those kinks.

    they also need to give more exposure to non-US ballers during their coverage and not suffocate us with repeats of matches with US ballers or showing us bad matches just because an american baller is playing. how else are casual viewers going to get to know the full range of the sport?

    that drives me NUTS!

  4. EXCELLENT point on showing more than just US players. I hate that. I've seen my fair share of repeats, etc. just because it's an American player. That makes me insane. I swear, if it weren't for Masters Series TV I would have torn all my hair out by now. lol

  5. ESPN Latin American does the same thing, they show mainly Latin American players. While Safin was playing Djokovic, in Argentina you could only watch Ivanovic or Del Potro playing some unknown player. It's a disgrace.

  6. More exposure and betters coverage of non-Americans is definitely what is needed. Remember when Schuttler was playing Clement in the qtrs? I don't, because all I saw were rebroadcasts of earlier matches of the Williams sisters.

    It seems to me that the networks believe if it ain't an American playing, I couldn't possibly be interested in watching. I am interested in watching a good match, no matter who is playing.


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