Steve Murray wonders aloud in his recent article for TennisWeek.com whether the tennis world is harboring what he calls a "Sexist Secret"?
Essentially he argues that as much as the sport wants to view everything in terms of athletic ability and wins, it's struggling with TV viewership, sponsorship dollars and a dwindling fan base. And, who better to PR the sport than many of the top lovely lady ballers (and those floating somewhere below.) Sex sells, of course, but is that okay in tennis?
Hell yeah. C'mon, most other sports play up the sexy celebrity status of their top female AND male athletes with no issue. Think soccer's David Beckham + Christiano Ronaldo, baseball's Madonna-loving Alex Rodriguez + Derrick Jeter, racing's Danica Patrick or swimming's Amanda Beard for instance. These sports understand that "personalities" sell and build interest and awareness and, as a result, their very loyal fan bases continue to grow - something tennis sorely lacks.
WTA CEO Larry Scott hit the mark when he told The London Financial Times,
All sports are trying to distinguish themselves through their athletes and the glamorous nature of what they do. That’s what sponsors are after.Sports marketing 101, people.
But why is tennis so stuck in the mud? My guess is the sport has been lost in its long, stodgy history of crisp whites and politeness. Purists continue to argue that tennis media concentrates too much on the ballers' personalities, fashion, gossip, etc. and doesn't focus enough on the simple yellow ball.
But think about it - some of our sport's best rivalries were great not only because of the matches played but also because of the contrasting personalities involved and how they were played up. McEnroe vs. Borg, Evert vs. Navratilova, Graf vs. Seles, Federer vs. Nadal. Personalities sell the sport, and the sport is a business at the end of the day.
The irony here is the ballers themselves are pushing the envelope and building their own brands through forays into the worlds of entertainment, fashion, music, etc. Ana knows her FHM cover builds a certain image that can be sold to her sponsors and fans. Same goes for Roger Federer walking onto Centre Court in his Gatsby-esque cardigan moment. Besides, how do you think we get a lot of the stories we write about on a daily basis? Ballers' websites.
There's no denying anymore that tennis needs to fast forward into the 21st century. No secret there.
(image via FHM magazine)